Living with history

30th April 2004 at 01:00
Time is on history's side. It was H G Wells who said that "human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe".

The decision by the headteachers of St Margaret Mary's Secondary in Glasgow and Mainholm Academy in Ayr to drop history from the curriculum (TESS, last week) threatens to compound the catastrophe by dispensing with one of the essential educational ingredients for counteracting it - the study of history.

Their decision is evidently a pragmatic and opportunistic response to falling school rolls and reduced staffing and it is reprehensible, not to say dishonest, of them to try to justify it in terms of non-existent "national trends" and so-called "curricular strategies".

In fact, the vast majority of headteachers (as well as parents, and local and national government) regard history as a vital part of the curriculum essential to our national life as well as to our understanding of the wider world.

There is widespread public interest in history and the number of pupils opting for the subject post-14 remains buoyant. All this is thankfully the mark of a healthy democracy because we all know that history is one of the first targets of would-be dictators, petty or otherwise.

What other subject fulfils history's essential role of helping to develop identity, social consciousness, understanding of humanity and intellectual skills, as well as stimulating the imagination and widening the horizons of young people? Scottish writers and thinkers pioneered the modern approach to history, in both its enlightened and romantic modes.

As we grapple with issues such as the war in Iraq, the EU referendum and the role of the Scottish Parliament, and as our D-Day veterans prepare to assemble on the Normandy beaches to commemorate those they left behind 60 years ago, we should be helping our young people to carry forward the banner of historical understanding rather than impoverishing their education and leaving them prey to the political andor commercial distortions which all too often pass themselves off as history.

A "curricular strategy" which dispenses with the study of the past is not worthy of the name and, if done for reasons of economy, then it is a false one for which there may well be a high price to pay.

But "the end of history" having been wrongly predicted on the world stage not so long ago, it is unlikely that these short-sighted decisions at St Margaret Mary's and Mainholm will achieve it nationally or even locally.

In the meantime, however, they are failing in their duty and disadvantaging their pupils by denying them access to an essential element in the school curriculum.

Duncan Toms Whitton Drive Glasgow

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