In the dystopian novel 1984 by George Orwell, the Ministry of Truth — or Minitrue in Newspeak — spent its time revising history to make it conform to the “truth” of the day. If Big Brother made a prediction that chocolate rations would be increased from 5 to 6 oz. a week, but then production fell, causing a reduction from 5 to 4 oz. of chocolate a week, Minitrue would spend its time changing all the previous documents to bring them in line with the new truth: chocolate rations have been increased to 4 oz. each week. If Oceania changed from fighting Eastasia to fighting Eurasia, all documentation everywhere would be edited to reflect the new truth, as explained in chapter 3 of the novel:
Oceania was at war with Eurasia and in alliance with Eastasia. In no public or private utterance was it ever admitted that the three powers had at any time been grouped along different lines. Actually, as Winston well knew, it was only four years since Oceania had been at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia. But that was merely a piece of furtive knowledge which he happened to possess because his memory was not satisfactorily under control. Officially the change of partners had never happened. Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia.
…The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed — if all records told the same tale — then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’
Which brings me to a very interesting report coming out of England today. The Daily Mail reports that British educators are dropping the Holocaust and the Crusades from their history lessons:
Schools are dropping the Holocaust from history lessons to avoid offending Muslim pupils, a Government backed study has revealed.
It found some teachers are reluctant to cover the atrocity for fear of upsetting students whose beliefs include Holocaust denial.
There is also resistance to tackling the 11th century Crusades — where Christians fought Muslim armies for control of Jerusalem — because lessons often contradict what is taught in local mosques.
There goes history down the memory hole, thanks to the Minitrue-like actions of these teachers. To them, not giving offense is more important than teaching history. Not challenging the religious education that students get at home or elsewhere is more important than teaching history. Perhaps most amazing of all, this is occurring in a nation which until relatively recently had an official state religion, and where religious education is part of the national school curriculum. (By comparison, imagine American teachers voluntarily choosing not to teach evolutionary theory in science classes because it might conflict with the religious education their students receive at home. As our friends the Brits would say, “Not bloody likely.”)
I believe this squeamishness over teaching truth and the squishiness regarding facts and history come from the multi-cultural idea that there are no absolute truths in life. This can be clearly seen in a comment attached to the Daily Mail news article which stated, “There is more than one truth, there are many truths, each version is true to the individual.”
What complete and utter bunk!
History is, or should be, the study of past events. What happened? When did it happen? Who was involved? These questions will lead you to facts. History can also deal with issues that are harder to prove, such as answering the question “Why did it happen?”. But asking “why” more often than not leads to the teaching of opinion rather than fact, and I prefer history classes based more on fact and less on opinion. I like what Lazarus Long said about facts:
What are the facts? Again and again and again — what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell,” avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history” — what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!
When you are afraid to teach facts for fear of offending or contradicting someone else, you shouldn’t be a teacher. And if you avoid facts because they offend or contradict someone else, you really shouldn’t be a teacher. Ignoring or circumventing the facts is a surefire recipe for sub-standard education, and sub-standard education is what is happening in England:
The researchers also warned that a lack of subject knowledge among teachers — particularly at primary level — was leading to history being taught in a ‘shallow way leading to routine and superficial learning’.
Lessons in difficult topics were too often ‘bland, simplistic and unproblematic’ and bored pupils.
If you don’t teach the facts, don’t be surprised if your students grow up to believe that Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia — or anything else they are told.