Michael Gove's vision of a History curriculum is wrong

14 Apr 2013

I personally find History to be a subject that is exciting to study – it contains within it so many different topics ranging from economics to philosophy to warfare, it holds the entirety of all human experience, ever. However, if handled wrongly it can be the most horrifically boring and tedious topics ever to grace one’s mind - and Michael Gove’s idea of a new history curriculum worries me, as it may put a generation off studying History at a higher level. Michael Gove isn’t creating the foundations to ensure an intellectually rigorous but fascinating and relevant history curriculum – he is creating, as the Professor of History at Cambridge, Richard J. Evans said recently in the New Statesman, a  “preparation for Mastermind or a pub quiz; it is not education.”


Michael Gove frequently comes up as a topic amongst my teachers – and it tends to be one of universal hate. Even the majority of History academics are deeply divided over Gove’s reforms – but in conversation with my teachers it seems the biggest annoyance is Gove essentially dropping pupils into the historical ‘deep end’ at an early age. Seven-year olds are going to learn about feudalism, whilst in year 7 and year 8 topics like Clive of India and intellectual revolutions will appear. And suddenly, my fears have been confirmed – the treaty of Versailles bored me in Year 11, I shudder to think how much it would put off the next group of pupils who are expected to take up the study of History. History at an early age should remain about what is exciting and interesting about history – the likes of medieval society, the World Wars and so on. Certainly topics like Clive of India or the Enlightenment are viable for A-Level study, when the difficulty of History is ramped up several notches, but at the very start of secondary school it shouldn’t be such, dare I say, tedious topics as these.

Christopher Hitchens once rightly said that “The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.” – History is the very essence of teaching a mind how to think, it is about coming to a conclusion from evidence provided from various sources using your own logic and reason. It is not just storing and regurgitating facts onto paper, but Michael Gove gives this impression – sucking the very soul out of the study of History – his curriculum already gives its own conclusions on matters, stating how World War I was the result of naval expansion and World War II was the result of the failure of the League of Nations without even asking on the pupil to think what may have caused the wars. It also seems ridiculously patriotic – it holds up what Gove regards as great heroes such as (I apologise for mentioning him again) Clive of India and others as people who simply should be praised – without being academically dissected and discussed about. 

Furthermore, what also makes any subject, including History, one that is excellent to study, are the teachers. Stephen Hawking took up the study of physics and chemistry to a higher level thanks to his inspiring teacher, and I would say that my History teachers inspired me to apply to take up the study of history to a higher level. However, nothing makes a subject worse than teachers who aren’t passionate about their subject – and sadly, I think that Michael Gove’s reforms may make it harder to teach history. Rather than it being about dealing with exciting, or tragic events it soon becomes about throwing facts at Michael Gove’s new drone-like children who in turn will throw up said facts onto a page. I couldn’t teach that passionately.

Ultimately, I hope that Michael Gove makes an immediate U-turn on his educational reforms of History. The system may need some tweaking, but Gove cannot hope to make it better. The fact he has riled up such a sheer number of History academics and the majority of teachers sends a powerful message. History isn’t, as Richard J. Evans says, something that is only used in a pub quiz. It is the sum of all human experience, and teaches about the concepts of right and wrong and so much more – but Gove may do something that should be incredibly hard to do, make History uninteresting, uninspiring and tedious.

Backbench Minister for Education

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