No history, no future?

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 1(Jan/Feb 2012), Letters, Volume 20

Sir,—I agree wholeheartedly with Elma Collins’s defence of the importance of history in the school curriculum (HI 91.6, Nov./Dec. 2011). However, I disagree just as strongly with one of her arguments as to why history teaching is important. Elma writes that ‘Nationalist myths went largely unexamined in the schools until the 1960s. We saw the results of that in 30 years of needless “armed struggle”.’ Apart from the difficulty of defining what might constitute a ‘Nationalist myth’ (one person’s myth being another’s historical fact), it is surely incorrect to suggest that the war in Northern Ireland was inspired or sustained by the history taught in Southern Irish schools. History teaching should not be inspired by fears that if the ‘wrong’ version of the past is presented to them, students will embrace the ‘wrong’ politics. To construct a curriculum on this basis would simply put history at the service of whichever political forces were powerful enough to control the education system. It would also in my view be entirely counterproductive, as intelligent students invariably rebel against being taught the ‘correct line’. It is possible to present complex and balanced arguments about history to students and to be confident that they will be able to make up their own minds about them, even if they sometimes disagree with their teachers.—Yours etc.,
BRIAN HANLEY Institute of Irish Studies Liverpool

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