It sometimes happens that history coincides with the curriculum, in fact insists upon it. What better illustration of free market capitalism, for instance, than the stock market crash.

“But why didn’t they learn the lesson of history?” pipes up the class swot.

“Very possibly because a man suggested that the time in which we live represents the end of history.”

“If only,” quoth Tarquin in that audible sotto voce which sits nicely betwixt indolence and insolence.

At least the Great Depression, suitably capitalised, becomes more than an historical lily pad onto which students land before leaping frog-like to the next. (“Tomorrow, the Rise of Fascism.”)

The teacher himself, in the present global meltdown, becomes the exemplar of the economic victim.

“On present calculation, children, I should be able to retire when I am eighty-five.”

The audible gasp is the collective expression of incredulity from 25 young people who already lump you with all things Devonian.

But the event for which the kids needed no prepping or galvanising was the election of Barack Obama. On the Wednesday afternoon, the studes gathered around available computer terminals like iron filings to a magnet. Or indeed the way their grandparents congregated before the flickering screen of the one neighbour in the street with television to take in the wonder of Sputnik or Yuri Gargarin. This was history as it was happening. (Or History as it was Happening.)

In one stroke, our charges learned that the litmus states of Florida and Nevada were not solely the backdrop for television’s CSI but were in fact replete with actual Americans who were well capable of making an informed choice as to their future leader despite all indications (television again) to the contrary.

Suddenly, they understood where Americans — and by default themselves — stood in the world geographically, culturally and, dare one utter the word in a government school, spiritually. You saw realisation light up their faces like the children entranced in the picture by Joseph Wright of Derby in which “A philosopher gives that lecture in the Orrery in which a lamp is put in place of the sun”. That a black man should send out such powerful illumination.

You saw all this like a witness of the age standing outside the thing.

And you were amazed.

And you were moved.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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