Thursday, 22 January 2009

History at school, history on TV and embarrassing my kids

This is a version of my column from the Bath Chronicle of January 21.

Like every parent, I’m aware there are times when I embarrass my children.
Of course I don’t mean to do it (indeed I desperately try to avoid doing it) but I guess it is just something in the ‘job spec’ of being a parent.

In my case, the most recent example of leaving one of my children with a red face came at a school parents’ evening. Such was the embarrassment factor apparently that my son duly declared I was banned from ever attending a parents’ evening again – a wish I’m afraid he may be disappointed to discover will not come true.

The problem I have at such evenings is that like everyone I had my own favourite school subjects and having a chance to talk about these lessons now and see how they have developed is always fascinating as you compare it to your own school experiences.

For me the biggest problem area is history. For some reason, which I no longer understand, I never studied history after O-level and I’ve always regretted this because I absolutely love history and I can’t get enough of it these days.

So, just like the parent who always wanted to be a footballer and now transfers that ambition to standing on the touchline screaming at his children so they can live his dreams, I really want my children to take the same interest in history as I do and I love hearing about what they’re studying. And that, apparently, is very embarrassing.

The thing I’ve always drilled into my children is that history is not, despite its title, a thing of the past. Nearly every major historical event that is studied at school or beyond affects the way we live today and that is why I feel an understanding of history is essential in trying to find answers to modern-day problems.

Of course, what can help make history even more relevant to youngsters is when they feel they are actually ‘living in it’ – and trust me that is exactly what they are doing now.

In 50, 100 or 150 years, youngsters will, I guess, still be studying the rise of Hitler, the impact of Henry VIII on our religious make-up and the causes of the Russian Revolution, for example.
But, I suspect they will also be looking into the great economic crisis of 2008/2009 and, of course, the reasons why the greatest power on earth (at the time) elected an African- American President just 40 years after that same nation had visible pockets of apartheid still operating.

You know when you’re living through history when people stop what they’re doing to follow an event. Many people in the generation older than me will say they can remember exactly where they were when they heard JFK was shot and I’m sure the same will apply to my generation when we are asked in the future about the death of Diana, the dreadful events of 9/11 or the day that Barak Obama became President.

In our office we have a number of TVs to keep up to date with breaking news throughout the day but they are normally on ‘mute’ as we let the pictures and the subtitles tell us the stories. But, on Tuesday, the volume went up, pens were put down and people listened to an Obama speech that will have been watched with equal fascination in Beijing and Beirut as it was in Baltimore and Boston.

It was one of those rare collective experiences borne out of the fact that we all knew something special was happening and we wanted to share in a genuine historical event.

And that, of course, is why I find history to be such a living subject. What is happening in the Oval Office, the banking industry and the Middle East at the moment will all be major chapters in future history books but what makes the future study of the subject even more exciting is that the sheer scale and variety of media available to us now means that the next batch of students will have an incredible wealth of information to help them.

So, history is as much a part of the future as it is of the past – and that is why I just can’t help myself from talking about it when I meet my children’s teachers.

Sorry guys.

No comments: