Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Declining standards in teaching history

There is further and shocking evidence of declining educational standards in History in the Daily Telegraph and other newspapers today. It appears that Eton - yes, Eton - is producing pupils who, however seemingly successful in their later careers, leave the school knowing the date of Magna Carta, always associated with Runnymede just down the road from Eton, but not what the two words mean. This is disgraceful. It does not say very much for Citizenship Education. It does not say very much for PPEists with Firsts from Oxford. The Prime Minister should do something about it.

One of the four surviving copies of the original 1215 issue of Magna Carta
BL Cottonian MS Augustus II 106
Also in the Telegraph, and inspired by the issue, is an article by Terry Deary of the Horrible Histories series. Now from an interview with him which I read a while ago Mr Deary is more than inclined to a leftish, popularist attitiude to the past, but he does make some good points in his piece, which can be read here.
I like his point about history being about how people react to situations

However he does go off beam when he says that King John, who may not have been able to write, was idle and got his clerks to write out Magna Carta for him. I do not know if King John could practise the technical skill of writing, but he could read - the two skills may have been more disctinct in the middle ages - but of course he got his clerks to write out the multiple copies of the Great Charter - there must have been a great pile of them, given to the barons after they paid homage once again to the King at Runnymede, and sent out to privileged bodies and local communities. No more than we would expect the Queen or the Prime Minister to type out personally every Act of Parliament should we expect King John to have written out the text of Magna Carta himself. Messrs Cameron and Deary should both go and read Sir James Holt's standard book on Magna Carta - they might both profit by it.

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