So Why Is It That Scotland, a Nation So Immersed in Its Own History, Is Producing Generations of Children Deliberately Starved of All Knowledge of Their Rich, Varied Past?
Byline: ALLAN MASSIE
IN 1827, Sir Walter Scott began writing a history of Scotland for his young grandson Johnnie. The boy's father, J G Lockhart, had removed to London to edit a magazine there and Scott was anxious that little Johnnie should not grow up ignorant of the history of his own country.
This was not a view that would subsequently be shared by the old Scottish Educational Department - nor, indeed, does it appear to have commended itself to the Scottish Executive today. So Scotland is one of the very few European countries where children can pass the whole of their school career without ever studying the history of their own country.
Indeed, it is possible that in this respect Scotland is unique.
Consequently, many are wholly ignorant of Scotland's past, or such knowledge as they think they have is patchy and often inaccurate. So, for instance, in the summer of 2004, a Fife councillor was banned from his local pub for abusing some English visitors. He explained that he disliked the English on account of the 1746 Battle of Culloden.
If he had studied Scottish history at school, he would have known that Culloden was a battle in a British civil war, that there were Scots (and English) in both armies and that the victorious Duke of Cumberland was hailed as a hero in Lowland Presbyterian Scotland, given the Freedom of the City of Glasgow and made Chancellor of St Andrews University in the councillor's own county of Fife.
He might have realised that the idea that Culloden was a battle fought between Scots on one side and English on the other is, historically, as soundly based as Mel Gibson's film Braveheart.
For many, over several generations, Scott's Tales of a Grandfather supplied them with a knowledge of Scottish history that their schools denied them.
(For younger children this might first have been provided by HE Marshall's Scotland's Story, itself owing much to Scott.) So, for instance, the novelist Compton Mackenzie, who would become one of the founders of the SNP, said that his sense of Scottish patriotism was first inspired by being given the Tales of a Grandfather when he was eight, and the late, lamented Magnus Magnusson avowed his own excellent and entertaining history of Scotland was an attempt to bring Scott's work, which he had loved as a boy, up to date.
It isn't that there is little interest in Scottish history.
In the past 30 or 40 years, the academic study of Scottish history has flourished. A great many books have been written. Some of them have been bestsellers here in Scotland and some of their authors have become media celebrities, always ready with an article on some appropriate anniversary or on some topic currently in the news.
This month's tercentenary of the Treaty of Union has brought a flood of books and articles and the bank balances of our academic historians have benefited. It has even been claimed that Scottish history is now a sexy subject - but not in our schools.
There it still languishes in obscurity and pupils are more likely to learn about the Russian Revolution and the Rise of the Nazis than about the Reformation in Scotland or the Scottish Enlightenment.
Even the Wars of Independence may remain a closed book to them and so they may imagine that Braveheart is good history.
In one way, the neglect of Scottish history used to be, to some extent, excusable. Such school histories of Scotland as there were would stop in 1707 with the Treaty of Union, or in 1746 with the defeat of the last Jacobite rising.
SOME histories intended for adult readers did so, too. It is easy to see why. As long as history dealt chiefly with war, politics, diplomacy and constitutional developments, there was indeed very little that could be called distinct Scottish history after 1707. The same might, of course, be said of English history, too. Scotland and England were no longer independent states, but were joined together in the United Kingdom and so its history was British. …