Sunday, 13 March 2016

Guardian letters: private education and need for truth in history teaching

Hadley Freeman is right to say that private education costing £30,000 a year "doesn`t buy you self-awareness" (So the privately educated are the new underclass? Spare me the sob story,06/03/16). Trouble is, it doesn`t buy any sense of fairness or compassion either!

 Is it any wonder that "the British memory of empire" is "woolly" (Rhodes hasn`t fallen, but the protesters are making me rethink Britain`s past,04/03/16)? Not only is it a fact that "we just don`t talk about it", we are not even allowed to find out the truth about it! As the Guardian has reported in the past, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has repeatedly failed to obey the thirty year rule, with the result that an archive containing 1.2 million files going back in British history as far as the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Crimean War in 1856, exists under lock and key, unavailable to the prying eyes of historians (Academics consider legal action to force Foreign Office to release public records,13/01/14). What are governments hiding? Suspicions are raised about British mis-rule in the colonies, but other aspects of history, like the Cold War, are also included in the missing archives. Is it so important to protect reputations of long gone governments and long dead politicians, or is the secrecy simply to perpetuate for future generations the myths about "Britishness"?      
       If details of events are kept secret, history will serve only to mislead. Instead of the positive spin placed on our history, our history curriculums in schools should at least include what the historian, William Dalrymple calls the "British My Lai" at Batang Kali in 1948, the thousands of "eliminations" in the 50s, the orders to destroy all of the evidence given by Iain Macleod in 1961, and the British forcing out the inhabitants of Diego Garcia in 1971, so that the Americans could have another airbase.
      Dalrymple is right when he says the longer the "blackest side of the imperial experience" remains untaught, the longer "bigotry, prejudice and racism" will continue. Just like Garton Ash, we should all "feel urgently compelled to enquire"! 

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