The US is still suffering from the legacy of slavery. This new paper (pdf) shows that states which had lots of slave labour in 1860 have today larger racial inequalities in educational attainment and - because of the lower human capital of its black population - have also suffered slower income growth.
This adds to the evidence economists have accumulated which shows (pdf) that quite distant (pdf) socio-economic circumstances (pdf) have material effects today. History, then, matters more than you might think.
This, in turn, should matter for how we think about ourselves. I am one of the richest humans who ever lived. This is not because I am uniquely hard-working or intelligent; such notions are only slightly less cretinous than the idea that I owe my wealth to my great social skills. Instead, I’m rich because I had the good fortune to have born in England in the late 20th century* - in a time and place where history has been kind.
We are not self-made men, but rather creatures of history.
And if history is so powerful an influence, other things are less so - one of these being the managerialist whims of politicians.
It’s in this context that we should regret the decline of history teaching.
Herein lies a paradox. I get the impression that those who would most like to see history given more importance in schools are Tory traditionalists who want to teach some Sellar and Yeatman-style story of our sceptre’d isle. However, Sellar and Yeatman were wrong**. History is not just “what you can remember.“ It has effects whether you know it or not. We are who we are because our ancestors did what they did. Knowing this, however, undermines right-wing fairy tales about people being the products of their own decisions. In this sense, Tories are the last people who should want history taught.
* Pedants might claim that I was born nearer to the middle of the century. Dull empiricism isn‘t everything.
** Yes, I know Sellar and Yeatman were parodists, but I'm not sure about Michael Gove.