There’s little doubt that history is a very valuable subject and that it’s tremendously important to keep children aware of the most vital and relevant dates and events in the human calendar. Selecting them is an unenviable task…and sadly for kids in the Black Country, somewhere along the line, Sandwell Council got involved.
Forget the Tudors or the Italian Renaissance, Sandwell Council’s lightening-hot Equality and Diversity Scrutiny Panel are recommending that every school in the borough celebrates a “gipsy and traveller history month”, according to today’s Express & Star.
That’s right, not gipsy day, not gipsy week, but a whole gipsy month. Now, doubtless, the travelling community have a rich and illustrious history, but when the chips are down and with so much history behind us, it’s pretty hard to argue that it deserves a place on the curriculum of every school.
“But there are is a burgeoning travelling community in Sandwell!”, the panel will no doubt insist, but since when did the history we learn have to reflect the demographic of the learner? There were no Romans in my class at school, nor Greeks, nor Vikings, nor Egyptians. None of what I learned was relevant to prejudices or issues in my local community, it didn’t teach me to empathise particularly with other the children, nor boost my regard for their varying heritages, so did that make it a worthless waste of time? I think not. History shouldn’t be some easily accessible social tool, malleable in the hands of local council officers and used to deflect any racial frictions on their patch. In the same way as maths, literature and science, history lessons are there to give a rudimentary but nonetheless fundamental backdrop to the world we live in, and when giving a potted guide only the truly pivotal things must remain.
The recommendation is for:
“each school in Sandwell to positively mark gipsy and traveller history month in 2010 and subsequent years” and that each of the six towns in the borough should “proactively run events to celebrate” it.
What’s more there are brochures set to be printed, a ‘myth busting’ leaflet and those who come into regular contact with gipsies or travellers are to receive “cultural awareness training” as though these people were aliens. What a costly, clinical and no doubt entirely ineffective way of dealing with a bunch of ordinary people who’ve lived in communities up and down the UK for as long as anyone can remember.
If discrimination is a problem (and at the moment it seems to be an anticipated problem) then there are laws to rely on, but the fact is, this is looking like yet another pet project for a council that consistently make very questionable judgement calls.
If they want all teaching in schools to reflect the issues in the immediate vicinity, then perhaps economics classes could look at the case study of the disastrous The Public gallery in West Bromwich, and geography could look at all the destinations Chief Executive of Sandwell Council Alison Fraser has been on junkets to take courses on meaningless psychobabble, or maybe Sandwell should check themselves once in a while and stop wasting precious money.