Our island story

Mar 18, 2017 by

by Robert Peal, Spectator:

It used to be thought that emphasising British history in multi-ethnic schools was wrong. But it is the best way to foster integration.

I am a teacher in a state secondary school in west London where the ethnic diversity of the pupils is remarkable. My current Year 9 class, for example, includes pupils with parents from Trinidad, Ireland, Turkey, French Guina, Algeria, Yemen, Italy, France, Bosnia, Albania, India, Germany, Iceland, Portugal, Zanzibar, Lebanon, America, and Spain. Over the past few decades, this ethnic diversity has been used as an argument against the teaching of national history. ‘What relevance do Boudicca and Benjamin Disraeli have to multi-ethnic pupils in modern Britain?’ it is asked. Well, quite a lot, I answer.

So far this year, those Year 9 pupils have learnt about the birth of the British empire, the slave trade and its abolition, the American War of Independence, and Britain’s industrial revolution. When I taught the same class in Year 7, they studied an almost exclusively English curriculum, from the Anglo-Saxons to the Wars of the Roses. Until recently, it would have been difficult to get away with teaching such an anglocentric school history curriculum. Labour’s 2007 national curriculum was chock full of the language of ‘diversity’. History, it said, should prepare pupils ‘for life in a diverse and multi-ethnic society and in an increasingly interdependent world’. But it seems as if the political class has woken up to the dangers of neglecting the bonds of nationhood. When in 2011 David Cameron stated that ‘state multiculturalism has failed’, he wasn’t criticising the existence of different ethnic groups in British society. He was criticising the idea that ethnic groups should be allowed to exist within their own distinct culture with no encouragement to integrate into mainstream British society. I would argue that if any institutions have the power to foster such integration, it is schools. And if any subject within the school curriculum can lead the way, it is history.

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