Tuesday, April 03, 2007 

Denying the undeniable and teaching it.

The headline says "Schools drop Holocaust lessons", and that's just the Grauniad. As almost always when reporting large-scale studies and reports, in this case Teaching Emotive and Controversial History, prepared by the Historical Association, some of the nuances are dropped.

It's true that the report does mention that in one northern school it was decided that the Holocaust should be avoided as a subject for GCSE coursework for fear of confronting anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial among Muslim pupils. Another did teach the Holocaust but avoided the Crusades because they felt their balanced view of the topic would have directly challenged what had been taught in the local mosques.

The first thing that occurs to you is that this is indeed awful. If teachers won't challenge Holocaust denial directly by teaching the historical truth, then what is the point of them? Schools are the very places where basic racism and prejudice need to be tackled, and there's little better place to do that than in the history classroom itself.

The report itself though lists the very reasons for why emotive and controversial history is avoided. Personal teacher avoidance is sixth on the list; first is time and status of the subject, second is "safe" content selection, pedagogy and official guidance, third inadequate teacher access to high-quality training, fourth paucity of resources, fifth lack of teacher subject knowledge, seventh lack of balance, and eighth teacher avoidance of risk-taking. Secondly, these examples may well be one-offs. Then there's also this paragraph from the discussion of problems at the Key Stage 3 level, which went unreported:

As with other key stages, teachers lack incentives to take risks even when they recognise the relevance of addressing emotive and controversial content and themes, such as Islamic history. Recent events have heightened tensions both within the Muslim community and between Muslims and between Muslims and non-Muslims. Yet never has an understanding of Islamic history seemed more vital. At present “Islamic civilisations” (from 7th to 16th centuries) is an optional choice for a “world study before 1900”. Few choose it. Many schools have considered Islamic history too difficult, alien or complex to teach. Most pupils do not study Islamic history at all, other than a glance at the Crusades from a western perspective. Schools with Muslim pupils face particular challenges in negotiating the interface between community history and school history. Not all Muslims are happy with the idea of Islamic history being taught by non-Muslims. The relationship between a communal, mythologised history adhering to one narrative sits uncomfortably with a critical history that is open to multiple interpretations and perspectives.

It's also to be remembered that it wasn't so long back that History teachers were being knocked for being obsessed with the Nazis, although it has to be said by the time I finished A-level History I was thoroughly sick of the self-absorbed machinations and organised chaos of Hitler and his henchmen. The Grauniad report also points out that teaching the Holocaust is expected to be made compulsory next year.

Even so, and even if it is only in isolated cases, the worst thing you can do is let ignorance and bigotry prosper simply through being afraid of challenging it, whatever the circumstances. The reason why Holocaust denial is both so outrageous and sickening is that it has been so well documented and shown to be accurate, and that it only happened less than a lifetime ago. Those who stick their heads in the sand, whether they're the BNP or religious, have to be taken on and properly put in their place. It certainly doesn't help matters when the Muslim Council of Britain refuses to attend Holocaust memorial day events because it would prefer that the event focused on "all" acts of genocide. However bad the situation in Palestine is, and taking into consideration all the other mass slaughters in history, none was as bad, as centrally planned and as shocking as what happened between 1941-45, and hopefully the MCB are coming round to realising the very obvious reasons why the Jewish holocaust is chiefly commemorated.

You just have to hope that this report helps keep everyone alert to this threat.

Labels: , ,

Share |


  • This is septicisle


Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates