British Dopers: How, And At What Age, Did You First Learn That The USA Was Once A British Colony

I’ve heard, in more than one context, that British schoolchildren are not taught that the USA was once a British colony, that the Americans fought for independence against the Crown, that the Declaration of Independence was a thing, etc. Makes sense: the history of a foreign country a continent away isn’t exactly relevant to British kids.

At what point in your life did you learn this, and how?

I left school at age 18 in 2003, having been through the standard British state education system. I think there is some truth in what you write here, at least in my experience. I can’t really pinpoint a particular age when I learned this fact, as there wasn’t much American history on the curriculum. I suspect I became aware of it around the age of 12 or so, through wider reading rather than school lessons (I read a lot). There was a module on the American West at around age 14 which covered such as the Native American wars, the Mormons, and the Gold Rush, but that was focused on the nineteenth century, and even then stuff like the Alamo wasn’t mentioned that I recall (to be clear: I am aware the Alamo isn’t directly related to the USA becoming independent from Britain, I’m just mentioning it as an example of a fairly major event in American history that we didn’t really learn about).

Britain lost a lot of colonies between 1750 and my school days, why focus on the biggest one? :slight_smile:

You can check the current national curriculim in history at The Seven Years War and the American War of Independence are specifically mentioned as a potential topic within the theme “ideas, political power, industry and empire: Britain, 1745-1901”, for key stage 3 (i.e. school years 7-9, or roughly the 11-14 age group).

I’m 72, and I’m interested to note that in those pre-national curriculum days, my old-fashioned grammar school course in history at that age did include almost exactly the same: it’s in the context of the 150- year Anglo-French struggle for power*, and looking forward to the point that the expansion of the British Empire came about in part because of the loss of America, but it was formally taught.

But you couldn’t exactly grow up with an inquiring mind without knowing something about it. I don’t recall ever not knowing it.

I’m wondering if this stems from one of those unreliable surveys that vox pop people in the street to ask them general knowledge questions when their minds are on something else. My guess is, neither of our countries comes off particularly well in such situations.

*Sometimes I wonder if I would ever dare to say to an American “If it wasn’t for us, you’ld all be speaking French. Or Dutch. Or Spanish”

I don’t remember when or how I learned that stuff, but it wasn’t at school. We did learn some American history: there was a short History of Elvis module, which was really about changing social mores and the rise of youth culture, and a much longer history of the cold war, which included a good bit of 20th century US (and Russian) history.

Judging by the pupils’ art on the classroom wall, though, not all classes in the school were taught the same history modules. There were posters comparing the US and UK constitutions - the one I remember showed the former as a five-barred gate and the latter as a snake - and that probably involved learning how the US constitution originated.

I must have learned the basics by osmosis from TV or other people, and read a bit more about it on the internet later.

That would be India, no? But we didn’t learn about that, either.

“*Sometimes I wonder if I would ever dare to say to an American “If it wasn’t for us, you’ld all be speaking French. Or Dutch. Or Spanish””

Why would that be a bad thing? At least spelling makes more sense in those languages. And depending on where you live, a high percentage of Americans are Spanish speakers, so you didn’t even do a good job on that front.

I don’t remember learning it. It’s one of those basic pieces of information I learned at such a young age I would never be able to pinpoint it.

I don’t think I was formally taught it either. British history in school tended to concentrate on things that happened in Britain. The Norman conquest, the civil war, the Elizabethan age, the industrial revolution and the Victorian age, and the world wars. Only at more advanced levels - i.e. the ones you opted in to for exams would you start to learn about Empire, the Cold War and Britain’s place in the world. I think for most school kids the picture of Britain’s past is pretty rosy. Then at A Levels and degree level it basically involves showing the student how terrible Britain has been to other nations.

I did my degree in Philosophy and History and even then the history lessons didn’t really cover the US. When we did touch on British history we generally covered Britain’s actions in South Africa (awful), India (selfish), and China (scandalous).

We must have looked at the European settlements into the New World at some point in secondary school though and it would have been covered briefly within that.

We covered the middle ages with the enclosure acts and the black death, and neither that nor the industrial revolution seemed like a fun time to live. A lot of the history we studied looked at the lives of ordinary people rather than big historical events.

We also covered the slave trade, and I’ve always wondered if that was chosen because the government eventually banned it (cynical view: having banned it makes Britain look better, hopeful view: it teaches kids that campaigning can make a difference and improve the world). It might just have been because all the pamphlets and so on make great teaching material, though.

I only learned about Britain’s actions in China quite recently. Scandalous is a good way to describe it.

How could I have forgotten the black death?

You had your chance to fix it, and all you did was take the 'u’s out of some words. :stuck_out_tongue: Now the world is stuck with terrible spelling until we all have to start learning Mandarin or Hindi or whatever instead.

Actually, we came close to speaking German.

India was the biggest in population terms (and geographically I would guess based on the borders in place at the time) but the USA was probably the biggest in terms of significance, as things turned out.

@PatrickLondon, you may (or may not!) be gratified to know that I had assumed from your previous posts that we were of a similar age. But then I’m pretty old-fashioned in my hobbies and interests so maybe not so surprising :slight_smile:.

I don’t really recall learning it at school. Most of our history lessons were based on British history (more specifically, English history) with a fair chunk of the history of European countries as it directly affected us in England.

My partner is Scottish, he claims not to have been taught any English history or geography at all, so his curriculum focused solely on Scottish history.

History up until the age of 16 was a bit of a gallop, there was an awful lot to pack in. I don’t really remember learning much at junior school (ie pre-11/12 years old), though I guess I did. At senior school in the run up to GCSE (the main exams you take at 16), it was a rush through the middle ages/black death, tudors, Napoleonic Wars, a whole bunch of stuff around the Industrial Revolution and lots of complicated, associated political / legal stuff (the Corn Laws seemed to go on for weeks, and I can’t remember a damn thing about them).

The American Revolution was covered, fairly briefly, when I would have been about 14 (this was in the mid 1980s), and mainly as a forebear to the French Revolution, which we covered in depth. So we were certainly taught it, and fairly dispassionately at that. We didn’t cover the War of 1812 though - I didn’t hear of that til I was an adult. Probably because we were fighting Napoleon at the time, and that was more significant (for us).

I took history at A Level (aged 16-18), but there was very focussed - 1485-1600, covering British and European history alone. So I can tell you a lot about the Tudors, the reformation (home and in mainland Europe), the unification of Spain and the Renaissance. USA? Not so much.

I should add that our focus on the American Revolution was heavily on the politics of the time (US and UK), political thinkers/writers, the Declaration of Independence and the move towards republicanism. Hardly anything about the actual war itself. Or your obsession with George III :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:.

I think if you really want to make a point to an American about English you might want to use your conditionals “correctly.”

I was referring to the (not unheard-of) trope among some visiting Americans: “If it wasn’t for us, you’ld all be speaking German.” Clearly that doesn’t appear to be as well-known here as son other messageboards I frequent.

I’m familiar with the trope. I was joking about the grammar, (which I don’t actually care about, hence the quotation marks).

And in Los Angeles, (among other places, as moojja points out), we do speak Spanish. Only 44% of L.A. County speaks English only, and 40% of households speak Spanish.

It’s a fact I don’t remember learning, but if it was at school it was only mentioned in passing. My primary school (pre age 11) was somewhat eclectic in teaching style. The school was tiny and I think the teacher- who was also the head- taught all classes bar music to kids year 3 and up, all together in one class, and there really wasn’t a curriculum as such. We didn’t even have a timetable, just a reading hour and maths hour every day, the whole rest of the week would sometimes just wind up looking at something random because a kid had asked a question and the whole class went down some rabbit hole and wound up spending two days looking the various ways to tie a toga using old sheets, with some of the less kinky Roman mythology thrown in. This passed for history. Terrible exam prep, but it did make learning fun. The closest I remember to looking at American history was (and I do cringe at it now) dressing-up as ‘cowboys and indians’ and learning faux native American songs…

Secondary school was a lot more organised, and we almost entirely looked at British history, with a big focus on the industrial revolution, skipping ahead to the World Wars. I didn’t take history for GCSE (meaning I only took 3 years of history at secondary school), which was mostly concerned with the World Wars, from what friends said.