Cartoons and Mr Men - response to Michael Gove, May 2013

Published: 12th May 2013

On the morning of Thursday 9th May (2013) the Secretary of State for Education delivered a speech at Brighton College entitled "What does it mean to be an educated person?" In his speech Mr Gove criticises those who have opposed his department's proposals for the new National Curriculum suggesting those who opposed the changes were opposed to young people learning.

As Mr Gove responded to his critics subject by subject he launched an ill-researched attack on the Historical Association. Founded in 1906 and granted a Royal Charter in 2006, the HA has more than 50 branches across the UK and supports and represents thousands of children, teachers, academics and enthusiastic amateurs. They all want to ensure that history is discussed, debated and promoted - ensuring that historical knowledge and research are recognised as important for all ages and abilities.

The attack accused the HA of promoting cartoon history, suggesting that it recommended in its resources that young people could learn history through watching Disney cartoons. In fact he is referring to an article in the HA publication ‘Primary History' from December 2012 by Jane Card which is a critical piece on using film in the classroom to teach history. The article reminds teachers at primary level (those very teachers who are not experts) that film is not truth and that young people need to be guided through film when it is used to portray the past and factual events. The whole article has been misrepresented by Mr Gove.

He then cites another ‘resource' on the Third Reich which uses Mr Men to explore the traits of the Nazi leadership. He implies that this is another HA resource promoting cartoon teaching. Fortunately for Mr Gove the officials of the DfE credited the correct organisation for the Mr Men lesson and we will leave Active History to explain how their work has been misinterpreted.

But why the attack on the HA? Is it because we:

  • Met with over 500 teachers face to face in less than 6 weeks to collect our response evidence;
  • Presented Mr Gove face to face with the evidence collected by an annual survey that 96.2% of secondary teachers felt that insufficient attention had been given to teachers in the new NC;
  • Conducted an online poll which received over 1700 responses showing that only 4% thought the new history NC was a positive change;
  • We represent teachers from all sides of the political spectrum with a breadth of knowledge, thoughtful opinions and well-trained critical minds.

Whatever Mr Gove's reasons are for wanting to diminish the Historical Association we will continue to produce respected and credible resources, to listen to teachers, academics and all those who think history is something that young people are entitled to learn about without the political messaging of governments. Our core mission for over 100 years has been to help raise the standard of history teaching and learning in schools and we will continue to do so irrespective of political agendas.

Perhaps Mr Gove should read Professor Sir David Cannadine's book ‘The Right Kind of History' that reports that there was no golden age of history teaching in schools and that in the past politicians of all parties avoided prescribing history content because only totalitarian regimes want to control what young people think about their past.