FAcile History

The Football Association’s (FA) clumsy attempt to influence education is part of a worrying trend that is "dumbing down" our children's education

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Matthew Jones
On 30 May 2012 14:51

Following the release of the 1978 television miniseries, Holocaust, Elie Wiesel wrote an article entitled Trivialising the Holocaust in which he expressed his dismay at how the Shoah was being represented.

One wonders what Mr. Wiesel must think of the FA’s new harebrained scheme – launched in partnership with the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) – to use England football players to introduce children to the subject.

The FA announced this week that before the upcoming trip to the Ukraine, a group of England players would visit Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Oskar Schindler’s Factory in Krakow. That’s fine; nothing wrong at all with paying respects and they won’t be alone with German football players and officials due to do likewise.

But that is not the sole purpose of the trip. The FA has announced that it intends to produce a DVD to assist teachers in educating young people about the Holocaust. In its own words:

This DVD resource…will feature prominent England players discussing why they felt it was important to learn about our shared history – and why combating prejudice today matters to them…There are so many lessons to be learnt and understood, and we believe football can play its part in encouraging society to speak out against intolerance in all its forms.

The cynic might argue that the plan is a shady attempt to prove the FA’s support for tolerance and equality in light of the race rows that have overshadowed English football this season. What is more, it also creates the potential to draw an offensive parallel between the most evil crime ever committed and racism in sport. When Education Secretary Michael Gove spoke of introducing a ‘connecting narrative’ into the teaching of history, I don’t think this is what he had in mind.

But, more importantly, the FA’s actions bring up a wider issue surrounding the education of children and the debasement of history as a subject. Gove – who has faced a barrage of unfair criticism from the left – has argued that history should be compulsory until the age of 16 to offer children a greater depth and breadth of knowledge. Yet what hope does the next generation have if its first introduction to a vital subject such as the Holocaust is through the medium of John Terry?

From A.J.P Taylor to Niall Ferguson, utilising the skills of charismatic professional historians to present history programmes has been an effective way to spark children’s interest in the subject. The popularisation of history in this way has helped to propel history books onto bestseller lists and encourage the public to seek out more in depth knowledge of subjects that interest them. But the growing trend of exploiting an individual’s celebrity rather than their expertise is a worrying development, and another sign of the dumbing down of our culture.

If we continue down the path of using celebrities as a delivery system for the teaching of history then whatever next?Boris Johnson’s After Rome? Titanic with Len Goodman? Maybe it's too late after all...

Matthew Jones is an analyst and commentator on politics and energy, based in London

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