The Harvard academic Niall Ferguson has warned that too few pupils are spending too little time studying history – and what they do study lacks a sweeping narrative.
He offers his own lesson plan to remedy what he says is a lack of cohesion, in which pupils place six “building block” events, including the Reformation and the French revolution, into the right order.
His plan aims to give pupils an overview of the years 1400 to 1914, and encourage them “to understand and offer answers to the most important question of that period: why did the west dominate the rest?”
Ferguson, who has been invited by the education secretary, Michael Gove, to play a role in overhauling the history curriculum, directs the teacher to show their class a map of the world circa 1913 “showing the extent of the western empires”.
The class then divides into groups to defend the merits of six ingredients of western success, ranging from “competition” to – perhaps more controversially — “the work ethic”.
Ferguson, who works as a consultant for a software developer that creates history-based games, encourages the class to play five rounds of the multi-player game Commerce, Conquest and Colonisation, as a supplementary activity. The plan is aimed at a mixed-ability class in year 10, the first year of a history GCSE course.
In an article for the Guardian’s education supplement, Ferguson disagrees with a recent Ofsted survey that praised history teaching in secondary schools. While Ofsted criticised “disconnected topics” in the primary history curriculum, it said that provision was good or outstanding in most secondaries they visited.
Ferguson says: “Clearly, all last year’s talk by Michael Gove, Simon Schama, myself and others about the urgent need for reform was mere alarmism, doubtless actuated by some sinister political motive.”
Ofsted’s report said it was a “popular and inaccurate myth” that students at GCSE and A-level only studied Hitler. Students were required to study a range of topics, including a substantial amount of British history, the school inspectors said.
Ferguson’s fellow celebrity historian Simon Schama has agreed to advise ministers on an overhaul of the national curriculum intended to restore a narrative “island story” of Britain.
Ferguson writes: “History is emphatically not being made available to all in English schools. Too few pupils, especially in the state sector, spend too little time doing it. And what they study lacks all cohesion.”
The academic criticises “an unholy alliance between well-meaning politicians and educationalists” for reshaping history teaching to focus more on skills such as analysing sources while neglecting facts.
“The challenge for the education secretary, Michael Gove, is to make sure that he is not the latest in a succession of politicians to see his plans for reform subverted by an educational establishment – here exemplified by Ofsted – that is still in deep denial about the damage its beloved new history has done.”
Ferguson laments the fact that England is the only country in Europe where history is not compulsory after the age of 14, and expresses concern that design and technology is a more popular subject at GCSE.
He quotes a survey of first-year undergraduates that found that around two-thirds did not know who was monarch at the time of the Armada, while 69% did not know the location of the Boer war. The survey was a quiz set by an economics lecturer at Cardiff University, which tested first years’ historical knowledge over a three-year intake.
Ferguson writes: “Such evidence should make us very sceptical indeed about Ofsted’s claim that history is ‘a successful subject in schools'”.
The historian approves of a passage in Ofsted’s report, which highlights a lack of narrative in primary school history teaching.
“The only thing wrong with this observation is that Ofsted seems to think it applies only to primary school pupils, whereas it could equally well be applied to those in secondary school – and students at a good few universities, too.”
The “long arc of time” has been replaced by “odds and sods”, Ferguson says.
Prof. Niall Ferguson: school history lessons ‘lack all cohesion’
Posted by iusbvision on May 7, 2011
Niall Ferguson is one of my very favorite academics. He creates narratives based on verifiable evidence and will not hesitate to rhetorically unravel anyone who skews history or what is obvious due to ideology or partisanship. Niall Ferguson is a site to see in a debate. Former professors of mine who thought I was too rough on people for displaying inexcusable ignorance, wait till you get a load of this man :)
Here is an example:
Interesting that Niall takes the same position that several on talk radio have (Limbaugh, Beck), as well as this web site has, that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a pro-democracy movement at all as the “establishment” insists and that is merely the organizations smiley front face. This video was from early last February. The Muslim Brotherhood is taking power, this is tantamount to 1979 in Iran and they want to break the peace treaty with Israel and impose Sharia, which will devastate their economy even more and create more instability. Notice what he says at the end, “This is a high probability scenario and the President is not even considering it.” He called it.
Historian says too few pupils are spending too little time studying history, particularly in state schools.