What are they teaching our children in school these day? I am asking this question because of a survey that was published yesterday and found that four in ten young Britons didn’t know much about Bonfire Night’s history and the event we celebrate today.
So much for the old rhyme, familiar to everyone of my generation: ‘Remember, remember / The fifth of November / Gunpowder treason and plot . . .’
Commissioned by Perspectus Global, an organisation mysteriously described as an ‘insights agency’, the researchers found that almost a quarter of the country’s young (23 per cent) thought Bonfire Night was a pagan festival, while another 17 per cent believed it was a ‘traditional celebration to ward off evil spirits’.
Guy Fawkes was mentioned by 74% of respondents, but only 10% thought he was a fictional character. Seven percent believed he was the inventor of fireworks, while seven percent believed he was.
Another 7 percent claimed he was the creator of the fork, while 6 percent thought he was an MP.
A mere 10% of young Britons believe Guido Fawkes to be a fictional character, while 7% believe he is the one responsible for inventing fireworks.
Seven percent of young people believe Fawkes invented a fork, while six percentage points believe he is an MP.
This would not be surprising if the 1,500 respondents were younger than ten years. All of them were between 16-29 years old and had at least 11 years’ formal education. So, I wonder again: What are schools teaching these days?
Tom Utley has more to say about the Daily Mail…
I hate to sound like the old pub-bore I have undoubtedly become. But at least some of the answers to that question are depressingly obvious. If the experience of my four sons is any guide — and all but one of them are now over 30 — children have been taught for decades about the perils of global warming, the oppression of women and minorities and the evils of colonialism and the British Empire.
Now it seems they are also being taught, from a very young age, to question their ‘gender identities’. So much so that a primary school in Edinburgh, we learned this week, encouraged boys and girls alike to wear skirts to school yesterday, as part of its efforts to ‘promote equality and diversity’. (For ‘diversity’ in this case, as in so many others, read ‘woke uniformity’.)
But as far as I can see, they learn precious little about the basics of our island story — or at least about British history as it was taught to my generation in the early 1960s, before we went to our secondary schools.
Now, I’m the first to admit that the way I was taught the subject in my early childhood had glaring flaws. Think of Sellar and Yeatman’s brilliant parody, 1066 And All That, and you’ll get the general idea.
It was all about the exploits of kings, queens, generals, admirals, great scientists or engineers, while the large majority of the population was barely looked at, except when it was being wiped away by the Black Death or moving to the cities to work in the factories of the Industrial Revolution.
The version I had learned before I was a teenager was very simplistic and almost completely ignored questions about the status of women in society and the treatment of minorities. The Empire focused on the positive and hid most of its negative aspects.
We were taught much more, for example, about Britain’s leading role in abolishing the slave trade than about the great wealth brought to this country in previous centuries by this evil traffic in human lives. It wasn’t until I had studied the subject more deeply that I realized there were two sides to every story.
A quarter of young Britons believe Bonfire Night’s pagan origins are a pagan festival
Yes, the history I learned in my shorts was just as biased as the one I was taught in today’s children’s books.
However, I still have a lot to say about the way that I was introduced to the subject.
The actions of our monarchs and queens are only one part of the larger picture of a country with so many people. We were able to learn the dates and sequence of our monarchs. This gave us a framework to hang other bits of the story as they came our way. It also gave the whole a chronological coherence.
To illustrate, those of us who were taught the old-fashioned method have vivid memories of each period in our history, as delineated with the name of the ruling House at the time.
The Tudors? Doublets and hose, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Spanish Armada and the first flowering of Shakespeare’s genius.
The Stuarts? Van Dyke’s moustaches and beards, Cavaliers & Roundheads; the Great Fire of London, Isaac Newton, Nell Gwyn, and all the other sultry mistresses of Charles II, as depicted in Sir Peter Lely’s painting.
The Hanoverians? Powdered wigs, sedan chairs, Palladian country houses, Jane Austen, Hogarth’s Gin Lane, Alexander Pope and the dark Satanic mills of Blake’s Jerusalem.
How many of today’s GCSE students, I wonder, could tell you which period came first — the Elizabethan, Jacobean or Georgian — or whether Shakespeare lived before or after the English Civil War?
If all primary school students were taught the dates of our monarchs, which is far too rare, they would have a better chance of putting together the story about these islands.
As for the old way of focusing on the exploits of great men and women (all right, mostly men, I grant you), I reckon it made history more inspiring to young minds than today’s emphasis on the ways in which national heroes such as Nelson and Churchill fell short of the modern woke ideal.
Every week, or so it seems now, another revered figure from the past is being dragged through mud. Sir Thomas Picton, a Waterloo hero, was the latest to have his portrait taken from a public gallery due to his connections with slavery.
But I have a deeper objection to today’s concentration on our ancestors’ ill-treatment of women and minorities. Yes, I know that the praiseworthy idea is to be ‘inclusive’ and make all children feel that our history belongs quite as much to them as to anyone else.
But I can’t help feeling that it may have the opposite effect. Say what you like about the old way of accentuating the positive about our history — our military victories, great writers, scientists and engineers — but at least it instilled a shared sense of patriotic pride, which bound together British children from all backgrounds.
By relentlessly stressing our ancestors’ discriminatory treatment of the sexes and races, don’t teachers risk breeding ill-feeling between boy and girl, black and white, and turning children against the country I was brought up to love? I just pray that I’m wrong.
But before I close, I mustn’t overlook one dramatic event of the Stuart period, which I omitted from the list I gave earlier. I am referring to the foiled Gunpowder Plot, which was meant to blow up James I along with other members of the Lords and Commons at the State Opening of Parliament, November 5, 1605.
Four out of ten younger readers might be surprised to discover that Guy Fawkes was one of the conspirators. And no, he did not invent fireworks nor cutlery with a name that sounds like his.
As a service to that 40 per cent, I’ll end with the rest of the verse whose first lines I quoted in my second paragraph: ‘I see no reason / Why gunpowder treason / Should ever be forgot.’