Publication date: Friday 10th May 2013

Cartoons and Mr Men

On the morning of Thursday 9th May the Secretary of State for Education delivered a speech at Brighton College entitled “What does it mean to be an educated person?” The focus of the speech is a criticism of those who have opposed his department’s proposals for the new National Curriculum – it made the usual inferences that those who opposed the changes were opposed to young people learning.

As Mr Gove responded to his critics subject by subject he launched an ill-researched attack on the Historical Association. Founded in 1906 and granted a Royal Charter in 2006 the HA has more than 50 branches across the UK and supports and represents thousands of children, teachers, academics and enthusiastic amateurs, that all want to ensure that history is discussed, debated and promoted – ensuring historical knowledge and research are recognised as important for all ages and abilities.

The attack accused the HA of promoting cartoon history suggesting that it recommended in its resources that young people could learn history through watching Disney cartoons – in fact he is referring to an article in the HA publication ‘Primary History’ from December 2012 by Jane Card which is a critical piece on using film in the classroom to teach history. The article reminds teachers at primary level (those very teachers who are not experts) that film is not truth and that young people need to be guided through film when it is used to portray the past and factual events. The whole article has been misrepresented by Mr Gove – why, who is he undermining the HA or teachers across the board?

He then cites another ‘resource’ on the Third Reich that uses Mr Men to explore the traits of the Nazi leadership. The inference in his speech is that this is another HA resource that promotes cartoon teaching. Fortunately for Mr Gove the officials of the DfE credited the correct organisation for the Mr Men lesson and we will leave  Active History to explain how their work has been misinterpreted.

But why the attack on the HA? Is it because we:

  • Have criticised the proposed new curriculum but with evidence;
  • Because we met with over 500 teachers face to face in less than 6 weeks to collect our response evidence;
  • Because we presented Mr Gove face to face with the evidence collected by an annual survey that 96.2% of secondary teachers felt that insufficient attention had been given to teachers in the new NC;
  • That through an online poll with over 1700 responses only 4% thought the new history NC was a positive change;
  • Because we represent teachers, who have been trained to have a breadth of historical knowledge, who have opinions and can think both critically and with expertise and come from all sides of the political spectrum?

Whatever Mr Gove’s reasons are for wanting to diminish the Historical Association we will continue to produce respected and credible resources, to listen to teachers, academics and all those who think history is something that young people are entitled to learn about without the political messaging of governments. Our core mission for over 100 years has been to help raise the standard of history teaching and learning in schools and we will continue to do so irrespective of political agendas.

Perhaps Mr Gove should read Professor Sir David Cannadine’s book ‘The Right Kind of History’ that reports that there was no golden age of history teaching in schools and that in the past politicians of all parties avoided prescribing history content because only totalitarian regimes want to control what young people think about their past.