How Do Children Learn History?

(5 Posts)
EBearhug Sun 20-Apr-14 21:10:34

Did anyone else listen to How Do Children Learn History? on Radio 4 this afternoon?

I have a good sense of chronology, and I had gained this by the time I was a teenager, but I don't remember ever having been specifically taught it. I have an early memory of my mother talking to me about "the old days" because of the well and lead water pump outside our front door, and explaining what they were. I also had a big obsession about the Tudors and priest holes when I was about 6, after a visit to a National Trust house (don't remember which.)

Then at school, I remember doing in roughly this order: Romans, Ancient Egyptians, Lady Jane Grey, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Vikings, Reformation, Guy Fawkes, Normans, Anglo-Saxons, Tudors, Industrial Revolution (GCSE), Nazism & the Tudors/Reformation (with a little bit of the Wars of the Roses before the Tudors.) (A-Level). There's probably some bits pre-secondary school I've forgotten. I picked up other stuff like the Iron Age at the local museum. Other than Guy Fawkes, I barely touched the Stuarts till university (where I read Modern History).

So I don't really know how I ended up with a good sense of chronology, but one way or another, I did - and I agree with the programme that it is important to know roughly where whatever topic you're doing fits in with the overall timeline of everything. But perhaps I think that because my mind works that way, that's why I attach more importance to it than other people might. I don't know, so I wondered what others thought.

I must listen to this.

Like you, I did things out of chronology. But I think that's actually better. I talk to quite a lot of people who believe they 'know' history when what they know is dates, often without any sense of why they matter. Michael Gove made an idiot of himself like this, because he had a rant about how important it was to know which order the (IIRC) Romans, Egyptians and Vikings 'came in' - he didn't seem aware of the overlaps. I think that's a huge danger, and you see the impact of this approach when you look at attitudes to the Renaissance. In Italy it's fourteenth century; in England, sixteenth. If you've learned that chronology is everything and it's all about fixed dates, I think that's really hard to grasp. And I also think that, even if you grasp it, you tend to conclude 'oh, that means Italy was modern and better than England'. hmm

But I should really listen before I sound off. blush grin

EBearhug Tue 22-Apr-14 23:32:03

I agree with that, but it's also important to know that the Tudors weren't at all overlapping with the Romans or the Victorians, even if you don't know the exact dates.

Also, I find it easy to remember things like dates, which might bias my views. I still remember birthdays of people I was at school with, even if I haven't seen them for over 25 years.

(I know the Egyptians and Romans overlapped - I've read Asterix and Cleopatra. wink)

Oh, absolutely.

I suppose what I mean is, I think chronology is very useful when it's broad-brush (like what you describe), but not when it's an excuse to separate everything into neat little boxes, which don't describe things very well anyway.

And I didn't think you didn't know about the overlap! I thought bloody Gove didn't! Didn't know it was in Asterix though. grin

EBearhug Tue 22-Apr-14 23:47:33

He's not well-read like me, that's his problem*. (I think I probably knew about the Romans and Egyptians before I knew about Asterix, actually.)

Still, I imagine it's easier to teach if things do fit in neat little boxes, and you do have to put limitations on things to make it feasible to teach anything at all, so it's tricky.


* Well, one of them.

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