Just What Are We Missing in Our History?; Finola Lynch Suspects a New Labour Agenda Behind the Proposed Rewriting of the School History Syllabus

Article excerpt

What are we missing if Canute, Alfred the Great and Bede are banished from our children's history lessons?

"Well, 'what', 'are' and 'we' for a start," replies Professor Jane Roberts, Professor of English Language and Medieval Literature at Kings College, London.

"The core of our language as it was then spoken has survived, English before the conquest." That's 1066 to you and I.

It is fair to suggest we would not be asking the question if it had not been for those 700 years education experts want to slice from today's A-level history syllabus.

From 410, the contentious fixed date that marks the official end of Roman Britain through the 200-year-old Dark Age, to the great age of learning led by Bede, the official arrival of Christianity in the body of St Augustine and the unification of England under one King Alfred - all this is considered irrelevant and boring to our sixth formers.

The way history is going today, everything has to be relevant and modern or it has no place. It makes you wonder if a history subject is only considered worth studying if it happened in the TV age.

If sixth formers cannot sit down and watch a TV programme about it, the subject is considered dull. And those in charge of the syllabus are dutifully prepared to erase it for the sake of careless youth. But can history be cut and pasted to suit our whims? Surely that ought to be resisted. It is almost fascist. History has always been doctored by authoritarian governments to control the minds they rule. Consider Stalin and Hitler. Which leads one naturally to consider whether there is a political agenda behind this latest distortion of history. As Great Britain gets a political makeover courtesy of New Labour, perhaps we are now seeing New History.

So what would we be erasing if Anglo-Saxon history was no longer taught before university? Chris Dyer, Professor of Medieval Social History at the University of Birmingham, gives a few key dates.

530: Bede, who epitomises the age of international scholarship prevalent at the time. He invented the Christian chronology, BC and AD.

597: St Augustine comes to Kent. His arrival established not only the spread of Christianity across England, particularly in the south east, but also the seat of this country's church, Canterbury. …