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There should be no doubt by now that we are not living in a ‘post-racial’ world. How can school history help bring understanding and hope?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital5 June 2020

Robin Whitburn and Abdul Mohamud.

The COVID pandemic has taught all of us in 2020 about the need to think very carefully about the routine act of walking out of our home onto the streets to go about our business.

For most of us, this is, hopefully, temporary. But such vigilance has been required of Black people in this country constantly for centuries. Streets are not automatically safe spaces for Black people, especially Black men. The repellent and enraging scenes of George Floyd’s public killing by police officers in Minneapolis at the end of May should impel every one of us to self-examination and action.

Racial profiling by law enforcement officers regularly makes Black people open to brusque and brutal treatment without any further just cause on both sides of the Atlantic. Indeed, they are not necessarily safe in the confines of their own homes; the case of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, in March this year brings to mind those of Cherry Groce and Joy Gardiner in London in the 1980s and 1990s . What do we know of that history, and does the school curriculum ensure that we are prepared to make sense of the realities of race and racism in this century?

COVID has smashed gaping holes in notions of British exceptionalism.  But history should have already taught us to be sceptical of false national pride and to searchingly examine the impact that British expansion has had on global peoples.  The school history curriculum has too often laid the foundations for the premise that brutal racism and (more…)

Making History: new journal will raise the level of debate on national identity, culture and the canon

Blog Editor, IOE Digital1 November 2018

Arthur Chapman, Hilary Cooper and Jon Nichol. 
At a time of growing polarisation among politicians and the public, when people are increasingly entrenched in their views, and with nationalism on the rise – history is surely one of the most crucial subjects in the curriculum.
That is why a new journal launched this week by UCL IOE Press is so significant. With its online open-access publishing, the History Education Research Journal (HERJ) aims to fulfil an important civic function. History education is a hotly contested area of the curriculum – prone, for example, to highly polarised and embittered political battles over canons, personal and national identity, national history curricula and cultural transmission. Here politically HERJ has a major role internationally in establishing an informed discourse with politicians and policy makers who often have limited knowledge and understanding of history beyond its role in inculcating national identity, patriotic loyalty and nationalism, in ignorance of its crucial role in educating pupils to become questioning, informed and sceptical citizens of liberal democracies. HERJ’s educative mission is to raise the power and impact of public debates on history education by (more…)

Is a little knowledge a dangerous thing? Students, national narratives and history education

Blog Editor, IOE Digital26 November 2015

 Jocelyn Létourneau and Arthur Chapman.
Anxieties about national identity and its strengthening and preservation are common in countries around the world, and it is, of course, entirely natural that this should be so in times of great change, challenge and uncertainty.
These anxieties can cause our discussions of history education to tend to the negative and to become counter-productive and even irrational. Public discussion tends, first, to base itself on impressionistic surveys – hardly fitting for matters of consequence. Second, it tends to focus on deficits – on what children do not know. Finding the same absence – repeatedly – is not a constructive act (we learn nothing new by doing it) and, more importantly, a focus on what is not present tells us nothing about what is in children’s heads. Understanding the ideas that children do have is crucial if we want to help them build historical knowledge and understanding, and we are holding a symposium here at the UCL IoE on December 1st to discuss precisely these issues. It is more important to know how children (more…)

What are students ‘remembering’ on Holocaust Memorial Day?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital27 January 2014

Paul Salmons
In classrooms, assemblies and public events across the country today young people have been gathering at events to commemorate the Holocaust. Candles are being lit, poems read, pledges made.
For many, particularly those privileged to hear from Holocaust survivors or, increasingly, survivors of other genocides, it will be an intensely moving experience. But what are students remembering, exactly? What do they know and understand about the Holocaust, and what meanings do they make?
Despite years of educational work in teaching and learning about the Holocaust, the intensive activity of many specialist institutions and the dedication of thousands of teachers, the simple (but somewhat troubling) answer is that we don’t really know what young people think about this complex and emotive subject.
Of course, we have the essays, artwork, musical and theatrical performances that many school students produce for these occasions. The messages inscribed into memorial books. The comments made to teachers, guest speakers and the organisers of these events. All of this certainly tells us something. But we also know that young people learn very early on how to “get by” in school: the importance of saying what your teacher wants to hear, what kinds of comments and behaviour gain praise and which are out of bounds, and what will gain acceptance among your peers. Different settings can produce different kinds of responses; different ideas may be expressed in the classroom to a teacher, at a podium to an audience, in the playground to friends, or at home to family members.
And a wide range of sources inform and shape the views and attitudes of our students. There is no reason to assume that the voice of the teacher or the narrative of a textbook holds sway over the opinions of friends and family, or the popular representations of the past encountered in film and television, museums and novels.
So what do our young people know about why and how the Holocaust happened? What does this mean to them – what is the relevance and meaning for their lives, and are there common misconceptions or areas of confusion?
This picture is about to become a lot clearer.
A new research project launched by the IOE’s Centre for Holocaust Education will explore the knowledge, attitudes and understanding of up to 10,000 secondary school pupils from across England. Unprecedented in scope and scale, this ground breaking study will provide the fullest picture yet of what the Holocaust actually means to young people by listening to students themselves, through large-scale and in-depth research into their thinking.
The findings of the research, funded by the Department for Education together with the Pears Foundation, will be of importance both in the UK and internationally. It will reveal patterns in students’ knowledge, as well as common preconceptions, myths, or areas of confusion and inaccuracy. It will help identify issues and challenges that need to be tackled in the classroom. And it will clarify the meaning and significance attached to the Holocaust by the next generation.
The research into students’ understandings is part of our commitment to working with teachers to transform teaching and learning about the Holocaust. It follows our 2009 national research into teachers’ attitudes to teaching about the Holocaust, the foundation of all our current work, and the basis of a research-informed approach that makes our programmes uniquely responsive to classroom needs.
The student research will allow the IOE’s Centre for Holocaust Education to further improve its CPD programmes (already offered free of charge to teachers across the country), and to develop even more effective resources and approaches to teaching about the Holocaust.
As a result, it is to be hoped that in future years, as students across the country again mark our national Holocaust Memorial Day, they will do so with ever more sophisticated and nuanced understandings and that the meanings they form as they join in collective acts of memory will be even deeper, more personal and more profound.