Editorial - You can run, but you can't hide from The Blob

10th January 2014 at 00:00

A left-wing conspiracy is controlling staffrooms and teachers' lounges around the world, apparently.

If you read the words spouted by politicians - and all too many journalists - from Bristol to Brisbane, you could easily come to the conclusion that the profession is, to a man and woman, a homogeneous right-on "Blob" with a membership signed in Trotskyite blood.

Well, rubbish.

Let's get one thing straight. The Blob does not exist beyond perhaps - and this is a big perhaps - a few union leaders and a handful of training colleges. It certainly has next to no resonance among most classroom teachers.

But this angry idea persists and rarely is it more potent than when it comes to the history curriculum. From Tony Abbott in Australia to, most recently, Michael Gove in England, politicians perceive that history is overseen by school staff and academics who hark back to a golden age of 1970s social history. Apparently all they want students to learn about is the peasants eating mud la Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Nothing gets a conservative politician more incensed - more indignant - than the idea that patriotism, national history and militaristic heroism are in some way being distorted by a bunch of blackboard Marxists determined to tell the story of the put-upon proletariat.

Mr Gove's somewhat eccentric essay in the UK's Daily Mail newspaper last week was a classic example: the Left was determined that the First World War should be understood only through the prism of BBC sitcoms and Das Kapital, he angrily suggested.

Well, he'd certainly win a 10 from Len Goodman if he were showcasing the lesser-known quixotic quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing, but for educational analysis I fear we're going to have to award him a big fat zero.

The really strange thing is that Mr Gove has been here before (and not in an old-fashioned, rote-learning kind of way). Last summer he claimed that the rise of the Third Reich was being taught in the UK through a Mr Men classroom resource, before discovering that this was, well, fatuous exaggeration.

He'd only need to visit a handful of schools and share a beer with a handful of teachers to realise that the reach of the mysterious Blob does not stretch into many classrooms and that most teachers are just like everyone else.

They are no more right-on or hard-left than Joe Public. Five years ago a poll for TES found that one in seven teachers would support the return of the cane, for heaven's sake. That's roughly the same proportion who would consider voting for the UK Independence Party in Britain or campaigning for the Tea Party in the US. Liberal softies, eh?

Have a chat with a bunch of history teachers or pop in to a history education conference and you will find that overwhelmingly they love narrative, facts and above all their subject.

And they are almost never political in the way they go about teaching it. In fact, they object strongly to playing politics with their subject at all. They teach their students to assess the evidence and come to their own conclusions.

Teachers leave the selective use of historical fact for political gain to their ministerial overlords, all the while quietly wishing that they'd give it a miss.



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