Tuesday, 7 August 2007

History Consigned to er...History

So History could disappear as an 'A' level subject, according to the BBC. Apparently the evidence for this is that it isn't compulsory after 14, whereupon two thirds of pupils drop it.

Honestly, this sort of thinking really does belong to...well, I was going to say "the dark ages" there, but that's not quite right. Let's say it belongs to the realm of ill-thought out assertions, instead.

For one thing, more people are studying history after 16 than ever before, which rather suggests the subject's in rude health. But leaving that aside, I love history, and I think it's the most interesting and important academic subject of them all, but I recognise that I'm in a minority on that point. Moreover, I'm aware of the fact that I detested maths at the age of 14, would have loved to have been able to ditch it at that point, and didn't learn a thing in my maths lessons between the ages of 14 and 16 because I spent the whole time playing hangman and talking about girls and dungeons and dragons with this guy called M. Bramley who used to sit next to me. I could have much more productively spent my time studying something I was interested in (like history). Consequently, I rather think its a good thing that kids who hate history and spend their history lessons playing hangman and talking about girls and dungeons and dragons (if they're as socially inept as I was) can give it up at 14 and do something else instead.

What makes me laugh about this report is that Ms. Tattersall is lamenting the fact that people drop history in favour of subjects like media studies and photography, which just make it "easier to get a job". Because, you know, studying things that make it easy to get a job is just, well...what's wrong with it, exactly?


I wonder if the fact that I used to like dungeons and dragons a whole lot has any relation to the fact that I couldn't find any girls who wanted to go out with me when I was between 14 and 16. Maybe thats why I just had to talk about them with M. Bramley instead.

Nah, can't be.


zero_zero_one said...

There's something not quite right with her saying that "media studies and photography are the soft options" and then follow that up with "these are the subjects that need to be taken to get jobs"...

Ideally what needs to be done, rather than just make these broad, sweeping statements is to talk about why the study of history is important, what skills it teaches etc, rather than "it's disappearing and we kind of just have to deal with it."

The final few paragraphs of the article put it into perspective I guess, in that it more or less says that although perhaps numbers taking the subject are down, the people who are taking it are doing pretty well in the subject.

zero_zero_one said...

Are you also arguing that kids who would spend time playing hangman, talking about girls and D&D during maths lessons from 14 onwards should be able to drop it? Because I completely and utterly disagree with that.

History is an incredibly interesting subject, and the study of it can teach us many things and broaden the kinds of skills and approaches to things that we might have - but in my opinion a sound understanding of basic mathematics is at least as important as a sound grasp of your mother tongue.

noisms said...

Being able to count, multiply, divide and subtract is important, yes. But I could do those things when I was about 8.

I haven't once had to even think about trigonometry, simultaneous equations or the area of a circle since I finished maths GCSE.

zero_zero_one said...

Can you add fractions? Do you know about indices?

Would you be able to tell me the value of a saving plan after ten years where a thousand pounds is added to the plan at the start of each year and 7.5% interest is added to the total at the end of each year? Could you tell me how many years I would have to save in order to have £20,000 in the plan?

Perhaps the better question with regard to those last two points is (since I am convinced that you have sufficient ingenuity to work it out with a calculator and some paper) is how long did it take you to work them out?

Addition and multiplication are fundamental, but there are so many other things in maths that really are so useful to know about. As someone who previously claimed to be "interested by interesting things" I'm shocked at your dismissal of maths...

noisms said...

The point is, the fact that I wasn't allowed to drop maths at 14 but had to carry it on to 16, didn't make an iota of difference to the ammount of maths I understand. If I'd been able to give it up and do something else, it wouldn't have negatively affected me in any way. And the same for any child who hates any subject.

That's not to say that maths isn't interesting or useful. Just that there are horses for courses, and if an average child leaves school being able to do sums and with a basic grasp of economics and accounting, then that's fine.

zero_zero_one said...

But surely there is a difference in dropping history and dropping maths? Students are encouraged to take history or another humanity so that they have a broad range of basic knowledge and skills to draw on, whereas they take maths because it as recognised as important for their education and future life as a whole. In the same way students are encouraged to take something like art or design technology so that they have skills in a creative/technical area, but they're forced to study science (in some way) because it is important they understand some of the processes that make up the natural world.

While I agree that there must come a point where students should choose whether or not they want to continue with core subjects (maths, science, English/their mother tongue) I really believe that 14 is too early.

And surely your argument ("taking the subject didn't add to my knowledge") is something that can only be applied in hindsight...

mattiecore said...

To noisms:

Of course the math you learned between 14 and 16 didn't make any difference....You only get out of a course what you put into, and from your brief summary, it doesn't seem like you put much in.

I agree with Nathan: 14 is too early to allow students to drop any one of their core subjects

noisms said...

mattiecore: That's exactly my point. I didn't put anything into maths because I hated it. There was absolutely no reason for me to be in those lessons. And the same is bound to be true of all kids in at least one subject - so why bother wasting their time and the teacher's by forcing them to keep up with it? It's not as if they'll be missing out on anything, because they won't be interested enough to partake in the lessons anyway.

zero_zero_one: I really don't think there is a difference in dropping history or maths at 14, if the alternative is sitting in the lessons but not learning anything. Not-learning-history-in-history-lessons and not-learning-maths-in-maths-lessons are effectively of equal value: that is, zero.

I agree that maths is probably more important to learn than history at a very young age, but that's not really what we're talking about.

mattiecore said...

So...you're saying to simply allow kids to drop courses they dislike. Ok, fair enough

But why not let them drop it sooner? And why not let them drop all the courses they don't like? Where's the line for this train of thought?

zero_zero_one said...

Following on from Matt:

Exactly! What happens to kids who just plain don't want to learn, who act up and are willful etc? Should they just be allowed not to take any classes at all?

noisms said...

mattiecore: Well, in the UK we let kids drop certain subjects at 14, and I think that's a natural cut off point. Before that, kids are too young to make choices about what they want or don't want. (The cut-off is obviously an arbitrary one, but you could say that about voting at 18 or sex at 16.)

And I don't really see anything wrong with letting kids drop the subjects they don't want to do at 14. I'd advocate a wider range of subjects to choose from, and simply making all 14 year olds choose the same ammount of subjects as each other - say 7. That way, those who weren't interested in maths or history or english or whatever could study carpentry or plumbing or mechanics instead (and perhaps learn a bit of maths and science indirectly through those practical lessons).

zero_zero_one: Kids who don't want to learn shouldn't be allowed to disrupt those who do. It's solved in most schools at the moment by streming. I think that's a massive waste of everybody's time - in Mosslands, if you remember, there were six stremes of maths at GCSE. You can bet the ones in the bottom streme weren't learning much maths. Better they were learning something vocational instead.

Let's turn the question around and ask what would your solution be? Have kids who don't want to learn just sit in a classroom doing absolutely nothing useful at all? And probably distracting everybody else by misbehaving?