FEW school subjects are so divisive. When Michael Gove, Britain’s education secretary, released draft changes to the country’s national curriculum in February it was his plan for history that created headlines. Mr Gove’s proposal called for history to be studied “as a coherent, chronological narrative”, beginning with the early Britons and ending with the cold war. Opponents said the syllabus overstressed the deeds of “posh white blokes” and underplayed those of minorities. “Unteachable, unlearnable and un-British” blasted a campaign group on April 10th. Rival camps of historians have published petitions and rowed on television. That shoot-out will last beyond the official consultation period, which closes next week.
Politicians with an axe to grind have often twisted history books, lionising characters they admire and tainting ones they do not. In March Dmitry Livanov, Russia’s education minister, promised a new textbook to replace the 80 or so in use. That looks like an effort by Vladimir Putin’s government to commandeer Russian history and partially sanitise Stalin (though Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago” is also taught in schools). But the rumpus in Britain reflects a deeper and more subtle argument dividing school staff rooms around the world–one with broader consequences. As well as tussling over the content of courses, parents, teachers and politicians are now discussing the techniques by which history is taught, and debating what the discipline is for.