Do we want Simon Schama as History Czar
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?
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.
The same would go for Niall Ferguson (another Tory brainwave for putting some energy into school History).. and the same would go, in Classics, for Mary Beard (though I do at least work here). She certainly ought to be consulted about the direction of Latin teaching in schools, but only as part of a wide team. We dont want MB guiding what happens to Classics in this country any more than we want Schama or Ferguson doing that for History. That is because there are many good History/Classics teachers who would be much better at tackling this job.
My suspicion though is that this is not simply celebrity culture, it is also penny pinching. 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.