Question of ticking right box

4th September 1998 at 01:00
The State of History Education in Europe: challenges and implications of the Youth and History survey. Edited by Joke van der Leeuw-Roord Edition Korber Stiftung, Kampchaussee 10, D-21033 Hamburg. Tel: 00 49 40 72 50 28 27; fax: 00 49 40 72 50 37 98 (Pounds 14 approx)

Two years ago, the German Korber Foundation and Euroclio, the European Standing Conference of History Teacher Associations, gave 31,000 15-year-old history students from across Europe, including Turkey, Palestine and Israel, a questionnaire about the importance of their study of history to them and their view of the world. The results of that survey are here analysed and commented upon by a range of experts from across Europe.

History has long been recognised as an essential component in the education of young Europeans, and any attempt to gauge its effectiveness is laudable. We do need to know to what extent our rhetoric about forging common bonds of citizenship and identity, or about inculcating values of tolerance and mutual respect are actually bearing fruit.

However, an extensive tick-box questionnaire is an uncon-vincing way of going about it, as some of the commentators in the book seem to recognise.

The questionnaire, which is reproduced in the book, is couched much more in the language of educational researchers' aspirations than those of any 15-year-olds I have encountered, at home or abroad.

We learn that British students are second only to the Bulgar-ians in their criticism of democracy, but when we see that the propositions on which they had to comment included "It is the finest legacy of classical Greece" (most likely reply: "I dunno") and "It is a pretence, hiding the fact that the rich and powerful have always won in history" (most likely reply: "We haven't done that"), the conclusion seems less impressive.

Some contributors obviously relish brandishing "Euclidean dissimilarity coefficients" (sic); it was with some atavistic national pride that I read the more sceptical contribution from Tony McAleavy, who was the only contributor to illustrate his point with a pupil's writing. It told us more about children's understanding of the past than the rest of the book put together.

Sean Lang is head of history at Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge

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