Britain: failing to teach the English the history of England

An unfashionable pursuit gets ignored. How can society integrate without an understanding of how England evolved?

In the UK, education is the responsibility of the national parliaments in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast or London (doubling as the British legislature). There's a seemingly progressive need in England to connect the past to moral choices in modern society. All very fine in theory. 

And this placates the concerns of the migrant parents of children from myriad cultures who mix in classrooms in modern England. These adults bring with them prejudices and antagonistic attitudes which they instil in their kids. And recent educational practice tries to demonstrate better cultural awareness through the teaching of global history with the intention of integrating the children. Very laudable. 

But migrants leave behind their homelands to choose a fresh way of life. When they settle in England they make a new start. And while they bring with them their cultures, their children should be taught that their parents have made this move to a foreign land to begin again. The old prejudices must be left back in the land of their ancestors. 

These kids need to become valuable, integrated and productive participants in England, that new society their parents chose. And the children of long-standing English people have to have a fuller appreciation of their heritage.

In teaching English history, these children can learn about the waves of migration which formed the society. The invasions, unity and the painful process of evolution from feudalism to constitutional government.

The importance of:
  • The Celts arriving
  • The Roman occupation
  • The Angle- and Saxon-invasions
  • The Norse and Viking incursions and Danegeld
  • The unification of England
  • The Norman takeover
  • The 100 years War
  • The Reformation
  • The Civil War
  • The effect of the Huguenots' arrival and that of the Flemish weavers
  • The prison reform movement
  • The emancipation of the Slaves and the Catholics
  • The Agrarian and Industrial Revolutions
  • The Empire
  • The reasons for and rise of trade unionism and the workers' fight for decent conditions
  • The importance of the Suffragette movement and universal suffrage
  • The World Wars
  • The post-war National Debt
  • The impact and benefits of the docking of the MV Empire Windrush bringing the first Jamaicans and other Caribbean migrants
  • The absorbtion of the Asian refugees from Uganda and elsewhere in East Africa
  • The fight for homosexual equality
  • The campaign for freedom of information.

The list is extensive and covers everything from social to diplomatic to constitutional history. For in understanding English history, I believe, a modern cohesive society can be formed: one which appreciates why the place is the way it is, and how strategically important each individual's contribution can become. 

    One of the great facets of Englishness is our appreciation of eccentricity. Another is our almost unique capacity to laugh at ourselves. The ability to mock yourself and even rib your neighbour without rancour, is something that has to be instilled, it seems, into the children of people who's cultural backgrounds formed their characters differently.

    Of course, an understanding of the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, the Rwandan genocide or the Pol Pot massacre of his own Cambodian people is vital to any general knowledge. But dwelling on ancient enmities between Serbs and Kosovars, Turks and Kurds, Pakistanis and Indians, or Irish Protestants and Catholics, only serves to distract kids from the really important matter: involving themselves in English society and being able to present a more valuable assessment of their own position within it to their parents back at home. The parents can't receive such schooling, so it's up to the educators to reach them via their own offspring.

    A friend of mine, who lives in Ibiza, spent many years there unable to speak Spanish. She knew little of Spanish history or culture, as she mixed mostly with other migrants to the Balearics. It was her own children who eventually taught her to speak Spanish as they returned home from school. It was these very kids who enabled her to better appreciate the uniqueness of being Spanish.

    Divorcing kids from England yet providing them with an appreciation of the world, is a wrong route to take if England is important to anyone living in England. And, I would have thought that England is pretty vital to everyone who has chosen to live there.

    One of the many underlying causes of recent riots was a feeling of a lack of belonging: no stake in society.  History can give someone a sense of belonging, of shared understanding and the prospect of a common future. I say that ignorance isn't bliss at all, but a recipe for discord.

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