How not to teach our history

If you were to talk to well-known unionists like Gregory Campbell or Billy Hutchinson, and mention the poverty and hardship which many nationalists endured under the unionist regime over fifty years, they will counter your words by pointing out that there were many Protestant/unionists who also lived lives of deprivation over the first fifty years of the state’s existence.

Which of course is a deflection. No one with half a brain would argue that all Protestants/unionists lived high on the hog from the state’s inception until the civil rights movement began.  The fact is, we’re talking about the fifty years of misrule, with systemic discrimination and gerrymander, that disadvantaged and sometimes destroyed the lives of so many Catholics/nationalists. Because your cruel step-mother takes a swipe at your younger brother from time to time has nothing to do with the fact that she beats the crap out of you on a daily basis.

But all that’s history now. We’re nearly 100 years from the end of the old Stormont.  But should we forget it? By no means. What about the years since 1970, up to 1998 and the Good Friday Agreement? By no means. But according to an article in the Guardian newspaper earlier this month, there is selective history being taught. I’ll give the link to the article, but let me highlight a few key points from it.

  1. A survey of the secondary schools in this state shows that the vast majority of Catholic schools teach the period 1965-98. In contrast, less than half of Protestant schools teach that period, but opt instead to teach the 1920-49 period.
  2. Research by a charity called Parallel Histories says that the children studying the earlier period – that is, 1920-49 – never learn anything about institutionalised discrimination against Catholics.
  3. A “substantial and growing number of Protestant schools” have begun to teach the later period of the civil rights and the Troubles. The catch is, the great bulk of these are Protestant grammar schools, not Protestant non-selective secondary schools.

Why do I say “The catch is”, Virginia? Because the pupils in grammar schools, for the most part, are either middle-class or aspiring middle-class, and non-selective secondary school pupils are, for the most part, working-class.Why does that matter? Because the Troubles were fought overwhelmingly by working-class communities, not middle-class communities.

This tendency of Protestant schools to avoid the civil rights and the Troubles period, I would suggest, is because the parents of the children being taught would be up in arms, so to say, if it was presented as anything but a long criminal campaign by blood-thirsty psychopaths.  Better then to steer clear of it altogether.  Especially when an earlier period can be taught, which avoids all reference to systemic discrimination and gerrymander, and talks instead about the Belfast blitz and Northern Ireland’s contribution to the struggle against Hitler.

Do the inspectorate know about all this? Almost certainly. Are they doing anything about it? Almost certainly not.  If a significant proportion of the coming population are taught a highly selective view of the past,  what hope is there of a shared future?

No, don’t bother answering, Virginia. We know the answer to that one. Everyone does.


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