History as It Should Be Taught for Today
Byline: Allan Massie
HAPPY the nation that has no history, it is said, for it can in theory face the future unencumbered by the weight of the past.
Such nations are, however, few, and Scotland is not one of them. How much unhappier, one might say, the nation that has a history and does not know it, or rather knows it only in a partial and misleading manner.
The committee of the Scottish Consultative Council on the curriculum, a non-partisan body, is about to produce a report which will suggest that some - too many - pupils are emerging from school with virtually no understanding of important parts of Scotland's history.
While granting that many teachers are doing good work, the report expresses concern that many children are being taught a version of Scottish history which dwells too heavily on romantic and heroic failures - Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie, John Maclean and Red Clydeside.
And, it stresses, pays little attention to more positive elements - the Presbyterian Reformation, the Enlightenment, the industrial revolution, Scots in the Empire, the Scottish contribution to science and technological progress.
Even when such subjects are studied, the emphasis is likely to be negative. The social hardships resulting from industrialisation are stressed, Empire is used as a case study of racism rather than a look at the spread of civilisation.
Two qualifications are due. First, most schoolchildren are exposed to some Scottish history - this was not so 20 years ago. Second, before standard grade, there is no obligation to teach any history. So if it is taught, the teacher cannot be blamed for concentrating on glamorous aspects to interest young pupils.
The story of Wallace, crudely told as in the film Braveheart, has an obvious and immediate appeal - easier than the complex tale of the birth of a nation.
Likewise the story of Mary Queen of Scots has an appeal that the story of John Knox lacks, though Knox's influence on the development of Scotland was incomparably greater. …