Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Knowledge vs skills

I don't want to say too much about the debate currently going on in England about education, partly because it doesn't apply to me and also because I'm increasingly of the view that one would be more likely to get a balanced and reasoned discussion if you were to raise some of the thornier issues relating to the Middle East, such is the apparent English disposition to identify enemies over this matter.  Just one narrow point, which has to do with the suggestion that history should be taught in chronological order.

This relates to the broader issue raised by the title of this post.  I can't see why anyone would think arranging the curriculum like this would be a good idea.  Gove likes to cite the support of various 'eminent historians', by which he means famous ones.  Some of them I like, others less so - but I'm wondering why their opinion is being sought in the first place?  What do any of them know about teaching history to children?  Why does David Starkey give his approval to a mode of teaching that would mean his pet subject would never be taught to senior pupils?  Do Beevor and Ferguson really think it is better to teach the causes of the Great War before those behind WWII to younger pupils for the sole reason they happened first?  Because surely no-one could disagree about which was more complicated?

It doesn't make any sense.  The distinction that is currently being made between 'skills' and 'knowledge' is entirely phoney, so I really wish people would stop this.  Putting historical events in their correct chronological order is, to use that word which causes traditionalists to recoil in horror, a skill.  It is not particularly difficult but nevertheless one that is impossible to manage unless you have knowledge, specifically knowledge about when stuff happened.  If there is evidence that students are unable to do this which has not been gathered from unrepresentative surveys from hotel chains, I would agree that this is a cause for concern - but I would take issue with the notion that it is any kind of remedy that they should have this done for them.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Berlin, 1945

On the 20th of April, 1945 the Red Army sent the Fuhrer a birthday present in the form of an artillery barrage, the tonnage of which equalled that dropped by the RAF and the USAAF combined.  The shelling did not stop until Berlin had fallen.  Ordinary Germans prayed that the Americans and the British would arrive first but this was not to be the case.  The Soviet Union sacrificed over 70 000 of her soldiers to be the first to reach the German capital.

It is well-known that the higher echelons of the Third Reich committed suicide in anticipation of the Red Army's invasion, less so that it formed part of a larger wave of suicides across the whole city.  Some were in despair over a world that had quite literally collapsed around them, but even more perhaps in anticipation of what was about to befall them.  This for good  reason, the conduct of the occupying army being as it was largely a disgrace.

But while it may defy the imagination, the regime that had been defeated was even more venal, vicious, brutal and bestial than Stalin's Russia - an unexampled tyranny in the history of the human race.  While the modern adherents to the 'totalitarian thesis' may not agree, this was the position taken by Britain and her allies, which is why without ignoring the darkness and depravity that was the Second World War, it is indeed right to acknowledge the 8th of May as a victory for civilisation over the forces of barbarism.

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