Thursday, May 31, 2007

History class in the UK - rated I for inane

The Good Atheist strikes again, thus earning himself a spot on my links and a hyperlink for you. This time he is taking on history curricula in the UK and good for him.

From the Daily Mail...

Schools are dropping the Holocaust from history lessons to avoid
offending Muslim pupils, a Governmentbacked study has revealed. It found some
teachers are reluctant to cover the atrocity for fear of upsetting students
whose beliefs include Holocaust denial. There is also resistance to
tackling the 11th century Crusades - where Christians fought Muslim armies for
control of Jerusalem - because lessons often contradict what is taught in local

The findings have prompted claims that some schools are using
history 'as a vehicle for promoting political correctness'.

The report concluded: "In particular settings, teachers of history
are unwilling to challenge highly contentious or charged versions of history in
which pupils are steeped at home, in their community or in a place of worship."

But Chris McGovern, history education adviser to the former Tory
government, said: "History is not a vehicle for promoting political correctness.
Children must have access to knowledge of these controversial subjects, whether
palatable or unpalatable."

English and history classes in my day were sometimes rough. Emotions ran high. Teachers and students disagreed. Students and students disagreed. And I remember a couple of days when I seemed to disagree with everyone. We were different races, classes, genders and religions, but we all survived those discussions. I also recall getting into a good university and not being shell-shocked by in-depth class discussions because I'd already experienced them in high school.

As I stand on the precipice before my 20th (public) high school reunion, I (like every other reunion attendee in this world) am not thrilled by all of my memories or the thought of re-living them. But I am grateful for the times my mind was stretched. I am glad I shared years with people who tested me, annoyed me, openly called bull on me, and were honest in their mostly civil disagreements.

As adults we find ways to limit the human thorns in our sides. As high school students, we don't have that power and, yet, for many it is the most educationally significant time of their lives. I believe there's a connection. You can't take the edge and the ire out of adolescence by hinkying with history. Or biology. Or sex ed. The holocaust, species diversity, and sexuality are all hard to talk about in depth. Whether you agree with your conversation partners or not. Therein lies the education. We learn, grow, and sometimes change.

Speaking of which, my son and played on my public elementary school playground the other night.

"Is this where you went to school, mama?"

"Yes, indeed! The place where I learned to read. The place where I learned to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. The place where I learned how to boogie. I still have some of the moves. Wanna' see them?"


Come on now. You didn't think I got these moves from church did you?


Adam Byrn "Adamus" Tritt said...

It seems the event has been a bit overstated by the source.

In Britain, Holocaust Teaching Will Remain Compulsory

Vanessa Bulkacz, Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA News Service)

That's the message from British educators and government, contradicting recent reports that the Department for Education and Skills would scrap its Holocaust curriculum requirement. "Holocaust education in Britain is compulsory and there has never been any other suggestion," Nikki Ginsberg, a spokeswoman for the Holocaust Educational Trust, told JTA.

Several major British newspapers had reported recently that political correctness -- in other words, fear of offending Muslims who oppose Israel -- was spurring concerns among educators about teaching the Holocaust.

Holocaust educators believe the rumors stemmed from one passage in a 47-page report commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills: A teacher in an unnamed school said she hesitated to teach the Holocaust for fear of offending Muslim students.

"Challenges and Opportunities for Teaching Emotive and Controversial History," released in April, chronicles the pressures educators face in tackling difficult issues like racism, the Crusades and the Holocaust. The report gives examples of how to handle such issues.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote to British Education Secretary Alan Johnson that it was "horrified" to learn of British teachers' reluctance to educate children about the Holocaust.

But the Holocaust Educational Trust and the American Jewish Committee quickly refuted the reports. The trust, which is funded largely by the government and the Pears Foundation, said the quote was taken out of context and that the teacher was expressing a personal feeling, albeit a troubling one

Days later, however, speculation about a crisis in Holocaust education was further fueled by an announcement that the Pears Foundation and the British Treasury were upping funding for Holocaust education by $500,000 over the next three years.

If the program was not in trouble, some wondered, why the sudden influx of cash? The timing was merely a coincidence, the head of education at the trust told JTA.

"The additional funding was in the works for a long time," Kay Andrews said. "The new grant money simply shows [Treasury Chancellor] Gordon Brown's continued commitment to Holocaust education. It does not mean that Holocaust education was lacking."

"On the contrary," she said, "the report shows that there's some fantastic teaching going on."

Charles Keidan, director of the Pears Foundation, said the announcement of the additional $500,000 per year came as a result of recommendations from research conducted over the last year by the foundation and a symposium in September 2006 involving U.K.-based Holocaust education organizations and survivors.

"More than 10 nongovernmental organizations are working in schools whose services are continually oversubscribed," he said.

Keidan said the government in the past two years has pledged about $3 million to sending children to Auschwitz and now about $1.5 million for teacher training, and funds a yearly Holocaust Memorial Day.

The Holocaust became part of the British national history curriculum in 1991. It is mandated for ninth-graders in England and Wales; high-school students have the option of studying the Holocaust further in religion, English and citizenship lessons.

Education experts say the program is considered among the strongest in Europe, perhaps second only to Germany, where Holocaust education is compulsory in high school and middle school. In the United States, only a handful of states require Holocaust teaching.

Britain emphasizes programs that enable high-school students to visit former concentration camps in continental Europe, often Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.

The "Lessons from Auschwitz" project, which has been run by the Holocaust Educational Trust for nine years and represents the largest such program in Britain, funds 15 trips a year to Auschwitz. Joining 200 students on the trips are 35 or so teachers, journalists and members of Parliament.

Andrews said most students describe the trip as a life-changing experience that spurs them to activism when they return to Britain.

Sam Hunt, deputy head of the Sandhurst Mixed Comprehensive School in Berkshire, said teachers have been placing more emphasis on the opportunities for fostering citizenship inherent in Holocaust education.

Sandhurst programs tie in Holocaust lessons with teaching about civic duty. The school's extensive but optional Holocaust education program for high schoolers includes trips to Auschwitz and school talks from survivors.

"We ask the students to reflect on lessons that can be applied today, like racism and the crisis in Darfur," Hunt told JTA. "It makes them react to other issues they see around them, like bullying in school. Through Holocaust education we teach them that it's never acceptable to be a perpetrator or a bystander."

Hunt said reaction to the program has been phenomenal.

"I get letters from students every year saying they will never be a bystander again," Hunt said.

After a visit to Auschwitz, one 16-year-old girl wrote to Hunt: "From studying the Holocaust, what we have learned is that we can make a difference. Our promise to you and those who died is that we will stand up for what we believe in and spread the knowledge of the Holocaust to prevent suffering like this from ever happening again."

Every 7th Day said...

The original article did state that these findings were in a few schools in the North, not throughout the UK.

But glad to see that there was some reaction on even that small scale.