Why I Hate History

And why I think school is a waste of time. Listen or read below.

I remember nothing from school. Except the Rivers Act of 1876: A tiny piece of legislation to try and clean up the waterways of England.

Why I remember this particular fact is not important. What is important is that I shouldn’t have been learning it in the first place. Or indeed any of the subjects I spent 15 years studying during my time at school.

When I was twelve there were a few things I was interested in: music, drama, cycling, nature and drawing. This is what I actually studied: English, History, French, Maths, Physics, Geography, Religious Studies, Latin, Chemistry and Biology. Out of all of those, there was only one I was interested in. Biology.

A damning indictment of the educational system, surely.

True, if I hadn’t been such a spineless schoolboy, I might have said something like, ‘Why am I study these subjects; I don’t even like them?’

It’s a pretty damn good point, don’t you think?

And yet avid supporters of the educational system — teachers, lecturers, governments — would insist I had a rounded education.

No I didn’t! I didn’t in the slightest. A rounded education would have consisted of me playing the piano while cycling around the UK for instance. Putting on plays in parks or woods, looking at the nature, and then drawing the whole damn thing. That would have been a rounded education.

Chortle chortle chortle, I hear from leather-elbowed-patched, pipe-in-mouth teaching brigade. ‘Such a dreamer this one. This Ogley character.’

I am as a matter of fact. That’s what humans are. Dreamers. Inventors. Visionaries. That’s how we got this far in the first place. We didn’t get here by sitting in a classroom copying out endless tracts of British history. Copying it out into an exercise book, then revising it and rewriting it out onto an exam manuscript so some stuffy teacher can cross bits out and then decide to give me a qualification that assesses my progress in life.

Because that isn’t progress. It’s a failure. It’s a failure of the educational system to actually educate. And I know this, because I’ve been through it. I’ve done it. School, GCSEs, A-levels, university degree, masters degree. In fact I didn’t stop studying till I was 26. What an idiot!

This may sound like sour grapes. That I haven’t made a success of all the education given to me.

It’s not. While I was revising for my GCSE exams at the age of 16, I remember thinking, this is a waste of time, isn’t it? All I’m really doing is memorising stuff other people have done or discovered or invented, rewriting it down in vaguely my own words so another human being, who knows all this stuff anyway, can read it through again. How stupid is that? Why don’t I go out into the world and find my own stuff to write about? That would be fun!

I should have said something. But as I said before, I didn’t, because I was spineless. I was a schoolboy. I was young. I was impressionable. I was an idiot.

So I’m saying it now, nearly 30 years later: Education is a waste of time. School. University. Degrees. Masters. Call it what you want. It’s a waste of time!

There, I’ve said it. Bye.

Photo, Museums Victoria (bottom/Feliphe Schiarolli (top)

205 – Harold Kynaston-Snell May Have Saved My Life

‘At all costs his enthusiasm must not be checked and crushed by exceptions and irregularities. His interest must be kept and his ability encouraged.’

The above extract is taken from a 1933 book that belonged to my grandfather entitled First French Course for Seniors by Harold F. Kynaston-Snell.

I picked it up a few nights ago. I had nothing else to read and was intrigued by this blue faded hardback that I had been carrying around with me for years. A tribute to my long dead grandfather, who despite studying French for almost his whole life, could hardly speak a word.

I’ve taught and learned languages myself, so I’m very familiar with the books. And most of them start like this:

‘This English-For-U course book with its motivational and interactive approach will push students to new levels of excellence and brilliance ensuring top marks every time…’

Whereas Kynaston-Snell seems to be saying:

‘Look here old sport! You’re not going to learn this language in a week, or even a month. Take it from me. What I can do is give you this book. It contains everything you need to know. Read it once and then burn it. Good-O.’

While the English-For-U students lumber their way through twenty volumes of glossy text books filled with airbrushed pictures of celebrities asking questions like, Brad Pitt lives here. But where did he used to live?

Answer: Who cares.

I see Kynaston-Snell’s approach more along the lines of being taught how to swim.

‘You won’t be able to swim the channel just yet old sport. But neither will you drown. And at least you’ll be able to order a glass of champagne, buy a packet of cigarettes and talk about the weather.’

Which in 1933 was probably all you needed to know.

Kynaston-Snell produced a great little book with plenty of stylish black and white 1930s illustrations making the book feel more like an art galley prospectus than a language book. No film stars, no pictures of exotic islands and no photos of people sitting in dull meetings in grey offices pretending to look interested.

I struck a deal with myself this morning. This was it:

Whenever I feel weak. Whenever I feel like giving up. In any part of my life, not just learning French. This is what I will say:

‘My enthusiasm must not be checked and crushed by exceptions and irregularities.’

Thank you Harold Kynaston-Snell. You may have saved my life.