Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Cornish history must now be taught in Cornish schools

Following on from the Cornish recogntion in the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) the Cornish school curriculum must be changed. Perhaps to the extent of a Cornish National Curriculum, now I don't mean science should be the prism of Cornish scientists and lessons revolving around Davy, Trevithick and Couch Adams, or literature be dominated by Du Maurier, Quiller-Couch and Golding. But nevertheless Cornish inclusion in the Framework binds education authorities to change things and these changes are significant.

Unlike some of the subjects I wrote about yesterday, that perhaps the convention might mean this or that, in terms of education it's very clear, Article 12 is categorical:

"Article 12
The Parties shall, where appropriate, take measures in the fields of education and research to foster knowledge of the culture, history, language and religion of their national minorities and of the majority.
In this context the Parties shall inter alia provide adequate opportunities for teacher training and access to textbooks, and facilitate contacts among students and teachers of different communities.
The Parties undertake to promote equal opportunities for access to education at all levels for persons belonging to national minorities."


I do think Cornish education has come on a great deal since I was in school. There have been changes and local history has a much more prominent place. Which I think is greatly beneficial, because the history of your community has more bearing on where you live, why culture and festivals are the way they are and of course why the economy is the way it is.

Where does the Cornish story in history fit in to the history of England? well it doesn't fit in that well. This is one of the reasons we are different. The history of the English people, begins with the Anglo Saxon invasions, the formation of a unified kingdom from the seven kingdoms that were, before England ever existed. Various battles with the Vikings and the Danelaw. At this time the Cornish were already resident in Britain and descend from the ancient Britons of course the stories intertwine but there are different dynamics. For the English this was the founding moment in the history, their Plymouth Rock if you will, but for the Celts like the Cornish this was a much different story, one of invasion and the loss of traditional lands, Plymouth Rock was taken from us.

Even further back in Roman times, Cornwall was at the very periphery and traces of the Romans West of the Tamar and indeed West of Exeter are very few and far between. Whereas what is now England was heavily influenced by the Romans, forts and roads etc the same is not perhaps true in Cornwall. These are the kind of things that the teaching of history in Cornwall needs to address to be complaint with the FCNM.

But the FCNM means that history has to be taught differently and indeed subjects have to include Cornish beyond history. Explicitly stated is culture, language and religion as well. It remains to be seen how this might fit in. It seems to me Religious Education should include the reformation in Cornwall and it's negative effect on Kernewek. The later non conformist denominations. Language is of course the big issue, perhaps we might see the Cornish GCSE reinstated and the language offered as an option alongside French, German and Spanish.

Many have dismissed the recognition of the Cornish as tokenism an empty gesture. But these are the kinds of people that really need to have a good look at the Convention and what it actually entails. As I wrote yesterday perhaps for the first time the Cornish will receive protections under the Equality Act, perhaps housing policies will have to change and access to Cornish language media. The point of this blog was to highlight some of the aspects of history and how education now needs to change to incorporate the Cornish story into teaching. It wasn't meant as a definitive guide to Cornish history, I didn't even touch upon the industrial revolution in Cornwall, the governmental arrangements of the Stannary Parliament and the Duchy, the rebellions of 1497 and 1549 or even Cornwall's unique part in the 'English' Civil War. There are huge ramifications just for the subject of teaching history, what will or won't be included. How much of Cornish history is needed  "to foster knowledge" of the national minority? This seems like the perfect opportunity for education matters to be devolved to Cornwall. My view is that recognition under the FCNM is a long drawn out and hard fought victory. It is historic and momentous in itself but it can promise so much more. There sits before us a can of worms, with hard work the lid has already been forced off, with more hard work we can pick up this can turn it upside down give it a good shake and get the most out of this for Cornwall as possible.

As a footnote it's also worth considering other mentions of education in the Convention:

"Article 13
Within the framework of their education systems, the Parties shall recognise that persons belonging to a national minority have the right to set up and to manage their own private educational and training establishments.
The exercise of this right shall not entail any financial obligation for the Parties."

"Article 14
The Parties undertake to recognise that every person belonging to a national minority has the right to learn his or her minority language.
In areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities traditionally or in substantial numbers, if there is sufficient demand, the Parties shall endeavour to ensure, as far as possible and within the framework of their education systems, that persons belonging to those minorities have adequate opportunities for being taught the minority language or for receiving instruction in this language.
Paragraph 2 of this article shall be implemented without prejudice to the learning of the official language or the teaching in this language."

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