I am often to be found lamenting on the failings of my general knowledge, today’s sore point – history (spurred on by this excellent Radio 4 program). I am becoming increasingly alarmed at how little I was taught/know and how I can’t fully understand current affairs without getting a better grasp of this subject. When I was at school, in London in the 1980s and 90s, a hot bed for wonky left wing thinking, the teaching of history (and many other subjects) was undergoing a metamorphism. It was considered old fashioned to teach Kings and Queens, events and dates, and the focus was solely on the world wars and women. It probably didn’t help that history, RE and geography were all lumped together as humanities and that we only studied one individual subject at a time for two hours per week, on a six week rotation. Cost cutting in education leads to polarised learning, which in turn produces stupid adults – but perhaps that’s what they want.
When I was a youngster I was in awe of the depth and range of my parents knowledge. Not all of it was taught to them at school, but there seemed to be more encouragement for personal learning, and to read around areas of interest. My father, though a businessman, would take us on long walks and identify the flora and fauna as we went. I am so ignorant that I don’t even know the trees on my road. I remember sitting with him on a bus, when I was about 6 or 7, and asking him about how this vehicle worked. He slowly explained the different parts and how they all worked together. My mother is definitely a renaissance women – art, history and literature being among her main strengths. A fun outlet for her talent, is to critique the costumes in films and theatre for their accuracy. I reckon she has read all of Shakespeare’s plays without being made to. As a little girl, I thought her part witch as she knew the endings to all the books we read before we finished them, or could explain the stories of plays we saw before getting to the theatre. For an up to date example, yesterday she talked me through taking my vacuum cleaner apart so I could figure out why it wasn’t working and smelt like it was going to burst into flames at any moment – the motor is busted so the fan belt wont turn.
So, I have resorted to the old fashion attitude of self education, as I sit in cafes about town forcing myself to read Hardy or Eliot (because like medicine it is good for me) people sometimes ask if I am a literature student – why else would I spend my time with Tess or Dorothea. They look bemused when I say, “No, just trying to, you know, better myself”. But, do today’s adults and parents need to be so well read and informed since there is the internet and the 30 second sound bites. Stuck on something google it. But, where is the magic in that.