by Ed West
Tuesday, 13
October 2020
Reaction
16:27

America’s history is swallowing our own

Bizarrely, Brits don't seem to care
by Ed West
Rosa Parks (c)

I used to find it strange that during my years of schooling I learned more about German history than I did about my own country. When I say “German history” I mean, of course, 12 particular years of German history; I learned little else about the country, which is why so many of my countrymen continue to have such a weirdly outdated view of Europe.

People love to make points about “why aren’t we taught more about the Tang Dynasty or the Benin Empire or whatever” at school as if the subject were limitless; there’s not enough time for passionate history enthusiasts to learn about the whole world, let alone bored schoolchildren, so the subject is limited, and benefits from having a clear narrative.


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The “Our Island Story” narrative worked for its time, but the focus on Nazi Germany also has the advantage of presenting a story of good versus evil, and a morality tale still relevant today. Most people are only capable of holding limited numbers of ideas at one time, so less central historical narratives tends to get crowded out.

For my children’s generation, it’s another morality tale altogether. When my eldest finished Year 3 she had been taught about three historical figures — Elizabeth I, Henry VIII and Rosa Parks — and my younger daughter just learned about Harriet Tubman as part of Black History Month, which often seems to be more like American History Month. Indeed I wonder if they will go through school learning more about American than British history.

Aris Roussinos compared our obsession with American politics as being “Like backwoods Gaulish or Dacian chieftains donning togas and trading clumsy Latin epithets”, and the ultimate sign of cultural assimilation — or colonisation — is to adopt another culture’s history.

The story of the African-American struggle from slavery to civil rights is moving and powerful, and ultimately one of human dignity and redemption, but it is not our story.

Historically segregation in Britain was about class. When working-class footballers first tried to join with public schoolboys they had to wear a different kit to their fellow players, and afterwards had to dine separately; that’s the kind of story that would receive the Netflix treatment today if it was race, but because class is quite boring, and doesn’t trigger the same emotional response, it’s largely ignored.

Unlike with the horrors of Nazi Germany, in which villains and victims can both seem distant, the American story can appear relevant to people who have US social media drama shoved in their face all day long. After a while they might start to see it as their own story; indeed I’d be genuinely interested to know what percentage of younger people today believe Britain used to have segregation, lynching or laws against intermarriage. I’d bet it’s double figures and rising.

America’s national story, of which racial redemption is a central part, is swallowing ours. And the most bizarre thing about it is that no one even seem to care.

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Pierre Brute
Pierre Brute
2 years ago

As an Englishman, I’m sick to death with our country’s obsession with the US. It’s a nice place, I had a good time there but having their teachings (and diet) constantly rammed down our throats as a model for our own is perverse.

steve eaton
steve eaton
2 years ago
Reply to  Pierre Brute

As an American, I think you should resent our culture being rammed down your throat…as an American I am tired of or new “culture” being rammed down my throat as well.

But then, I have long been a fan of English culture and history. England was dealing with some of the modern problem back when in what is now the USA no one had yet thought of the wheel.

Lydia R
Lydia R
2 years ago

Apparently all white people are white supremacists even the ones who toiled in the mines and factories. That’s all they are taught these days.

Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
2 years ago
Reply to  Lydia R

One could almost think there had been an agenda to ensure a mass ignorance regarding the harsh reality of British lives as experienced by the overwhelming majority of people in relatively recent history.
An informative book on the subject of working class families and their wages – or lack of them – is Breadwinner.

Jasper Carrot
Jasper Carrot
2 years ago

History is an important element to a child’s education, though it does seem that this is not the ongoing trend in the recent & current general British education system. Learning about WWII misses the whole point of why did WWII break out? The point being, is that history should explain the origins of your country & how it has evolved within the international domain – the good & bad aspects, rather than being selective. The Romans are a good place to start & to progress to the 20th century, through the whole cycle of a child’s/pupil’s/ student’s schooling. This provides a better understanding of why things are not as straight forward in today’s life as some may question; it goes some way to identify the differences in the EU member states & the reasoning for the current Franco-German controlling influence over most matters.

Peter LastSpurrier
Peter LastSpurrier
2 years ago

My general impression is that schools no longer teach anything like the overall history of Britain, starting from, say, the Roman invasion, onwards. Am I right? In which case, I would like it if they did.

Pierre Brute
Pierre Brute
2 years ago

Sounds pretty accurate. I’d prefer them to return to this far more instructive and elevating core curriculum. I don’t honestly give a damn about race relations in the US.

G Mascord
G Mascord
2 years ago

https://www.gov.uk/governme

The Roman Invasion is part of the National Curriculum in KS2. It actually starts with changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age.

Rosa Parks is mentioned in KS1 but as an example in the non-statutory guidance.

kathyshaidle
kathyshaidle
2 years ago

The Canadian Left is obsessed with American (grievance) history because, frankly, it’s more exciting than our own. But you Brits have no such excuse. Colo(u)r me confused.

Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
2 years ago

Many people care but they are not the ones that are heard.

billhickey105
billhickey105
2 years ago

It could be worse for your kids, Ed. Imagine if they were told in history class that Britain went to war in 1939 to prevent Poland from being subjugated to a totalitarian power.

They might start to wonder if their country won.

Instead, let them enjoy the popular US version of WW II. This about sums up what most people in the US are taught today to think of the greatest conflict in world history:

It was about saving Jews and fighting racists.

opn
opn
2 years ago
Reply to  billhickey105

Surely it was to prevent Poland from being subjugated to two totalitarian powers.

billhickey105
billhickey105
2 years ago
Reply to  opn

Well then, I guess that goes down as another in the world record list of failures by Winston Churchill, the Pyrrhus of the 20th Century.

He wanted to save Poland and ended up turning all of Eastern Europe over to totalitarianism for decades.

That beats Gallipoli and the Norway campaign by a mile.

But don’t worry. Those things aren’t taught here either. Churchill is still respected in US history books ” for now.

The anti-whites and anti-colonialists haven’t gotten around to him yet.

David Simpson
David Simpson
2 years ago

The sad thing is, children love a good story, and all countries have one, and every citizen should have some idea how their country came to be the way it is, and its place in the history of the world.

I once tackled my son’s head of history on their focus to the apparent exclusion of everything else on the history of the Nazi period. He explained that because of all the course work required, it was much easier to teach the Nazis because of the wealth of photographic, film and documentary evidence that children could include in their projects. I despaired.

billhickey105
billhickey105
2 years ago

“the American story can appear relevant to people who have US social media drama shoved in their face all day long. After a while they might start to see it as their own story; indeed I’d be genuinely interested to know what percentage of younger people today believe Britain used to have segregation, lynching or laws against intermarriage. I’d bet it’s double figures and rising.

“America’s national story, of which racial redemption is a central part, is swallowing ours.”

Hey, do you think London will be out of lockdown by April 22nd?

I want to be part of the Stephen Lawrence Day festivities.

Michael Rawle
Michael Rawle
2 years ago

I disagree with Ed West that the failure to teach narrative history in our schools and universities is a recent import from the United States. The teaching of the national narrative in an historical continuum from the neolithic period to the present day appears to have ceased at some time in the late 1980s, with the result that a 40 year old adult, who was processed through our state educational system, will have little idea of how the nation state and society, in which he or she now lives, was formed over the centuries.

Why did this bizarre impoverishment of the curriculum occur? I suspect it was a mixture of the intellectual zeitgeist from the 1950s onwards and bourgeois liberal embarrassment with old-fashioned patriotism (as illustrated perfectly by the revealing shock of a shadow cabinet minister on viewing White Van Man’s house).

The absence of a British historical narrative has created a vacuum, which will be occupied inter alia by the continuing fall-out from the American Civil War, as portrayed in the social media, from which our young people obtain their information.

Oliver McCarthy
Oliver McCarthy
1 year ago

The story of the African-American struggle from slavery to civil rights is moving and powerful
No, it isn’t. (And it has b****r all to do with English people anyway.)
It’s just another account of how the West moved from being an ordered, hierarchical, rational society to becoming the chaos it is today.
Enjoy the next recession, lovelies! Putin’s victory in Ukraine is just going to be the cherry on the t**d.