Woke history or telling it as it is? National Trust under fire for encouraging children to write poems critical of British Empire

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The National Trust has been accused of badmouthing the UK’s cultural heritage, after reportedly giving historic house tours to school children and inviting them to write verses about how what they saw was linked to imperialism.

As part of the trust’s Colonial Countryside project, primary school pupils were led around the grounds of historic country estates, and were then asked to write about the experience. 

One home viewed by the children, Charlecote Park, near Stratford-upon-Avon, had a display showcasing a sword looted during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. 

According to the Times, one student wrote of the weapon: “Stolen by the English; a freedom sword, a stolen freedom sword.”

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Another student penned a verse about Lord Curzon, viceroy of India from 1899 to 1905. The trust owns Curzon’s former home, Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire.

“He thinks he’s strong, trying to take over India,” the pupil wrote. The musing was reportedly posted on the National Trust’s website before being taken down. 

A spokesman for the trust defended the writing program, describing it as a creative writing project that allows children to “explore history and nature, to think about their place in the world.”

Many on social media saw things a bit differently, however.

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Actor and activist Laurence Fox, who is a candidate in London’s mayoral race, suggested that the National Trust was “the enemy within the gates.”

“Reclaim our culture for our children,” he wrote in response to the Times’ report about the controversy. 

“The enemy is within the gates; it is with our own luxury, our own folly, our own criminality that we have to contend.”Reclaim our culture for our children.National Trust ‘asks children to denigrate the British Empire’ | News | The Times https://t.co/YuI2B6H4Ff

— Laurence Fox 🥛 (@LozzaFox) April 6, 2021

Many agreed with Fox’s take, with several commenters saying that they had canceled their membership with the trust in protest.  

We cancelled our membership

— Nicole B 🇬🇧 🇸🇪📚🎾🐈‍⬛🍷 (@LeMansoisField) April 6, 2021

Membership cancelled.

— Jack Mack (@diatonic3row) April 6, 2021

But there were also more nuanced reactions. 

One educator said that he had no problem with the writing program, provided that the trust provides balance and encourages children to “think about the goods of Empire as well as the great wrongs.” 

I'd have no problem with this if the @NationalTrust were mindful of the statutory obligation upon teachers to offer a balanced presentation of such matters.Children should be encouraged to think about the goods of Empire as well as the great wrongs.https://t.co/Vfy2Yg2XIM

— Adrian Hilton (@Adrian_Hilton) April 6, 2021

Others felt that the project had been blown out of proportion, arguing that there was nothing wrong with teaching British history from a “another perspective.”

Oh my, oh my. Misleading headline! History from another perspective… Absolutely nothing wrong with that!

— SandraBarker (@SandraSchlange) April 6, 2021

Some commenters were even more unimpressed with the outrage over the program, insisting that there was nothing “good” about the British Empire and the trust was simply “telling history as it was.” 

In what way was the British Empire ever a good thing?

— Sam Lowry #FBPE 💙 (@SamTLowry) April 6, 2021

The National Trust is telling history as it was. The Empire was MASSIVELY flawed, and children need to understand that.

— Crocodile Cat (@CrocodileCat2) April 6, 2021

The National Trust has been batting away accusations that it harbors ‘woke’ sentiments after it published a report detailing nearly 100 historic homes and their links to slavery. The report, which came out in September, sparked fury and led to the creation of Restore Trust, which aims to ensure that the charity doesn’t “demonise” British history. 

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