Missing from Michael Gove’s history curriculum: Islam

In response to questioning from Paul Waugh, the Conservative Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has detailed exactly what he would like to see in the history curriculum. Details are in the Evening Standard, and what strikes me is the way it skips past the historical clashes between the Christian west and the Islamic Middle East.

That phrase is a huge simplification of a complicated and nuanced theme stretching over many years, yet military conflict between Christian and Muslim forces were a regular part of European and Mediterranean history. Not just the crusades, with their large and direct British involvement, but the siege of Malta (the first one, not the one with the Royal Air Force), armed conflict in Italy in the Middle Ages and battles in the Balkans right up to the gates of Vienna.

Distortions of that history are often peddled by extremists in an attempt to justify all sorts of outrageous and inhumane behaviour in the modern world, most particularly both in the Balkans and in relations between the western world and Islam.

If history is of any contemporary use, and I believe it is, then surely understanding the true issues that lie behind the extremists’ justification of their contemporary actions should be there on the curriculum?

5 responses to “Missing from Michael Gove’s history curriculum: Islam”

  1. I like this bit:
    “Great War
    World War Two, including Churchill’s role”

    Where is the “including Lloyd-George’s role”?

  2. Some other things missing from Gove’s list: the Black Death, the Peasants’ Revolt, the American War of Independence, the Irish independence struggle, to name but a few. And that’s even before you get on to some of the rich pickings from European and world history: in Gove’s world the French and Russian revolutions never happened, and nor did the Vietnam war.

  3. I have looked at this, but I think the point you are making really does illustrate the problem but not as you intended.

    Interaction with Islam is quite obviously NOT a big issue in British history because our geography places us at the other end of Europe from the places where it was. If we were looking for a curriculum on European history, yes, this would be an issue. But Michael Gove’s suggested curriculum was British and not European history (and maybe English rather than British). If we were going to put clashes with Islam in, as you suggest, then there are huge numbers of other things we should put in as well which are important in European history if more marginal when viewed purely from a British context.

    So it seems to me you want to put Islam into it, not because it really fits into the intentions, but because you think it’s something we need to talk about in the light of present day issues and in order to put across some sort of politically correct message. I think too you would not want Islam to be put across as it most certainly would be in Spain and Greece and the like, as the throwing off of an imposed Muslim yoke, or in Greece earlier as the destruction of the Eastern Christian empire by the Islamic invaders. Perhaps you would prefer it to be “evil crusaders when we were brutes and the Muslims were much more civilized”. Which is one way of viewing it, yes, and would make a nice comfortable history for British Muslims sitting the curriculum, and also suits the priggish liberal desire to paint history as us English being mostly the bad guys. But it’s just as biased as what you complain about.

    The point being having read the various comments in LibDem blogs on this issue, most of them seem to be snide and priggish and really no better underneath than Gove. Gove wants a history curriculum which suits his ideology, we want a history curriculum which suits ours. History is like that, you can pick and choose to suit which bits most fit your agenda, and you can put the interpretation on them which most suits your agenda.

    Underneath there seems to me to be a real issue which Gove is legitimately raising – that currently school education in England doesn’t seem to give a coherent history in which kids growing up here can rightly place how this country and what they see around them developed from the dawn of civilization to today. Instead we have picking out isolated bits because we can get a political message out of them (Hitler) or because they are fun and colourful (Tudors).

    I would not agree with the all the particular emphases suggested by Gove, but I think the underlying point is valid, and the general reaction to it in LibDem bloggery speaks volumes about us, and not all good ones.

    • Matthew: you make a fair number of assumptions and guesses as to how I think Islam should be portrayed in history. Although it’s an issue I’ve got an interest in, I can’t recall having written or spoken in public about it, so I’m curious as to what you’re basing those guesses and assumptions on? Especially as you seem to miss the mark (if you’ll excuse the pun!) on what my motives are or what a history lesson I’d teach would say.

      The obvious conclusion is that you’re drawing up a straw man in reaction to what you think other people think, that you’re then sticking my name on. Hence my curiosity: what’s the basis for saying the things you point in my direction?

  4. Well, I made my point that I just couldn’t see that Islam was a big aspect of British history, so it just looked odd for you to put missing it out as a big problem with Gove’s proposed British history curriculum.

    If you just missed that Gove’s was meant to be a British history curriculum, not a pan-European one, or what you were saying was just one aspect of wanting really to have a pan-European rather than a British history curriculum, well fine, but I’d like that clarified.

    However, your last paragraph did hint you wanted this subject in more because of present day politics than because it really is important in the long-term historical narrative. I disagree with twisting history this way, but it is often done. That was part of the point I was making.

    There is a tendency amongst modern British liberals to feel guilty about present day racism, and about the British imperialism that was a big part of past British culture (but for a shorter time than many suppose, in some ways only 1877-1949) in the past, and as a consequence seek a skewed version of history in which English people are aways painted as the bad guys, and the faults of anyone else played down. This may not be what you really want re Islam, I didn’t say it was, but I don’t think I’m unfair in suggesting it’s most likely to be what a British liberal would say on the issue and high unlikely a modern British liberal would want history taught in a way which emphasised Islam as “the enemy”.

    The real point I’m making her is that, yes, Gove’s history curriculum was skewed in a way that reflects his politics. But many of us in attacking him seem equally to want a biased curriculum which suits our modern day politics, or are just so finding it fun to make snide comments about the faults in the Gove curriculum that we miss what I think is a fair point – kids don’t get a history tution in schools these days which enables them to get an overall picture of how our country developed.

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