Take a new approach to facts

17th November 2006 at 00:00
We should teach history as if we did not know the ending. Such a bold assertion would be ridiculed were it uttered by Donald Rumsfeld, the newly ousted American defence secretary who recently declared: "I would not say that the future is necessarily less predictable than the past. I think the past was not predictable when it started."

Coming from Niall Ferguson, the provocative Harvard university history professor, the assertion may be more contentious still.

Professor Ferguson was the television historian who provided a model for the brash young teacher in The History Boys, who rejected facts as dull, insisting it was more important to captivate his students. Writing in The TES today, Professor Ferguson says teachers, rather than continuing their "excessive concentration" on the Third Reich should emphasise the openended paths of history.

"We are failing to capitalise on this generation of schoolchildren's preference for open-ended games over set narratives," he writes. My sons are addicted to Second World War computer games. They know historical outcomes are not pre-ordained: sometimes they win and sometimes they lose."

* jonathan.milne@tes.co.uk

Comment, page 25

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