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This review is from: Our Times (Hardcover)
A.N. Wilson is not especially intelligent. And he is a hopeless historian. His views on how history teaching should be taught in schools is revealing:
'What is striking (about the Runnymede Trust's vision of a national past) is its negativity. Would... teachers have told children, as earlier generations were told, that Cromwell was the hero of modern republicanism, and the builder up of the British navy? Would they have been told that the Glorious Revolution saved Britain from becoming a Bourbon style monarchical dictatorship, shackled to an intolerant Roman Catholicism...'
So he goes on, depicting a vision of pedagogy that requires teacher to dictate a fixed (and highly prescribed) version of 'our Island story' to passively imbibing children.
Irrespective of whether this is a viable method of teaching nowadays, it is deeply insulting to both teacher and student. I am a history teacher, and firmly believe that the whole purpose of education is to encourage to think about the history they learn. To develop their critical faculties to they develop an understanding of how history really works: by unintended consequence, by debate, by accident, by unexpected change. Wilson would have us all become drones of a ministry of 'Island Story', repeating the same spiel ad nauseam about Britain's glorious past, thus his contriubtion to the history education debate becomes another tired salvo in the tedious ingratiating multiculturalists v safe traditionalists debate.
Our children deserve better.
But, as I said at the start, Wilson is not especially intelligent - his prose lacks the piercing, rigorously argued insight of more sophisticated non-fiction. And he is a pretty hopeless historian.
But enough of his flaws. On to his strengths. And there are many. Wilson is hugely well educated and, a rare thing amongst modern journalists in Britain, very well read (he is one of the few people alive nowdays to have read all of Walter Scott for instance). He is also a first rate gossip. This fascinating, sometimes funny, sometimes plain barmy history of modern Britain is something no academic historian could ever produce. Wilson produces a highly odd synthesis of cultural totems (such as the Lord of the Rings and Phillip Pullman's Dark Materials), with forgotten British society stories - such as Doris Day being introduced as 'Diana Clunt by the flustered vicar of Swindon; and highly personal political analysis - he lambasts Roy Wilson as the hapless 'Woy' throughout, and has contempt for pretty much every political figure of 'Our Times', to produce a wonderful rant about modern life.
Not everyone would agree with Wilson's analysis - that a loss of Christian faith has led to a deep spiritual vacuum in modern life, where traditional values have been usurped by a multicultural hotch potch of mediocrity, murder (the Stephen Lawrence case comes in for interesting scrutiny) and junk food. He has old fashioned manners of speech - calling the poor 'lumpenproletariat', taking the term from Marx, for instance.
But he is not simply the old fashioned conservative who believes everything was better in the past either. He picks up on Harold MacMillan's hypocricies - opposing the Apartheid regime in South Africa, yet hardly countenancing the idea of blacks turning up on one of his shooting weekend. And he is happy to puncture the follies of free market right as well as socialist left.
In fact, hardly anyone assault in this scathing, at times ranting depiction of Britain in its post-Imperial decline years. It mixes high politics with tart gossip, thus making it far easier bedtime reading than many academic tomes of the period. And it is much better than Wilson's own journalism for the Daily Mail, in which he drones on about how single mothers should be steralised and the usual pap to fulfil the editorial requirements of the popular press.