Sunday 28 January 2018

The Key to Learning by Lynne Benton

When I was at school I hated History.  For four long years in my teens I had an extremely boring History teacher, who made everything seem really dull.  My main memory of her lessons is of her writing on the blackboard lists of dates and Acts of Parliament and telling us to copy them and learn them.  I don’t remember her telling us anything interesting: about the people, how they lived, how they thought, or why the Acts of Parliament were important. And in those days there was no internet, and we had no television either, so although I enjoyed visiting castles and museums, these seemed to bear no relation to what I was supposed to be learning at school. I wasn't inspired.  I’m sure I wasn’t the best pupil, but Miss P. wasn’t the best teacher either.

Fast forward 25 years, when my daughter was the same age as I’d been then.  At the time there was a series on television called “Robin of Sherwood”, on which she and her friends were all hooked – especially the hero, Robin Hood, played by Michael Praed.  (Seen here with Judi Trott, who played Maid Marian)

 They all had posters of him on their bedroom walls and never missed an episode.  That term at school (an all-girls school) they had a new History teacher, Mr. Pritchard, and he began their first lesson by saying, “Right, girls, Robin of Sherwood!”  Instantly he had the entire class in the palm of his hand, and they lapped up everything he could teach them about life in mediaeval times.  This has sparked a lifelong interest in mediaeval history in my daughter at least, and maybe in others too.  History teaching had certainly improved since my day, so well done Mr Pritchard!

In fact I did come to love history later, after I’d given it up at school, when a friend recommended historical novels by the likes of Jean Plaidy, Anya Seton etc. 

I was soon hooked, and read all the ones I could find.  It was fascinating to learn about life in different periods in history, and importantly how the behaviour and beliefs of those who ruled the country affected ordinary people.  I was inspired to find out more about the eras I was reading about, and realised what I’d missed through such uninspired teaching.

This is why I love writing for children, especially writing historical novels.  I hope to make history exciting for children, so they will enjoy it more than I did.  Now I don’t have to learn lists of dates I love doing all the research required, to make sure I’ve got the facts right.  And when my first book was published ("Raiders!", about the Viking invasion of Britain) it filled me with great satisfaction to imagine how Miss P. would have scoffed at the idea of me writing a historical novel!


Sue Purkiss said...

I remember being so bored in history lessons that I would literally itch. Especially during the Agrarian Revolution. I really don't quite know how they managed to make it so dull! (Well, maybe the AG. Rev. was a bit of a challenge, but...)

Susan Price said...

I think I was lucky in my teachers! My first history teacher was my primary school headmaster, Mr. Brown. He taught history by telling us all the stories: Alfred burning the cakes, Harald making his long marches, William falling as he landed and grasping a handful of English soil... I loved it (once I had established, from my Dad, that it was indeed true that there were once people who had nothing to make tools with except stone and Mr. Brown wasn't just making it up.)
And then later, I had another head-teacher, Miss Baker, who had to teach us all the Secondary School O and A level stuff about acts of parliament -- but she never forgot to talk about what effect those acts had on real people.

Ann Turnbull said...

I think I was lucky. I'm so old that when I went to school we weren't taught about Acts of Parliament etc, we had stories about the Armada, and Drake throwing his cloak over a puddle for Queen Elizabeth to walk on, gallant Cavaliers and dastardly Roundheads, etc. Not strong on facts, but they were good stories. They were backed up by novels, and all those historical epics at the cinema. In secondary school history was more grown-up and factual, but by that time I was hooked and would absorb anything.

Lynne Benton said...

Thanks so much for your comments, folks. Ann and Susan, you certainly were lucky to have such great history teachers! But Sue, yours sounds more like mine. (My other teachers were much better - our Latin teacher was brilliant at telling us little stories which made things stick in our heads. If only we'd had her for History too...!)

Sue Bursztynski said...

I had a rather attractive young history teacher in Year 7, Mr Watkins, on whom I had a crush. And I remember him telling us about the girl found with her silver headband in her pocket in that mass royal burial in Ur, and the suggestion that this might have been voluntary. I discovered the full story in Leonard Woolley’s book many years later and used it in my own children’s book on archaeology. My Year 11 teacher could have been boring, almost was, but then told us stories about the World Wars, such as how the shooting of the Archduke nearly didn’t happen and how she was in Italy before the Second WW and had dreadful urges to draw moustaches and glasses on the huge posters of Mussolini that were everywhere. She was also the first history teacher to warn us not to take the accuracy of history books for granted but to ask ourselves who the historian was and what were his/her motives.

Sue Bursztynski said...

PS I love Robin of Sherwood, but be careful - there was one scene where two Arab Assassins fight with Japanese katanas! Richard Carpenter was taking cheeky licence in a lot of things. ;-)

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks, Lynne. I loved history at primary school too. I am also glad that my class studied Economic History rather than Political History at my girl's grammar school. (Possibly it was considered more suitable for the "peasants" of the Alpha stream.) We were taught by the wonderfully brisk Miss Brown, with cropped hair and brogues, who was probably a strong feminist and socialist, though we didn't know such terms then.