A View of History Education in the West

6 Aug

Bestselling historian Niall Ferguson has this interesting take on history education (in Civilization: the West and the Rest, p. xix):

For roughly thirty years, young people at Western schools and universities have been given the idea of a liberal education, without the substance of historical knowledge. They have been taught isolated ‘modules’, not narrative, much less chronologies. They have been trained in the formulaic analysis of document excerpts, not in the key skill of reading widely and fast. They have been encouraged to feel empathy with imagined Roman centurions or Holocaust victims, not to write essays about why and how their predicaments arose. In The History Boys, the playwright Alan Bennett posed a ‘trilemma’: should history be taught as a mode of contrarian argumentation, a communion with past Truth and Beauty, or just ‘one fucking thing after another’? He was evidently unaware that today’s sixth-formers are offered none of the above–at best, they get a handful of ‘fucking things’ in no particular order.

I may have something to say about this later. For now, I will let it lay …

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