The current clamour for teaching our history in schools doesn’t surprise me. I say that as having put numerous offspring through our supposedly top private schools in Wellington, Auckland and Sydney over the past half century, it’s always alarmed me to note the absence of history in their school reports. Instead they’re riddled with ‘feel‑good’ subjects. To me, in an education pecking order, history is the first base subject after learning to read.
But here’s what puzzles me.
In my Lower Hutt state primary school we were taught New Zealand history for two consecutive years when I was respectively 9 and 10, this in the post‑war years.
Then in 1953 aged 13 at Naenae College, it being rough as guts back then, in the 3rd form we, all working class offspring, did human history, starting with primitive man and the development of civilisations in Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, the Ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Middle Ages, the Rise of Islam, Feudalism, the crusades, development of towns and trade and the growth of the modern state. I’m copying all of that from the chapter titles in the first three sections in our history book called, “The March of Civilisation”.
Thereafter the Renaissance, the Reformation, Philosophers, Colonialism, the French Revolution, Industrial Revolution and so on. All of this, obviously not in great depth, at 13. It was described under the umbrella title of Social Studies which included geography.
In the 5th form the year’s history was devoted to modern British history, beginning with the 1851 Great Exhibition through to the centennial 1951 exhibition. The text book, still a great read, I have before me; “A Portrait of Britain.”
Then in a final year there aged 16 we did 19th century Irish history and the quest for independence, the break‑up of the old European order after Waterloo and 19th Century Russian history up until the 1917 revolution.
We also did a month on medieval church architecture. Why? Because we had the most wonderful teacher who hammered into us that absolutely everything is interesting and we studied that to illustrate his point. It’s why I have over 20,000 books in three homes and have spent the majority of my waking hours reading ever since I left school. I’ve done a few other things as well of course, but reading has been the main one and now, 64 years later I’m still grateful to that teacher for his wisdom.
All of the above was as then prescribed for state schools by the education authorities. Why for God’s sake was it ever abandoned?
And for the record, noting the nonsense currently being talked implying the old order was teaching “dates” and “kings and queens”, that’s absolute cock, as the above list of topics illustrates.
I’d say this as a qualification. The current clamour is being driven solely by a desire to teach New Zealand history and fashionable revisionism re the Maori wars, as they were referred to in our primary school New Zealand history lessons.
Well of course kids should do New Zealand history, but, keep it in context. By that I mean New Zealand in every sense is insignificant in the scheme of things and of greater importance, children should be introduced to the entire fabric of human history back to the Stone Age, just as we all were in those post‑war years.