Two sides to a story, but do we tell it right?

Unless you’re a major Republican who hates all things to do with the monarchy, then you’ve got to love this video! It’s funny for starters, but also shows a different side to Prince Charles that not many people get to see. Most members of the public (or the masses as the Windsor family may see them) don’t connect with Charles the same way they do with his son William. Many perhaps want to see the throne skip a generation, but believe it or not, I think many people could begin to think again after seeing this.

It’s got me thinking too- throughout history, and certainly in our “celeb” culture today, we only ever see one side of the people we focus on. Even if the paparazzi follow them everywhere, the tabloids keep us up to date with their latest shopping trips and coffee-shop movements and the shelves are full of ‘reveal all’ magazine interviews, we don’t really know much about the people who so many are fascinated by. The group I call the “pointless” celebs- otherwise known as WAGs like Coleen Rooney, Abbey Clancey or Imogen Thomas  (I must be getting old, or perhaps I’m just improving as a human being due to the fact that I’ve actually had to research some of these examples!), can be all over tabloids, but it’s only a caricature that is being painted, not the real person.

Our major figures too, be it David Cameron or even the legendary Boris Johnson, are simply caricatures. If they’re the former, they may try to show us something of themselves in an attempt to win over the public, whilst the latter proves to us teachers that education doesn’t always equal success (or common sense for that matter, or a sense of what is appropriate, or how to market oneself, or… I could digress a lot here…)

It’s the same for historical figures, unless you study them in great detail you will naturally have a rather warped, judgemental view of them. Many are known in relation to their actions (Churchill’s speeches and leadership during WWII, Henry VIIIs relations with the church & his many wives), and even if you study someone in more detail, as our AS historians do with Nicholas II for example, you still can’t paint a complete picture.

The advances of technology is helping to bridge the gap- not just videos like this one but Twitter allows us to get a bit more of an insight into the lives of the rich and famous (if that’s what you really want!). But ultimately, our pictures will always be incomplete. Would those who really knew Winston & Henry agree with our perceptions of them? Would they too see it as what defined these men, or was there more?

It’s a challenge for historians. We want to encourage our students to see both sides of the story, but in many historical accounts, it can be hard to get a complete picture. This can’t be used as a cop-out though. Therefore we want our historians to dig deep when studying a topic or individual, go beyond the obvious information to get a fuller picture. We can’t expect them to do a complete job, but encourage them to be critical in their research.

It’s also a challenge for teachers- we can perhaps have a tendency to ‘caricature’ those we talk about. You could argue that it’s almost unavoidable, but I’m aware of how a few comments about Edwin Chadwick’s rude nature or America’s role in the Middle East in the 20th Centuy can have a big impact on their understanding. We like to use political cartoons to get across points of view regarding topics, but we need to be careful that we don’t cloud their judgement, but open their eyes.

When it comes to the teaching of the past, it’s important that we tell both sides of any story, and ensure that our own version of events doesn’t cause bias or historical caricatures to dominate student’s thinking. But ultimately, personal lives are exactly that- personal. Social media may mean that people (myself included at times) like to broadcast every tiny detail of their life, but it is still under their control. I like that I can (generally) have a good relationship with students- that they know about some of my passions and interests outside of the classroom- but I also appreciate my space, my family time and parts of my life that are separate from my version of “the masses”… no offence guys!


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