Scottish history should have pride of place

28th March 1997 at 00:00
While I share Duncan Toms's reservations about the political motivations lurking behind Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth's recent advocacy of a separate Standard grade in Scottish history (TESS, March 14) I was nevertheless deeply disappointed to note that he too readily dismisses the idea - apparently in line with the recommendations of the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum's review group.

No doubt in an ideal history teaching situation Scottish history should simply find its "rightful place within a balance of local, Scottish, British, European and global history".

But within a pupil-centred perspective it is surely equally evident that here in Scotland the teaching of Scottish (and local) history should take pride of place - at least in the early years leading up to Standard grade presentation.

This is a view moreover, which acquires further sustenance from the severe pressures on the history teaching timetable that have been experienced in Scottish schools in recent years, as Mr Toms himself points out in his concluding remarks.

It is welcome news that a variety of old Scottish history textbooks are apparently still available in most school history departments even if they are not always immediately accessible to the pupils.

But - in my own observation as a retired college of further education lecturer - the vast majority of school-leavers nevertheless come into the big wide world with a profound ignorance of most of the major of Scottish history, from the Wars of Independence through the Reformation and the "wars" of the Covenanters and the Jacobites to the debate about the "pros" and "cons" of the 1707 Union, the "Scottish Enlightenment" and the impact of the French Revolution on the development of a distinctive Scottish Radical movement.

Finally, I was struck by the fact that Mr Toms, like so many other historians and history teachers in Scotland, is anxious to avoid the adoption of a position which may be interpreted - if only "inadvertently" - as in any way "nationalist".

This can only mean that he is quite content with the long-established Scottish pedagogical tradition of teaching even Scottish history within an essentially - if only "inadvertently"(!) - "unionist" perspective.

With all respect to him this essentially amounts - at least arguably - to a denial of his own national identity as well as that of the majority of his pupils, and, interestingly it is not an academic characteristic that is detectable to any significant extent among English or Irish historians.

IAN BAYNE 8 Clarence Drive Glasgow.

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