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From The Socialist newspaper, 15 January 2014

Gove wages war on history teachers

A history teacher

Education secretary Michael Gove sees the centenary of World War One as a chance to push his call for a school curriculum promoting the glories of the British Empire, and to bash teachers again.

Gove says 'leftie' history teachers use a 'Blackadder' interpretation of WW1 to 'denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage' and to show war as a 'series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite'.

But you do not have to be a Marxist to see the Western Front story as the senseless slaughter of young working class men in a conflict fought for reasons that had little to do with their lives but for the interests of competing empires and their rulers.

Gove sees WW1 as a 'just war' to defend democracy. Richard Evans, Professor of History at Cambridge has pointed out that the Kaiser's regime had universal male suffrage in Germany at the start of the war, while a third of the men in the British trenches had not yet won the right to vote.

'Our island story'

The current government wants school history to promote its own reactionary values in a thinly disguised version of 'our island story'.

They think the WW1 centenary will be a chance to do this, but there are just too many 'inconvenient truths': The arms race and the imperial ambitions that made the war possible in the first place; the callous slaughter of ordinary soldiers in a war of attrition; the racist treatment of black and Asian troops from the British Empire; and the return in peacetime to a home that was anything but 'fit for heroes'.

History teachers do use Blackadder clips in their lessons, to look at diverse interpretations of the war (a key historical skill identified in the national curriculum).

But we also get students to look at Wilfred Owen's poems, at eyewitness accounts such as Harry Patch's, and at 'revisionist' historians such as John Terraine who have defended the much-derided British generals.

Most history teachers encourage students to use evidence and historical skills to make critical judgements about the past.

It is no surprise that they often come to question the powers that be and the status quo. It doesn't take 'leftie teachers' to do this - sometimes history just speaks for itself.

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In The Socialist 15 January 2014:


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Gove wages war on history teachers

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