War cries from the Highlands
John D Clare welcomes two books which present the Scottish perspective.
I cannot get over my astonishment," wrote Robert Louis Stevenson to his mother in 1873, "at the hopeless gulf that there is between England and Scotland, and English and Scotch." I felt the same way as I read these two good books.
How far apart the two educational systems are. Here we have two books, dealing with issues of key importance within the history of both countries. Both books are backed up with considerable supporting material. Yet they are written by Scottish teachers, they are clearly aimed at Scottish children, and the television programmes produced on the topics were transmitted in Around Scotland by BBC Education Scotland.
Both books, once they have explained the factual background, tackle their exciting subjects in a direct and interesting manner. Did you know that the word "slogan" comes from the Gaelic sluagh ghairm, meaning the "war cries" shouted by Highland warriors? Did you know that the Stuart dynasty was descended from Robert the Bruce, whose daughter Majory married Walter the Steward (and hence, Stewart)?
Mari Spankie, in particular, treats her subject most triumphantly, finishing with quotations from the Declaration of Arbroath ("it is not for glory, it is not riches, neither is it honour, but it is freedom alone that we fight and contend for") and the Robert Burns poem, Scots Wha Hae: "Welcome to your gory bed, or to victorie!" Not for the Scots the feeble English hand-wringing about the negative aspects of bellicose nationalism.
Reading age, I would guess, would suit a child of about 12. Specialist words like "toun" (a group of farms) and "schiltrom" (a defensive formation of spearmen) tend to crop up unannounced and unexplained - though they do appear in the useful glossaries at the end of each book.
The books are beautifully designed and are attractively illustrated in full colour. At Pounds 9.99 they are beyond whole-class sets, but would make excellent additions to a school library or a class book-box.
Both books were accompanied by TV and radio programmes, and The Jacobites boasts a software package, a wallchart and an activities pack. Support materials for both can be obtained from BBC Education, 5 Queen Street, Edinburgh EH2 1JF. The TV programmes are also available in Gaelic.
It is refreshing to read books which are genuinely written from a Scottish point of view, where Scotland and the Scots occupy central stage, and where it is English events which appear as "noises off". It is in this that these books will attract English teachers. The national curriculum tells us to treat the history of the British Isles, but how many of us would dare to claim that we pay anything more than lip-service to the concept? Most English schools teach a very "English" history. Here is an opportunity to break the mould.