July 11, 2008 | Graham

What about 1066 and all that?

NSW school students apparently are not compelled to learn about the Holocaust. It says something that we are agonising over this fact. The Holocaust was a terrible chapter in human history, but in terms of essential information it isn’t top level for me, anymore than it appears to be for those who write curriculum in NSW.
What is more shocking for me is that my children, all of whom are good A and occasional B students, have no idea what significance years like 1066 and 1492 have.
I had my suspicions, but they only became confirmed when I was explaining about the trade winds. Vasco de Gama meant nothing to them. Neither did Magellan. Amerigo Vespuci? Huh?
It turns out that you can get a good pass in primary school and never have any understanding of European history, colonisation, or how so many French words got into the English language.
For me this is a much larger indictment of what is taught, than the absence of the Holocaust.

Posted by Graham at 8:11 pm | Comments (6) |
Filed under: Education


  1. Vikings invade england. Five hundred years after the vikings have a little look around, Columbus shows up in the Americas. And you think remember those dates is important?
    How about 551 and say 1162.
    The history of man has a lot of interesting events, and not all of them happened in Europe.
    If you don’t know who was born in the above years do I have the right to question your education?

    Comment by charles — July 11, 2008 @ 9:42 pm

  2. Okay, my education is lacking. I’m guessing 1162 is Genghis Khan but I’m drawing a blank for 551.

    Comment by FMark — July 12, 2008 @ 1:33 pm

  3. My guess for 551 was Muhammad, but Wikipedia claims he was born circa 570. Confucius was around 551 BC.

    Comment by Tobias — July 12, 2008 @ 2:01 pm

  4. Yes Genghis Khan and Confucius was on my mind. I lose, we should all know the dates European enlighenment gained enough steam for the Europeans to rediscover stuff that was discovered tens of thousands of years ago and forgotten ( mankind after are all pretty much settled the globe 40,000 years ago).
    What I don’t understand is why there is currently several thousand in Sydney celebrating the pre enlighenment institution.
    While the pope is apologizing for the activities of the priests, perhaps he could throw in one for the dark ages and the knowledge destruction that resulted.
    When you look at the knowledge destruction of the church and the civilization destruction during the colonization period, Europe’s proud achievements need to be balanced with a little soul searching.
    Considering what we now know I think it might be wise to forget that we once thought that Europe’s rediscovery of America was a significant event for humanity.
    Thats my irrelevent view anyway.

    Comment by charles — July 13, 2008 @ 11:16 am

  5. I think that my point was that on the scale of importance, the Holocaust ranks behind a lot of other issues.
    I do think that you need to know the dates pertinent to your own culture, so I think 1066 ranks ahead of the birth of Confucious and Ghengis Khan, because the Norman conquest has a profound effect on the language, as well as consequences in terms of systems of government.
    1492 is important because it is the beginning of the West’s dominance of the globe, which you could argue is coming to an end, but in any event has a span of around 500 years. 1770 and 1788 are also important dates for Australians, and I don’t think my kids score well on those.
    Dates are important for context. If you know that Australia was settled at the time of the French Revolution, it makes a lot more sense than not.
    I think you’re being too hard on the Catholic Church. It didn’t create the dark ages. In fact it was responsible for keeping intellectual activity alive during that period. It’s got a lot of things to apologise, but the Dark Ages isn’t one of them.

    Comment by Graham Young — July 13, 2008 @ 1:05 pm

  6. Everyone:
    “History[??]” in schools and in undergraduate university has been so dumbed down that it has ceased to be a matter of education and become, instead, a consumer prooection and sale-of-substandard-goods issue.
    How many Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Education graduates are there wandering around also ignorant of:
    404BC [Fall of Athens to Sparta] and 371BC [Defeat of the Spartans by the Thebans]; 146BC [ruin of Carthage]; 221BC[end of the last independent Chinese kingdom by Qin ShiHuangDi];
    1453AD[end of Byzantine Empire]; 1644BC[end of Ming Empire], etc.?
    How many have the stunned-mullet look when Asoka, Temujin, King Stephen, Wat Tyler, Bayard, Pugachev, Shaka or Hidalgo are mentioned? Likewise the Servile War, the Northern Crusade, the Russo-Polish war of 1920, the Northern Expedition, the Chaco war?
    How many have graduated – after 13 or 14 years of “education[?]” – without having heard of the Enclosures, the Clearances or the Meiji Restoration? How many are aware of how it was that the compass, improved rope-making, the printing press, double-entry bookkeeping, quinine, tea made with boiling water, chloroform, the windmill and the chronometer changed the world?
    An educated person, in previous generations, would have been expected to have heard of these things or of things of equal relevance. Not so today.
    The time has come to rescue History from the shonks and fakes so that young people can better understand their world and their heritage …. and by so doing avoid the blunders of ignorance that caused so much grief in our own generation..

    Comment by Graham Bell — July 18, 2008 @ 10:44 pm

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