Christian O’Connell – Patriotism and the Past?

This BBC report considers the poet Benjamin Zephaniah’s criticism of the type of history that it taught in Britain’s schools. Zephaniah was responding to the assertions of people in office that young British kids from ethnic minorities were “were fed up with a diet of slavery and deprivation” and preferred some of “the more traditional diet of schools like Eton,” and therefore the school curriculum should focus on ‘traditional’ history – that is – the ‘real’ story of Britain.The poet argues that in this sense, pupils are only being told half the story, primarily because ‘traditional’ British history relagates issues of embarrassment and national regret to the sidelines. In response, students have to resort to extra-curricular means of obtaining more comprehensive knowledge of the past. This obviously raises the question, why do children study history at school? From the perspective of the current government, it would seem that the answer to this question is intricately tied up with citizenship and being British, a Britishness that is interwoven with the Empire. However, for critics like Zephaniah, it is this very notion of Britishness that is being challenged. The current focus on ‘traditional’ history challenges and attempts to bury contemporary British multiculturalism. The British past is ‘not so rosy’ claims Zephaniah, and we should not be afraid of introducing pupils to dark parts of the past. Also, non-white history is not all doom and gloom after all. Is the government afraid that pupils will become unpatriotic if presented with a more realistic British history? Should the history that is taught in schools be more ‘objective’? I look forward to your ideas on this…

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