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Cancelling national heroes makes us historically illiterate

23 Feb, 2021 RT

A headteacher in England has confirmed he is erasing the names of significant historical figures from his school after a pupil complained. But this lack of respect for the past will cause major problems in future.

You could not make it up! The primary school headteacher announced that the names of houses named after some of Britain’s greatest historical figures will be replaced with those of Greta Thunberg, Marcus Rashford, Malala Yousafzai, and Amanda Gorman. Apparently, the cancelled historical heroes – Sir Walter Raleigh, Lord Nelson, and Sir Francis Drake – are too “oppressive” for the headteacher and some of his colleagues. Lee Hill, the headteacher of Howden Junior School in East Yorkshire, is an enthusiastic supporter of the campaign to disconnect Britain from its past. He is also an exemplar of the historical illiteracy that pervades many schools in this country.

Apparently, Hill decided to act in response to a letter from a former pupil, who condemned the “despicable deeds” of Nelson, Drake, and Raleigh. The headteacher decided to share the news on Twitter, praising the “courage” of the child “who made a stand.” Hill’s response to a letter from a young pupil is illustrative of a tendency for reversing the role of adult and child. Hill proudly boasts that he has been educated by reading the letter from the child.

He remarked how, during the Black Lives Matter protests, he received a “passionate and brave” email from a former pupil. And he added, “This pupil not only educated me about the history of the three house names – that sat on our website, in our hall and were raised as ambassadors for our school – but also explained the impact of seeing these figures – who have links to slavery, oppression and racism – had on her during her time at our school.”

It is a sad state of affairs when, in the absence of historical knowledge, a headteacher needs to be educated by a child about the roles of Nelson, Drake, and Raleigh. It is a tragedy when someone in charge of educating young children is so out of his historical depth that he confuses propaganda directed at de-legitimating Britain’s past with what actually occurred. It appears that changing the name of the school’s houses is not a big deal, since according to the headteacher there was no “tangible reason” to keep them – none of the pupils knew who the names referred to, as they were not part of the curriculum.

Without a hint of embarrassment, Hill exposes his school’s lack of interest in the historical legacy that it embraced when it decided its houses should be named after these heroes from Britain’s past. One wonders what a child thought when he joined Nelson House. That Nelson was a football player or a celebrity chef, maybe? The practice of keeping children ignorant of their past is one thing. Spoiling the name and reputation of important historical heroes is to rob children of a cultural legacy they require to make their way in the world.

Unfortunately, the project of transforming Britain’s past into a dark drama of evil deeds has acquired unprecedented influence in institutions of culture and education. Turning young people against their past and encouraging them to feel a sense of shame about where they come from irrevocably disorients them and creates a crisis of identity.

Back in 1941, George Orwell remarked that “England is perhaps the only great country where intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality.” Were he alive today, even Orwell would be surprised by the expansion of such sentiments through Britain’s institutions of education. He would no doubt tell us that fighting for a nation’s historical memory is no less important than defending Britain from the threat of an armed invasion.

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