I read this article a couple of days ago in the Independent;
One third of UK schoolchildren clueless about Shakespeare
Articles like this pop up all the time in the press and they're a classic example of how odd our attitude towards education is. Sometimes these articles complain that children don't know who Churchill is, other times it's Henry VIII, sometimes it's that they've never heard of 1066 and the Battle of Hastings. It's always something both historical and British.
This particular article was about Shakespeare - another person that British children are expected to be well aware of. For the record it basically states that 30% of them (six to twelve year olds at that) don't know who he is - as if this is a massively bad thing.
I ask, why is it such a big deal that children don't know who Shakespeare is? Most adults rarely, if ever, read Shakespeare, yet there's a mini-outcry when it's mentioned that some children aren't aware of the guy. Children under the age of thirteen are generally too young to read Shakespeare anyway aren't they - yet still minor-outrage.
Why so much emphasis on knowing random bits and bobs about history? Who decides what's worth knowing and what isn't? Or who's worth knowing and who isn't? Why is Shakespeare so special? Is it because he's English? Is this about nationalism or is it about education?
You never hear an outcry in the British press because children don't know who Chairman Mao is. Or because they haven't heard of Alexandre Dumas or whoever. It seems educated people basically want children to know the stuff they know. Their attitude is pretty much "...we're brilliant and educated, you need to know what we know in order to be brilliant and educated yourselves."
Latin's an even better example. Every six months or so there seems to be some big thing in the press and the media saying we need to start bringing Latin back into the classroom. And surprise, surprise the people calling for this always tend to be people who learnt Latin themselves as a child, "...I'm brilliant, I can read Latin, we must make all our children as brilliant as I am!" They're never outraged that children aren't being taught Korean or Polish or any other language they don't have a clue about. Always Latin.
It's obvious to me that these people have spent their entire lives learning stuff just to impress people. Better to look like an idiot I say.