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By Mark McNaught
 
When I was growing up in the United States, every classroom was adorned with an American flag, and we were obliged to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of every school day.  We were taught what amazing patriots George Washington and the founding fathers were, and they were venerated to a cult-like degree.
 
Even though I gradually learned the non-fairy-tale version of America's founding, it is clear that the way Americans perceive themselves is heavily influenced by the version of history they learn, for better or for worse.

When I learned that Scotland was to have an independence referendum, I believed that Scots would see the historic ingenuity of their people clearly demonstrates they are perfectly capable of governing themselves.  Surely the country that gave the world Adam Smith, David Hume, James Watt, the television, the theory of electromagnetism, and innumerable others could set up and run a decent government free of feudal Westminster squalor.

As an American, I was initially bewildered as to why anyone would vote 'no' and vote to remain mired in the Westminster system, given that we went to war to extract ourselves from it.  How could Scots not see that they can govern themselves with infinitely more compassion and competence than Westminster ever has or will?

As I have been communicating more and more with Newsnet Scotland readers, I was genuinely shocked to learn that Scots do not learn their own history in school.  They may learn about a few random Monarchs and World Wars, but children are not taught about their own people to foster a clear sense of civic identity and their untapped potential.

Instead, state propaganda teaches Scots that they are an equal partner in the Union, and that they depend on the Monarch and Westminster for all they have.  Even the Darien Scheme and the subsequent Act of Union is presented as Westminster 'coming to the rescue' of hapless Scots who couldn't even launch a decent imperial venture, rather than a scam which bailed out aristocrats and saw Scots lose their parliament and self-governance.

George Osborne's recent outburst over the currency amply demonstrates Westminster sees Scotland as nothing more than a colony of thick-skulled incompetent dimwits who cower when threatened, which fills their coffers with petroleum and whisky revenue and serves as a place to park their nukes.

This lack of education as to Scotland's contributions to humanity and current place in the Union helps explain why Scots are not more confident about the future.  The independence campaign has awakened Scots to their potential, and proper education in Scottish history and civics must help maintain a strong and increasingly confident polity.

Scottish education should not be used a tool to discredit the historical and family bonds that people throughout the British Isles share.  Contrary to Mr. Barroso's statements, Scotland is not Kosovo.  It is not seeking independence from military occupation or genocide.  Scottish history will always be inextricably linked with its neighbours, and should be taught not to overly glorify the Scottish nation, but show what it has accomplished in the past and can in the future.

Unlike the American experience, the founding of the modern Scottish state will not emerge out of war, but through a democratic process which to Westminster's credit allowed to happen, arguments rising and falling on the merits, people being increasingly convinced, then voting 'yes'.  That's a pretty sweet place to start modern Scottish history.

Comments  

 
# davemsc 2014-03-17 23:08
The picture of Scots history lessons painted here is not necessarily true: I grew up in Clydebank and at primary school learned about Wallace, Bruce and the wars of independence, Mary Queen of Scots and John Knox, the Highland Clearances, and probably other aspects too. I don't remember having been taught about the Union at all! We were also taught about the Battle of Hastings, the Romans, the Vikings, and the French Revolution. Overall, a pretty well-rounded perspective, but with more emphasis on Scottish history.

At high school we learned a lot of Scottish and British social history, the Russian Revolution, Germany in the lead-up to both World Wars . Again, the Union was not mentioned as far as I can remember.

I know, however, that the picture was not consistent across Scotland. My contemporaries in other parts of the country learned no Scottish history at all. But that was not the case everywhere, thankfully.
 
 
# Legerwood 2014-03-19 00:09
Davemsc,
My experience at school was very similar to yours and I lived on the opposite side of the country from you. So perhaps not as variable as people try to make out.
But the one thing that was common to everyone who went to school was that they were taught to read. Once you learn to read then no area of knowledge is closed to you. The limiting factor is a lack of curiosity. Libraries are a free source of books. Too many people say they were not taught any Scottish history at school but they were taught to read and libraries ate free so what stopped them learning about Scotland? As someone once said: Once you are taught to read then you learn to think and then your education begins.
 
 
# Breeks 2014-03-19 01:44
Nope. My history was stone age, bronze age, iron age, beaker people, vikings, WW2. I got no Scottish history at all.
 
 
# snowthistle 2014-03-19 08:09
Perhaps it was a generational thing. I was taught very little in the way of Scottish history in my school years - didn't take history at secondary school though.
 
 
# Jamie Black 2014-03-19 07:40
Maybe Mr Mcnaught would like to apologise for his very misleading article? My experiences were similar to that of davemsc and legerwood, so it sounds like Mr McNaught is either lying deliberately, or more likely, been completely misinformed.

Either way, I think he should make it clear that his picture of Scottish education as not containing enough Scottish history is wrong.

Come on NNS - you would expec the same of any pro-unionist, so are you going to lead by example?
 
 
# Marque 2014-03-19 10:38
Author here. I based that article on feedback from a reader, who had never learned Scottish history in school. She learned about the Romans and Greeks, but not about her own culture. Obviously, different schools and teachers teach different things, as the comments attest. My broader point is that it is not a standard part of a curriculum, as it is in the US. When I was in High School in Texas, we had obligatory US history and US government classes. Shouldn't it be in Scotland, so all Scots can know where they came from and where they are capable of going, and how their governing structures are supposed to function? Please don't accuse me of lying or being misinformed, without the substance to back it up. Maybe UK students are not obliged to learn about government and civics because more would figure out what a sham the Monarchy and the House of 'Lords' are.
 
 
# Breeks 2014-03-19 11:25
Stand by your guns Mr McNaught, you have nothing to apologise for. I was taught nothing about Scottish History at school, and judging by the level of ignorance I experience and have experienced throughout my adult life, factual knowledge of Scottish History is in very short supply indeed.
At school, I was furthermore discouraged and criticised for the manner in which I naturally spoke, a manner which I was given to understand was a low-brow corruption of the English language, but which I now know is quite properly derived from Auld Scots.

It isn't merely the absence of Scottish history, but the Anglicisation of the teaching, and I say that from my own perspective as a lowland Scot. I can only begin to imagine how vexed the Gaels must have felt.
 
 
# Legerwood 2014-03-19 13:05
Dear Breeks,
No matter whether someone was or was not taught anything about Scottish History they were taught to read and far from information on Scottish History being in short supply it is widely available.

TC Smout's History of the Scottish people (2 vol); Prof Tom Devine's trilogy of books on Scottish History, empire and diaspora are but two examples of a crowded field.
 
 
# Breeks 2014-03-19 13:52
Dear Legerwood, the problem is I wasn't aware of any deficiency at the time, and the system which educated me was more than comfortable for me to learn nothing of my own countries history
What good are books without stimulation and the inquiring mind to read them?
I in fact have done a lot of my own reading, but how many others did we lose along the way?
 
 
# GuitarBoy 2014-03-19 12:44
Mark, your article is spot on with regard to my own experience at school. Yes we covered certain events/people in Scottish history e.g. William Wallace, Mary Queen Of Scots, Jacobite Rebellion etc, but it was a while after I left school before I learned anything specific about things like the 1707 Union or the Darien scheme.

I think your key point here, and one that's borne out by the range of responses, is that coverage of Scottish History in our curriculum has been patchy and variable. You also make the point that kids in the US are actively encouraged to be patriotic which, to my memory, never happened at school here. As Breeks said, our education has been anglicised to a fair degree, particularly during the 20th century.

I've found your input into the debate to be positive and enlightening. Please keep it up!
 
 
# Jamie Black 2014-03-19 16:32
Appreciate the response marque.

Scottish History is an integral part of history in the CfE, along with British and European/World.

Additionally, the English set text are all Scottish literature, no option for any non-Scottish literature. St Andrews Day is actively celebrated in most schools as well.

Scotland, Scottish history and being Scottish is live and kicking in schools. .
 
 
# Spirtle 2014-03-19 10:52
This is all down to personal experience I guess.
In my class and the years above and below and to the majority of people I speak to I hear the same tale that Scottish History was not taught at school. So from my experience and the experience of so many others then Mark is spot on. I had one teacher who touched on the Jacobite rebellion but was only there for a couple of years.
I went to school in Glasgow so maybe that had something to do with it?
I think its a bit heavy asking Mr McNaught to apologise as its not actually misleading.
 
 
# snowthistle 2014-03-19 11:42
I learnt about the Highland clearances from my Orcadian English teacher. Consider The Lilies is still one of my favourite books. Thank you Mrs Craig
 
 
# Jo Bloggs 2014-03-19 15:06
dave, I had a similar primary school experience to you: medieval agriculture (Runrig system), castle and keep, King David, the 13th centurGolden age, then Wallace, Bruce etc. Secondary school was essentially year after year of English social and political history from 1776 to 1914, called either British or simply 'history'. The Union wasn't mentioned, it was just taken for granted, as if there had never been any other way of doing things.
 
 
# Ben Power 2014-03-18 00:35
Brilliant article and in my opinion absolutely spot on. We have a wonderful distinct culture that needs to be encouraged much more than it has been.
 
 
# Breeks 2014-03-18 07:19
Absolutely, but the potency of history is truth. When we don't know our own history, we have a hole in our psyche which can be manipluted by others.
For some, that hole is filled by guff like Braveheart, where Brigadoon meets Jacobite and sells out the truth to press your buttons as an audience.
Compare Braveheart to Robert Louis Stephenson's kidnapped. It is fiction, but yet tells you just enough about Culloden and the Highlanders to leave you with a hunger to investigate the real history. After watching Braveheart, you've seen as much fiction, but there is no appetite left in people to dig deeper.
Scotland's history is more spectacular than any blockbuster, but our culture is fragile and so much can be lost in a single generation. Just look at the state of our trades and craftspeople, and the wealth of expertise already lost forever.
 
 
# Breeks 2014-03-18 07:44
And then of course we come to the Picts, and a cultural conundrum in so many ways. They could vitrify stone in their hill forts and despite diligent experiment we don't really know how or why they did it. We have Indiana Jones type mysteries on our doorstep, Pictish hoards of jewelry found and lost, carvings we cannot decipher, ancient secrets we cannot work out, not least how they blunted the Roman advance, -and a great swathe of our people don't even know about it.

Then Hollywood gives us the Seal People. The who??? - (the Eagle of the Ninth movie). I am still laughing yet, but don't think that was the intention.
 
 
# Marga B 2014-03-19 15:39
Eagle of the Ninth? Have to stand up for it - wonderful book, wonderful author, my favourite at a certain age, never could bring myself to look at the film, seems a travesty.

Seriously, I just hope there's gripping stuff like that about Scottish history for today's adolescents - as you say, there's so much Scottish history out there!
 
 
# UpSpake 2014-03-18 07:47
Like you Mark. I have lived both sides of the pond. My cousin in Webster Mass. is a 1st grade teacher and I have seen how childern pledge allegience to the flag. All patriotic stuff. If nothing else they are taught that they are individuals and protected by the Constitution and can be whatever they choose to be in life. Never constrained by class, priviledge or inherited wealth.
We here in Scotland cower behind false nationalism and restrict our flying flags to sporting occassions or reserve the right for Tartan tak shops on the Royal Mile. Where is our sense of pride in being Scottish, overwhelmed by a rampant Unionist media and a BBC hostile to almost anything positive coming out of Scotland.
We do ourselves little favors by not having a strident voice and a written Constitution for us Scots would be a very good start. Better now than later. The ground work is already done. Let's not start to re-invent the wheel, now.
 
 
# Leswil 2014-03-18 08:40
Very good article highlighting just how it really is, and has been for 300 years.
It is not a wonder that many have the cringe, when it has been installed into the Scottish mind since the "Union".

Independence will fuel excitement as things improve across the board, not before time.
 
 
# WRH2 2014-03-18 14:18
Good article and what he lists about Scottish History is a good starting place. Even as part of the union our history isn't always the same as England's. For example the Chartist movement in Scotland was different in emphasis. But I absolutely agree that teaching our history in schools needs to be stepped up. Only studying Scottish History at university did I begin to understand who I was. And we owe that to all Scots.
 
 
# RTP 2014-03-19 11:58
SCOTLAND
A Concise History
B.C. to 1990
James Halliday
One of the best books I have read about Scotland,I still have it and refer to it now and then,I found out more from this book than I ever had from school.
 
 
# indyjenk99 2014-03-19 12:59
Having grown up in Glasgow. I was taught no Scottish history ay school. My own knowkdge has been self taught. I asked many individuals of different generations the same question and received the same reply. There have obviously been exceptions to that rule, which may well be generational.However I for one believe that if you teach kids from a very young age to be proud and patriotic about the country of their birth and instill in them a sense of pride about themselves this could possibly lead to higher levels of self confidence in a nation who over the years have been made to feel inferior to their English counterparts. This lack of self confidence, I believe is a huge factor in why we have so many people who are frightened to leave the so-called security of the union. The article is spot on and there are no apologies required.
 
 
# kenneth_clark336 2014-03-19 13:36
I am glad to hear that since my day Scottish history is better covered. As a 5 year old at a Dundee primary my first recollections of history include a Roman invasion, a king who burned cakes, Norman invasion, Hammer of the Scots, a king with 6 wives, the Spanish Armada and a queen who stepped on to a cape, the English civil war and so on. My place in the world was defined by a South East of England perspective at an early and impressionable age. Indoctrination could be used to describe it. Scots have a different perspective from where we are, geographically, lost by our education at the hands of the British state. I sat in ignorance at a desk 3 miles from Admiral Duncan's estate, gifted after the battle of Camperdown. All the while learning about Nelson and "England expects". I should point out that I find English history fascinating, but not at the expense of our own, please.
 
 
# indyjenk99 2014-03-19 21:44
I was educated in Glasgow and did not learn anything of Scottish history during my school years. Having spoken with many people from different generations I understand this to be the case for the majority of Scots. I see there may have been exceptions to this rule but overall I believe it to be the case for most. The issues raised regard Scots self belief and self confidence as a nation who may for many reasons lack this. Hence the belief that some Scots believe we are too poor,too small and too stupid to govern themselves. I believe that if kids are taught a sense of nationhood, patriotism and self confidence. Teaching kids to be proud citizens who know all about their fantastic history appears to be a good starting point. The author need not apologise.
 
 
# africraig 2014-03-20 05:21
Hi, I grew up in an American- taught school as a child in Africa where I was surrounded by American culture and history. Having since lived in Scotland, I have always been amazed at the patriotism of the Americans and their pride in their nation in contrast to what I have experienced in Scotland. I am back in Uganda doing development work as a missionary and have American friends who had a picture drawn by school children family of theirs. It depicts a drawing of the American flag and states "for flag and country" or something like that. You would be derided for doing the same with the Scottish flag. I also appreciate the 'can do' attitude of the Americans. It gives a sense of confidence and self- belief that we miss greatly.
 

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