Monday, 30 April 2007

A-level ancient history education

I learned of this from Alun Salt's Archaeoastronomy blog post on "A-level Ancient History news", where he noted, with what I imagine was either fear or horror or both, that 'You can also read the recent Parliamentary debate on the topic, which includes the opinion that 300 is "very good".'

Comprising the Association for Latin Teaching, the British Academy, the Classical Association, the Council of University Classics Departments, Friends of Classics, the Joint Association of Classical Teachers, the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies and the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, the National Co-Ordinating Committee for Classics pointed out in a press release on the 28th of March that,
The OCR Ancient History A level syllabus is unique in that it teaches students how to handle primary sources in depth. Originally devised by the Cambridge historian Sir Moses Finley and designed by JACT, it is the only qualification dedicated to the subject. OCR’s new specifications propose to merge it (in a very diluted form) with the Classical Civilisation A level, when students will be required simply to be aware of the historical background to Classical Civilisation topics.
In the House of Commons Ancient History A-level debate on the 25th of April 2007, Conservative MP for Mid-Worcestershire Peter Luff was very acute, observing that,
However, interestingly, and perhaps more controversially to my hon. Friends, the killer argument is made in paragraph 2.2 of the document, which is titled "The European Dimension". I will quote the passage at length because it makes the point better than I would by paraphrasing it:
"The achievements of the Greeks and the Romans provide the foundation upon which the modern European world is built, and the culture of Europe has been in continuous dialogue with the culture of ancient Greece and Rome since antiquity. The Roman Empire provided a model of a united Europe which profoundly influenced subsequent European history and which continues to influence European fears and aspirations today. An understanding of Greek and Roman history is basic" -
I emphasise the word "basic" -
to a proper understanding of modern Europe. The European dimension therefore pervades these specifications."
Those are not my words or those of the people who have lobbied me - my daughter and constituent - or my hon. Friends, but the words of the examination board that intends to abolish the subject.
In another press release from the National Co-Ordinating Committee for Classics, on the 26th of April, its spokesman Dr. Peter Jones noted that,
it has emerged that OCR has also scrapped the last exam in Anglo-Saxon history. There is a nasty pattern here to OCR's decisions in relation to the study of our past that has laid the foundations for what we are today.
As Alun Salt said, 'it seems the plans to dump Ancient History could be part of a wider programme to modern-ise education'.

Aside from these threats to ancient history, I heard through Deborah E. Lipstadt's History on Trial blog that the Historical Association has observed threats to the teaching of emotional and controversial history:
In particular settings, teachers of history are unwilling to challenge highly contentious or charged versions of history in which pupils are steeped at home, in their community or in a place of worship. Some teachers also feel that the issues are best avoided in history, believing them to be taught elsewhere in the curriculum such as in citizenship or religious education.
The Historical Association went on to note that even where some controversial histories are taught, others are still not:
black history has a growing presence in the curriculum, but how many history lessons deal explicitly with gay and lesbian issues?
They have recommendations for securing and developing the teaching of these histories. The most important thing for ancient history is the most immediate thing, to ensure that it's still taught properly at all. There's now a petition to save A-level Ancient History.

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