Visions and the grim reality;Secondary;Reviews;History;Books

10th April 1998 at 01:00

OXFORD HISTORY FOR GCSE. THE ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT. Tony Rea and John Wright. Oxford University Press. pound;6.50

CAMBRIDGE HISTORY PROGRAMME FOR GCSE. THE FIRST WORLD WAR. Andrew Wrenn. SUPERPOWER RIVALRY. Tony McAleavy. The USA 1917-1941. Ian Campbell. Cambridge University Press. pound;6.25 and pound;6.50 each. HEINEMANN SECONDARY HISTORY PROJECT. THE USA 1919-1941. Nigel Kelly and David Taylor. pound;5.75. Assessment and Resource Pack pound;16.99.

THE USA 1919-1941. (Foundation Edition). Jane Shuter. pound;5.75 Assessment and Resource Pack pound;15.99.

One of my history teachers started a lesson by saying that history was about dreams and conflict. Two-thirds of the titles on Arab Israeli relations are about war, terrorism and violence. Dreams are few in this grim history with no figure emerging as the visionary peacemaker; the bloody aftermath of Camp David with Sadat's assassination and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon making the point.

Tony McAleavy's more analytic account for the Cambridge History Programme is to be preferred for its survey of dispersion and anti-semitism and the rise of Zionism with a fuller explanation of the impact of the Dreyfus affair and the role, after Theodor Herzl's death, of Chaim Weizmann. Economy on such issues and the complex lay-out of some of the "feature-spreads" place Oxford in second place by something short of a length.

The three other Cambridge titles reviewed here show that the techniques of profitable textbook writing for key stage 3 can be applied without drastic changes to GCSE; in fact the simple model of briefing, investigation and review could be adopted for any scheme of work.

But students need a strong information base. Andrew Wrenn's The First World War is weak on first-hand accounts even on such source-rich subjects as the Western Front where he relies for three out of four sources on John Giles's The Somme Then and Now and Samson's death in Goodbye to All That. Although Haig's leadership is discussed, only two relevant sources are cited; the chapter presents little more than points of view. The end of the war comes half way through the book with an armistice which had, apparently, neither conditions nor consequences, Tony McAleavy's Superpower Rivalry has the simple virtues of an introduction, a review and a well-constructed text with key primary sources. The text makes an immediate impact with a serious discussion of long-term causes; "The roots of the Cold War" offering conflicting explanations with students urged to work out which explanation they find most convincing.

McAleavy has an art with short sentences: "My Lai horrified many Americans.

They had seen their action in Vietnam as a fight against wicked communists. In My Lai all the wickedness was American."

Ian Campbell's The USA 1917-1941 maintains a similar standard in its account of life in America. This is a balanced survey with important scene- setting chapters on economic boom and mass consumption, poverty and the plight of farmers.

Students are given good support in understanding the fragile economy through pie charts and bulleted summaries, although the relationship between employment and immigration control laws could have been explained more clearly.

The chapter on lifestyle in the Twenties in this serious text is brief although there is a later chapter on suffragettes, flappers and the Anti-Flirt League. With a succinct and compelling story of the Wall Street Crash - "Every once in a while, when shares in radio or steel took another tumble, you'd see some poor devil collapse and fall to the floor" - and a full account of the Roosevelt years, this text truly reflects the changing fortunes and levels of confidence of a growing nation.

Heinemann's differentiated texts The USA 1919-1941 make it possible to set work at an appropriate level for different abilities within the same classroom. Even the shorter sentences, larger fonts and explanations of key words cannot simplify America's involvement in world affairs or every economic trend, but these materials do make history a subject for most if not all.

Has anyone evidence that these foundation texts raise the grades of pupils with difficulties in language-based subjects? Can you let me know?

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