There’s nothing wrong with having a little pride in our country’s heritage

A section of the front page fromThe Sentinel in 1918 when the Great War Armistice was declared.

A section of the front page from The Sentinel in 1918 when the Great War Armistice was declared.

If there was a poll to find the most unpopular person in England right now then Education Secretary Michael Gove would surely be in with a shout.

As many of his predecessors have been wont to do, Mr Gove has made it his business to tinker…

He’s tinkered with the curriculum. He’s even tinkered with teachers’ terms and conditions.

Granted, it has felt at times during the past three years as though the Government has been constantly attacking the teaching profession.

The problem is that when a politician attempts to change the way children are taught this inevitably puts him or her on a collision course with teaching professionals (and their unions).

Politicians can bring in all the experts they want: All the professors, academics and even celebrities. It won’t make a scrap of difference.

They will still be accused of poking their nose in business they know nothing about, bringing the morale of teachers down to rock bottom and endangering children’s education for generations to come.

In 2007 the then Labour Government controversially took the decision to remove key historical figures from the curriculum – including Churchill and Hitler – leading to accusations of a ‘dumbing down’.

Now Michael Gove wants our Winston back in again – and a lot more names besides.

His new draft curriculum would see five to 14-year-olds learning about the Romans, the Vikings, the Magna Carta, the Reformation, the English Civil War, the development of the British Empire, the Napoleonic Wars, the Industrial Revolution, the First and Second World Wars and the creation of the NHS.

They would learn history up to 1066 at primary school and find out about the Norman Conquest during their secondary education.

Sound OK so far? Well, it did to me, but apparently not to some education professionals.

More than 100 teachers from a variety of schools have signed a letter to a national newspaper claiming the proposals amount to a breach of their legal duty to avoid “the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school”.

They point to the ‘jingoistic’ way in which both Mr Gove and the Prime Minister have promoted plans to change the curriculum and claim certain sections of the community – “ethnic minority groups and girls even” – may feel excluded by the proposals.

It’s at this point that I rather lose patience with the letter writers.

I often visit my daughters’ schools and enjoy viewing all the work they’ve done on topics as varied – for example – as space travel, the Great Fire of London and Diwali.

Frankly, I don’t have a problem with any of them and my girls will often come home and proudly explain what they’ve learned on any given day.

As far as I can see, studying something like the Gunpowder Plot and its remarkable legacy or the wonderful annual Hindu Festival of Light is all part of the rich tapestry of our unashamedly multi-cultural nation.

At the same time I can’t help but feel there’s been a creeping change in recent years in the way in which certain subjects and topics have been approached and taught in our schools.

I’m not sure at what point it happened but, at some time during the past 20 years, it seems to have ceased to be acceptable to be proud to be English or British in a historical context or to be proud of our country’s heritage.

Certain colossal figures have been airbrushed from the curriculum and, as a nation, we’ve done an awful lot of soul-searching about (and apologising for) past misdeeds.

I’ve never really understood this desperate need to appease and to avoid offending any and everyone because I don’t see how we, here in the 21st century, can be held responsible for events which happened hundreds of years ago.

For example, I don’t want an apology from the good people of France for the Battle of Hastings. Honestly, I’m over it.

The fact is Great Britain had an empire and it was mainly run or administered by men and thus the majority of ‘great’ (I use this term advisedly) historical figures were blokes.

I don’t say this to alienate women or girls: It’s just a fact.

Thankfully, the role of women has changed dramatically in the past 100 years or so to the extent that historians of the future will include far more women in the lists of ‘great historical figures’ than history teachers could when I was at school during the 1980s.

It’s also a fact that in any nation’s history there will be good and bad – things to be proud of and to be appalled at.

These are historical facts and I can’t see anything wrong in highlighting both while, at the same time, giving young people a sense of pride and belonging.

Surely it’s better that they learn about and admire figures such as Shakespeare, the Duke of Wellington, Florence Nightingale or Churchill than whichever
X-Factor winner happens to be on their iPod shuffle this week?

There will doubtless be a huge debate in the coming months about the way in which we mark the centenary of the start of the Great War and the Government will do that thing of trying not to upset our German friends.

I’ve already started ploughing through The Sentinel’s archive as we here at this regional newspaper plan our coverage.

It’s not about offending anyone. We take the view that it’s important to honour the men from our neck of the woods who fought and died in the mud at Mons, Passchendaele or Ypres – just as other media outlets will be doing for their ‘patch’.

To that end, I would argue that being partisan, in this case, isn’t a bad thing at all.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel

Advertisements

Forget downloads: I remember when music still mattered

The government has announced a major shake-up of copyright laws.
Finally, the Digital Econony Act will make it legal to copy music and films to a computer, iPod or similar device.
It won’t affect me one bit, of course, and I dare say I’m not alone.
I have never downloaded a tune or a movie and I wouldn’t know where to begin.
I am a complete techno-phobe. I resisted email like an absolute Luddite. I don’t have an iPod or an iPad for that matter. My mobile telephone is basic, to say the least.
I can barely set the video (sorry) DVD recorder – which is just the way I like it, to be honest.
Back in July 2006 I said goodbye to an old friend – someone many of us grew up with.
After 42 years Top Of The Pops (TOTP) disappeared from our TV screens with little more than a whimper.
Ratings had been on the slide for some time and what killed TOTP wasn’t the advent of the compact disc.
It wasn’t even the sparklingly charismatic presenting duo of Fearne Cotton and Reggie Yates. No, honestly, it wasn’t.
What did for TOTP in the end was the internet which meant that people were finding new ways to access the music they liked.
Suddenly, the charts didn’t matter anymore.
Not only could people download albums and singles by their favourite artists but websites which gave new acts the chance to shine were springing up all over the place.
Performers whose music had only ever been heard via the internet became overnight sensations.
Without such websites like MySpace then artists like the Arctic Monkey and Lily Allen would perhaps never have been discovered.
Even so, I reckon the internet has actually done more damage than good to the music industry.
Apart from anything else, I can never forgive it for putting the final nail in the coffin of the charts.
I can’t be the only one who misses their weekly fix of movers and new entries.
Surely I’m not alone in wishing that the old-fashioned way of monitoring the music scene was still available.
In its halcyon days TOTP had more than 15 million viewers on a Thursday night.
We got to watch our favourite bands perform (sometimes they weren’t even miming) and experience the cultural melting pot of musical tastes.
Where else could you get Duran Duran, the Pet Shop Boys, Bananarama, Cliff Richard and Bon Jovi in half an hour?
Back in the day we all knew what was number one in the singles chart. How many of us can say the same now?
Not many, because the truth is no-one cares anymore.
If you ask me there is something desperately sad about the fact that there are now generations who have only ever known music via downloads.
Getting your music from the ether strikes me as a pretty soulless affair.
Never mind social networking: How can it possibly compare to the shared experience of watching TOTP then nipping up Hanley with your mates at the weekend to scour through the racks for the tracks you wanted?
I have friends with tens of thousands of songs on their iPod but I would never swap their hi-tech for my vinyl collection.
Just think of all the fantastic album covers you’ve got tucked away in a cupboard somewhere.
Each one is a work of art – complete with sleeve notes, photographs and lyrics.
The other night I watched a TOTP2 Eighties special.
It included such gems as a live performance of I Wanna Dance With Somebody by Whitney Houston, poodle-haired Scandinavians Europe rockin’ out to The Final Countdown and T’Pau’s China In Your Hands.
But it was the last song which took me back to a time and a place which is special to me.
The track, from 1988, was The Only Way Is Up by Yazz and The Plastic Population.
Having watched that original episode of TOTP I then recalled dancing to the song with my Port Vale fan mates in Regime’s nightclub – with the chorus doctored to ‘the Vale are going up, baby, Division Two now’.
Not that original, granted, but the memory has stuck with me all the same.
Yes, downloads may be the present and the future, but I think I’ll stick with my vinyl and the occasional trip down memory lane with TOTP2 to a time when music still mattered.