Horrible Histories author sticks knife in on 'dinosaur' politicians

2nd October 2009 at 01:00
Writer slams `mindless accumulation of facts' and says the subject has been corrupted by those in power

Politicians are dinosaurs, whose insistence on subjecting pupils to a diet of facts is murdering interest in history, says the author of the bestselling Horrible Histories series.

Terry Deary, who has sold more than 20 million copies of his children's books, insists history teaching has been corrupted by politicians.

In a recent debate on how the subject should be taught, he said: "History education should be valued for its understanding of human beings and human society."

The author, whose books focus on gruesome or off-beat elements of the past, went on: "Schooling simply values the mindless accumulation of facts, because facts are testable."

In the latest edition of BBC History Magazine, Mr Deary argues that history teachers should aim to answer only one question: "Why do people behave the way they do?"

Earlier this month, the Historical Association revealed that fewer than a third of pupils study history to GCSE level.

But the author insists he is not blaming teachers for teenagers' lack of interest in the subject. Instead, he blames politicians - specifically the Conservative politicians who imposed the national curriculum - for their obsessive emphasis on facts.

"Horror of horrors. If the Tories win the next election (and it is a faint possibility), this dinosaur will be back to reimpose his crushing footprint on the schooling system," he said. "It's the seemingly respectable politicians who will smile and tell you they'll manipulate the schools system and pump your children full of historical facts if you will elect them.

"That's why I despair of school history, because it is controlled from the top down by the politicians who dictate the curriculum."

But in the same edition of BBC History Magazine, TV presenter and political commentator Andrew Marr argues that facts are what are missing from history lessons.

"In schools, I think the question of chronology, and what's happened when, is a bit too difficult and a bit too dry," he said.

"So we say, `Let's ignore it, and let's spend almost all of a history course doing the horrible Tudors and the trenches and the First World War poets.'

"The excuse is that you go deeply into a period of history and you learn about the sources, and that's more useful than the old rote-learning. I think this is copping out in a terribly worrying way."

But Rebecca Sullivan, chief executive of the Historical Association, said part of the problem was that time to study history was being reduced.

She added: "Ofsted says history is one of the best-taught subjects. Kids say they are enjoying it. The problem is that kids are being steered away from it, if they won't get A-Cs. Kids are being turned away from history, not turned off it."

Letters, pages 40-41


Why were chickens' bottoms shaved during the Middle Ages? Why did Georgian husbands sell their wives at auction? And why did Egyptian Princess Ankhesena marry her grandfather?

The answers are among the people-based facts revealed in the Horrible Histories series, written by Terry Deary, Peter Hepplewhite and Neil Tonge.

First published in 1993, the books have amassed worldwide sales of more than 20 million and have been translated into 31 languages. Several, including Rotten Romans, Groovy Greeks and Awesome Egyptians, have been adapted for television.

The authors have now branched out to write a number of city and country guides for England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Their Gory Stories focus on the great plague, the hangman's gallows and the Tower of London. Plans for 2010 include Who's Horrible in History and a Wicked History of Britain.

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