TOM UTLEY: If Corbyn wants to teach our children history, I suggest he starts with the masses killed by Marxism
One memorable morning 14 years ago, when our youngest boy was 11, I happened to come across an essay he’d written about Martin Luther and the Reformation in his history exercise book, which he’d left on the kitchen table.
OK, I realise now that he’d probably lifted chunks of it from Wikipedia, which had been founded only three years earlier but was already every schoolchild’s favourite crib-sheet.
But I have to say I was pretty impressed at the time.
Jeremy Corbyn delivering his leader’s speech at his party conference last month
Two pages long, and written in his smallest and neatest handwriting, Harry’s essay was packed with relevant facts and dates that suggested a proper grasp of Luther’s importance in the religious upheaval that was to divide Europe for centuries.
The boy had even got most of his spellings right. Well, some of them, anyway.
It delighted me to think that, despite everything I’d been warned about declining school standards under New Labour, our local comprehensive still insisted on giving its pupils a thorough grounding in the personalities and events that shaped the history of our country and its neighbours.
That was until I read his teacher’s one-line comment at the bottom: ‘You should have written about Martin Luther King!’
Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivers a speech to a crowd of approximately 7,000 people on May 17, 1967
Before the Twittersphere comes crashing down on my head, I must stress that I don’t for a moment underestimate King’s significance in the American civil rights movement. He was a fine, if flowery, orator and a powerful influence for the good on race relations in the U.S. and beyond.
But I thought it odd, and still do, that at the age of 11 our son had been instructed to study him, before he’d learned the basics of the story of our past. Like so much else he was taught, this choice of subject matter struck me as nakedly political in intent — more concerned with indoctrination than education.
In my day at school, for example, geography lessons were all about artesian wells, mountain ranges, deserts and river deltas. In his, they seemed to be concerned chiefly with man-made global warming, which was taught as an incontrovertibly proven fact.
The message was that without immediate action, the Planet would be destroyed and mankind wiped out.
He and his three brothers were taught plenty about public health issues, too —and in similarly alarmist fashion.
I’ll never forget overhearing a remark made to one of our sons by a school friend, when they were both about seven: ‘Your dad smokes, doesn’t he? So how come he’s not dead?’
Jamaican born British Crimean War nurse Mary Seacole, also known as Mother Seacole, born in 1805 and died in 1881
But it was in the way we were taught history that the difference between my schooling and theirs was most marked. By my early teens, I’d been made to learn the dates of all the kings and queens of England and great British victories such as Crecy, Agincourt, Waterloo, Trafalgar and the Battle of Britain.
I’d studied the Norman invasion, the origins of Parliament, the Wars of the Roses, the growth of trade and the Royal Navy under the Tudors, the Reformation, the English Civil War, the Glorious Revolution, the South Sea Bubble, the industrial revolution . . . you name it. Think of Sellar and Yeatman’s parody, 1066 And All That, and you’ll get the general idea.
Yes, I admit my early education tended to accentuate the positive about Britain and its achievements, while playing down the negative. But this helped to instil in me and most of my contemporaries an abiding love of our country and its institutions, which cannot surely be a bad thing.
By contrast, my sons’ history lessons always seemed to accentuate the negative about Britain’s past, while all but eliminating the positive.
For example, they focused more on the exploitation of workers during the industrial revolution than on the prosperity it brought — and more on the wickedness of denying women the vote than on centuries of stable parliamentary democracy.
All four boys were bombarded with information about the evils of slavery and colonialism and the sins of the British Empire. Meanwhile, whole lessons were devoted to a mixed-race woman called Mary Seacole (more of her in a moment), of whom I confess I’d never heard until the boys told me she was a nursing heroine of the Crimean War, who because she was half-black was shockingly denied the fame accorded to her contemporary Florence Nightingale.
All of which brings me to Jeremy Corbyn’s extraordinary speech yesterday, in which the Labour leader argued that schoolchildren are not taught nearly enough about black history, the wickedness of the Empire or Britain’s role in slavery.
(And, no, he wasn’t thinking of our country’s magnificent, world-leading role in abolishing the slave trade in 1807, or the 20,000 Royal Navy sailors who laid down their lives to enforce the ban.)
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I can’t have been the only parent who wondered where Mr Corbyn has been all these years, if he didn’t realise that his pet subjects had long been covered ad nauseam in schools — or the only one who hasn’t wished that, just once in a while, our young might be taught something else.
Indeed, a colleague tells me his six-year-old son was given a lesson the other day about Rosa Parks, who in 1955 refused to give up her seat to a white passenger in a racially segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
As my friend points out, it’s surely unhealthy to introduce the idea of segregation to bewildered six-year-olds in a mixed-race school, where it simply wouldn’t occur to the pupils that people may be judged by the colour of their skin.
But to Mr Corbyn, it’s not enough that every October is set aside as ‘black history month’. He wants the subject taught the whole year round, saying: ‘Black history is British history. It is vital that future generations understand the role black Britons have played in our country’s history and the struggle for racial equality.’
As for how teachers are supposed to fill all these extra lessons extolling black role models, I note with relief that he doesn’t suggest Idi Amin, Ugandan dictator, pictured above
He goes on to make the remarkable claim: ‘Slavery interrupted a rich African and black history.’ Can he really be unaware that slavery was flourishing in Africa centuries before the arrival of Europeans, while tribal chiefs were only too eager to exploit the new market for human flesh?
As for how teachers are supposed to fill all these extra lessons extolling black role models, I note with relief that he doesn’t suggest Idi Amin, Papa Doc Duvalier or even his fellow Marxist Robert Mugabe.
Instead, he proposes that pupils should be taught about Walter Tull, described as ‘a footballing trailblazer and war hero’, Paul Stephenson, who played a central role in the Bristol Bus Boycott in the Sixties and the ubiquitous Mary Seacole.
Abashed by my ignorance of the latter, I’ve been mugging up on her, and I have to admit she sounds a remarkable character.
The daughter of a Scottish Army officer and a Jamaican mother, she was brave, enterprising and resourceful, setting up a hotel and restaurant in the Crimea during the 1853-56 war. She also inspired great affection among sick and wounded soldiers to whom she administered herbal remedies — with mixed results.
Robert Mugabe, above, Zimbabwe’s former president who was replaced earlier this year
But with the best will in the world, I reckon it’s simply nonsense to suggest she deserves equal billing with Nightingale, who established the world’s first school for nurses and wrote a handbook setting out principles followed to this day.
Seacole was not robbed of her due because of her skin colour. In the great sweep of history, she was simply not as important as Nightingale.
But then Mr Corbyn has never been one to allow facts to interfere with his ideology. Anything that reflects badly on our country or the West is fine by him — and brainwashing children is an essential part of every Marxist’s strategy for winning and clinging to power. Tell them both sides of the story, and before you know it they’ll be voting Tory!
But I’d hate readers to think I’m entirely politically incorrect. I know smoking is bad for me, and I really shouldn’t do it.
Jeremy Corbyn delivering his keynote speech to his party conference in Liverpool last month
I also know we shouldn’t be complacent about global warming. And I know very well that discriminating against fellow human beings on the grounds of their skin colour is profoundly stupid and wrong.
But I also know that there’s a huge amount in the history of our country to be proud of — just as there’s masses in the history of hard-Left regimes of which adherents of Mr Corbyn’s politics should be profoundly ashamed.
So here’s a suggestion. Instead of banging on endlessly about Mary Seacole and the great Martin Luther King, how about teaching Britain’s children about the estimated 100 million people impoverished and starved to death, tortured and murdered in the name of the Corbynites’ favourite economist and philosopher, Karl Marx?
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