Historic battle

19th January 2001 at 00:00
"HISTORY is not what you thought. It is what you can remember," asserts the comic masterpiece, 1066 And All That. What the current generation of teenagers remember about history could make a comic masterpiece in itself, if it were not so alarming. Almost a quarter did not know when the First World War was fought, 17 per cent thought Oliver Cromwell was at the Battle of Hastings, and significant minorities thought the current Queen saw off the Spanish Armada and that Hitler was Britain's wartime PM.

When WC Sellar and RJ Yeatman's irreverent romp through the pastwas published in 1930 they could rely on a shared national memory of schoolboy history, consisting not only of key dates, wars, monarchs and myths, but also whether each was A Good Thing or A Bad Thing. Thus the Cavaliers were Wrong but Wromantic and the Roundheads Right but Repulsive.

Those certainties have gone, leaving battle to be regularly joined over the history curriculum. History is vital, to make sense of the present and to impart our shared culture. That's why we should all join the debate about which bits must be taught - or rather learnt.

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