The Toothlessness of Everyday Experience – how powerful knowledge helps us to reject bullshit politics.

“The only way out of a debt crisis is to deal with your debts. That means households – all of us – paying off the credit card and store card bills.”

So read the first draft of David Cameron’s 2011 conference speech as he attempted to justify his government’s austerity programme with a call to basic common sense. We’ve borrowed too much in the good times, so now we have to pay off our debts. It made sense because it resonated with people’s personal experiences of debt. Ordinary people were having to do it, so it made sense for the government to have to do it too by decimating public services.

But David Cameron’s speechwriters were forced to hastily rewrite his speech the night before it was delivered, as economists pointed out that if people followed Cameron’s advice and everyone tried to pay off their debts they would destroy the economy.

Continue reading “The Toothlessness of Everyday Experience – how powerful knowledge helps us to reject bullshit politics.”


Standardised Exams in a Fair Society

If a fair society wanted to design a standardised exam which all of its students would sit it might look like this.

There would probably be a minimum standard, the basic level that you expect all students to reach. These would be the very minimum expectations of any independent citizen, of the things that they would need to be able to function in society. In part, these exams would be held in order to check that all students were being taught in a way that enabled them to reach that level. Continue reading “Standardised Exams in a Fair Society”

On the Western Front

If you’ve ever been to a Commonwealth cemetery on a foreign battlefield you will have found yourself doing it. Regardless of your intention when you arrived, or of your attitude towards the whole edifice of remembrance, you’ll soon realise you’re doing the same thing as everyone else: walking along the rows of graves, tastefully bordered with flower beds, reading the names on headstone after bright white headstone.  The cemeteries demand it.

Image result for tyne cot
Tyne Cot Cemetery

Continue reading “On the Western Front”

Imagined Communities and Cultural Literacy

From Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities:

“Nothing suggests that Ghanaian nationalism is any less real than Indonesian simply because its national language is English rather than Ashanti. It is always a mistake to treat languages in the way that certain nationalist ideologues treat them – as emblems of nation-ness, like flags, costumes, folk-dances, and the rest. Much the most important thing about language is its capacity for generating imagined communities, building in effect particular solidarities. After all, imperial languages are still vernaculars, and thus particular vernaculars among many. If radical Mozambique speaks Portuguese, the significance of this is that Portuguese is the medium through which Mozambique is imagined (and at the same time limits its stretch into Tanzania and Zambia). Seen from this perspective the use of Portuguese in Mozambique (or English in India) is basically no different from the use of English in Australia or Portuguese in Brazil. Language is not an instrument of exclusion: in principle, anyone can learn any language. On the contrary, it is fundamentally inclusive, limited only by the fatality of Babel: no one lives long enough to learn all languages.”

Teaching a Radical History of the British Empire

Attached are some resoures that might be helpful when trying to teach a radical history of the British Empire. Borrow them, steal them, alter them, improve them, spread them far and wide.












The Radical Case for a Knowledge-Rich Curriculum

Adam Robertson provides a radical justification for a knowledge-rich, subject-based curriculum by moving away from the social mobility based justifications for teaching subject knowledge employed by the likes of E.D. Hirsch and instead foregrounding social justice, and equipping students to fight for it, as the goal of such a curriculum.
Continue reading “The Radical Case for a Knowledge-Rich Curriculum”

Towards a Theory of Transferable Knowledge: helping students to build meaningful mental shapes

Adam Robertson suggests a way towards a theory of transferable knowledge that does more than simply ask students to reuse directly taught knowledge in a new context. Building on Counsell’s (2000) notion of students working as ‘similarity spotters’, he suggests that students need to build ‘meaningful mental shapes’ so as to be able to quickly make sense of newly encountered material, fitting it into pre-existing patterns constructed from previously learned knowledge.


There are two familiar facts that shed light on what transferable historical knowledge could be: the fact that teachers are able to gloss over a new topic entirely unfamiliar to them and quickly familiarise themselves with it, to a degree that it would take their students many hours longer to achieve; and the fact that presenting a student with an analogy for the topic or story under discussion can prompt a ‘eureka’ moment in which everything suddenly makes perfect sense. Both are instances in which knowledge is being transferred, of transferable knowledge enabling people to make sense of newly met topics and to ‘get better’ at history, and both point towards how we might begin to harness the power of transferable knowledge in the classroom. Continue reading “Towards a Theory of Transferable Knowledge: helping students to build meaningful mental shapes”

Why Social Mobility is no sort of Social Justice

Adam Robertson argues that in an unequal society focusing our attention on achieving social mobility can only cement injustice. Instead, in order to work towards social justice through education we need to foreground the eradication of oppression in our thinking.


Lurking behind much debate and discussion abouteducation in this country is the assumption that Social Mobility is ‘A Good Thing’. Indeed, for many people it has become ‘The Thing’ itself, what the entire education system is geared to produce.

Continue reading “Why Social Mobility is no sort of Social Justice”

We’re looking for submissions.

We’re looking to publish essays, articles, examples of sequences of lessons, and brief summaries of historical events which share our central focus: dismantling systems of oppression through history teaching.

Submissions in any form or of any length, up to c. 2500 words, will be considered.

Authors need no background in history teaching.