In praising Simon Schama The Observer falsely portrays Mary Beard as bitter and ‘cheap’
IN 2010, Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, said of Simon Schama, the BBC’s go-to history man:
Declaration of interest: I dont know Prof Schama well, but what I know I like a lot. He is smart, clever, engaging and not — so far as I have any experience — remotely ill-willed. A great cook, a great dinner companion, a wonderful writer and an acute historian.
True. But do we want him advising Mr Gove on the History Curriculum in British schools?
She goes on:
I think not. Actually, what we really need is a group of intelligent British school teachers, calling on all kinds of historical talent outside school, wherever it may be found.
So what’s wrong with Schama?
Well, this is celebrity culture at its most meretricious — Gove playing to the populist gallery. The fact that Schama is smart and has made some good television programmes does not mean that he is the best person (if reports are right) to head up the new drive to revitalise British history.
Schama long ago decided to make his (day job) career in the United States — which gives him maybe a usefully external perspective on the British system, but also means that he is necessarily out of touch with the stresses, strains and demands of what is going on in British schools right now. That makes him an excellent person to consult, but not to head up the new policy.
.. I dont know how much Prof S is getting paid, if at all (and for his sake I hope he has a nice fee). But whatever it is, I am sure that it is less than what it would cost to bring 15 History teachers, plus a few outside “experts”, together for a couple of days… costing up the travel, board and lodging, etc.
Prof Schama is not only glitzy, but also cheap. And appointing him to whatever “job” he now has is also an insult to History teachers here.
And here’s what the Observer’s Andrew Anthony wrote today:
The liberal left like to think that he belongs to them and the liberal right think that he’s one of theirs.” This uncertainty was highlighted when he took up an advisory role to Michael Gove, as the education secretary set about reforming the teaching of history in schools. Schama was in agreement with Gove that history had lost its binding thread and become a series of unrelated greatest hits – the Tudors, the Nazis etc.
In 2010, he said that the way that the subject was taught threatened to cut “the cord of our national memory”, explaining that “chronology is very important”.
His fear, he wrote, was that unless children could be won over to history, “their imagination will be held hostage in the cage of the eternal now”.
Never one to remain in her own cage, Mary Beard, the Cambridge classicist, suggested Schama’s role was “an insult to history teachers” and dismissed the man himself as “not only glitzy, but also cheap”.
No. That’s not what she said at all.