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 Teaching History with Balanced Truths

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Priscilla
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PostSubject: Teaching History with Balanced Truths   Fri 07 Mar 2014, 10:16

The interesting thread on collective silences raises this point. It is actually quite difficult to give balanced information without loading a younger generation with a package of guilt. They often assume it even when one has tried to avoid that. We want our young to know how things came about but in all fairness to them they neither need to carry  the burden of guilt nor a package of resentment. And given the many past errors of some places it could become just too much  to handle. Others thoughts on this aspect of education would be interesting
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Teaching History with Balanced Truths   Fri 07 Mar 2014, 10:42

In Germany this has been an issue to address for three or four generations and has been largely managed by including in the teaching the dynamics and nature of guilt itself. In latter years I have encountered a general increasing apathy and disinterest amongst younger people for what they quite rightly view as events so long in the past that their legacy need not be of primary concern in one's day to day life. This too is necessary and completely natural. However it is also a substantial pendulum swing from their parents' (or at this stage grandparents') generations who - as one progresses back through prevalent attitudes - either questioned the inference of extended culpability sometimes quite aggressively or, further back, accepted the concept of such culpability to the extent that it influenced how they interacted with German society, sometimes quite radically. What I have found however is that regardless of the zeitgeist society on the whole has been the better for never having shied away from facing up to the events of the past and attempting to understand their causes, their conduct and their effect. Guilt certainly was part of that package, but it is one that has on the whole been a positive rather than a negative within society. An imposed silence on the other hand could well have had dire consequences indeed.
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Priscilla
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PostSubject: Re: Teaching History with Balanced Truths   Fri 07 Mar 2014, 11:18

Thank you for that - the dynamics of guilt is an interesting concept that I had not thought about.  Using that stratagem with young children must be complex - and yet the problem arises with the study of history with young children who often already bear a load of parental opinion or downright prejudice. I recall a British parent  abroad who gave me hell because of talking about the Empire trading back expensive finished goods from cheap raw material....... he was in the fabric manufacturing line... oops. But it had  happened and I know I was right. His outfit now uses local produce and labour in situ - fine, but he refused to accept the beginnings and how Britain had benefitted . And I know his daughter also believed what had been discussed in class because of faith in me but there arose home frictions with a little, thoughtful girl in the middle.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Teaching History with Balanced Truths   Fri 07 Mar 2014, 13:16

@Priscilla wrote:
Using that stratagem with young children must be complex

Maybe, but I'd say probably much easier than with dyed-in-the-wool or older students. The thing about guilt is that it is really just in essence recognition of an uncomfortable fact which can be related back to yourself. Children, I think, are actually much more familiar with this concept and used to accommodating it in their daily lives than many adults. It is what one does with it afterwards that really matters and in which guidance and help is necessary, for adults as much as for children.

In Germany for example this subject was handled within two different disciplines educationally, both as history and as what might be called "civics" still in the UK. In the former the data was presented dispassionately while in the latter it was (and as far as I know still is) treated as raw material when discussing civic identity and responsibilities and how these are managed by the individual when they conflict with or do not necessarily match personal identity and personal responsibilities. In this context the notion of inferred guilt becomes much more manageable and relevant, extending well beyond the strict notion of "war crimes" and into the broader notion of how one as an individual assimilates communal history of the society in which one functions.

If you think about it this is an area of identity with which children grapple on an almost daily basis anyway, whereas with adults this negotiation of identity is assumed by many to have been long resolved. For that reason alone it is worth tackling all the earlier in life, and probably easier to tackle too.
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Priscilla
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PostSubject: Re: Teaching History with Balanced Truths   Fri 07 Mar 2014, 14:19

It is certainly easy where children a raised by reasonable parents but not if their parents are bigoted - and this can be a two way trade in racial/faith matter. Teaching a fruit salad of cultures is a potential minefield - the challenge is considerable. I like the idea of civics  as a curricular must.  School assemblies are a main line form of introduction if used by class teachers with thought. On the  other hand Ignatious Loyola was right about after seven years "Do with him what you will." Sometimes children are forced into evaluating their families - and often do so  skilfully enough to keep their own opinions veiled from them. Rebellious teens will speak up, of course! Humour also plays an interesting part in getting attitudes sorted. Where 'Don't mention the war,' sits in all of that I am not so sure..... not on  a MB, anyway!


Last edited by Priscilla on Fri 07 Mar 2014, 14:21; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : poor language again)
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PaulRyckier
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PostSubject: Re: Teaching History with Balanced Truths   Fri 07 Mar 2014, 22:54

@Priscilla wrote:
The interesting thread on collective silences raises this point. It is actually quite difficult to give balanced information without loading a younger generation with a package of guilt. They often assume it even when one has tried to avoid that. We want our young to know how things came about but in all fairness to them they neither need to carry  the burden of guilt nor a package of resentment. And given the many past errors of some places it could become just too much  to handle. Others thoughts on this aspect of education would be interesting


Priscilla,

perhaps I am a bit bad placed to make a judgement about guilt. As an internationalist (no nationalistic tendencies anymore, already from my twenties on) I don't see why people have to have guilt about past events? Humanity as a whole during its history has had a lot of ugly deeds as it has had its glorious moments. In my opinion the deviation of the right (and I agree I start here already with a value appreciation too) way only begins when one uses pas "guilt" as a help to ostracise other nationalities or to praise the own nationality.


I give an example. Lieven Saerens from the CEGESOMA (Study and Documentation Centre of War and contemporary Society) made a study of the Belgian Holocaust. From this study appeared that the deportation quote for the Netherlands was 70 %, for Belgium 42%, for France 25%, but in the two big Jewish communities Antwerp it was 65% and Brussels (including the minor communities of Charleroi and Liège) it was only 35%, pointing to the fact that help to the Germans of the local authorities and population of the Flemish Antwerp was much higher than in Brussels, where there was more resistance by the locals to the Jewish deportation.
This study is not appreciated by some nationalistic Flemish parties in the nowadays federal Belgium.

That shows, as I think to have understood from Nordmann, that it is important to show the historical events as accurate as possible, not to question the past "guilt" of the nowadays people who have nothing to do with the deeds of their parents and grand parents, but to avoid nationalistic rethoric of nowadays parties to silence own historical deeds or to blacken other nationalities about their past? But in Belgium I have to say this nationalistic rethoric is not as high I suppose as for instance in a nowadays Ukraine, where people still refer to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth or to the great Russian history...

Kind regards and with esteem,

Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Teaching History with Balanced Truths   Sat 08 Mar 2014, 11:28

The German President has been in Greece and yesterday visiting the village of Ligiades, where he laid a wreath and apologised for the atrocities committed on citizens there during Nazi occupation. Nazi atrocities in Greece haven't really been officially recognised by Germany before, a description of events during the war and Glauck's very sensitive words (where he talks on the national 'shame') at the town in English here http://greece.greekreporter.com/2014/03/07/german-president-pays-homage-to-nazi-greek-village-massacre/

Touching on what Nordmann said above, elsewhere we were discussing the visit and a young German (early 20s) commented to the effect of 'how much longer do we have to kow tow'? This was immediately pounced on by older Germans who gave him a right dressing down, but one commentor in particular stood out 'he wants to hide like a child with a blanket over his head, but he will find out soon enough that what our grandparents did is a burden that he too will have to carry'.

Rather poignant, I thought and a lesson on having the courage to face and live with one's nations uncomfortable past.
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Gilgamesh of Uruk
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PostSubject: Re: Teaching History with Balanced Truths   Sat 08 Mar 2014, 12:22

I'd certainly rate accepting what happened as important - act such as the Turkish denial of the Armenian holocaust, or the German denial of the Herero and Namaqua ones strike me as liable to distort the present and thus the future. Although, I suppose, an over-emphasis on historical evils could be almost as bad, particularly if the victims cling to their wounds.
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PostSubject: Re: Teaching History with Balanced Truths   Sat 08 Mar 2014, 23:56

In my younger days I used to get annoyed by people of the then older generation saying they had fought the war for people like me and expecting gratitude. Now I realise that persons of that generation did suffer.  Remembrance Day seemed remote to me and I never much liked the marching etc until I saw [albeit on TV] young men in the forces sailing off to the Falklands and possibly not coming back thirty plus years ago.  I know Remembrance Day meant something to my mother because she lost a cousin she was fond of in the Second World War. 

I think it is important that youngsters are taught about the Holocaust and going back further about slavery, but Priscilla is quite right that the imparters of knowledge must try to avoid making those instructed feel guilty. As a white person do I feel uncomfortable that some white people bought and sold black people in the past?  Of course, but I don't feel any personal guilt because it all happened before I was born.
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PostSubject: Re: Teaching History with Balanced Truths   Sun 09 Mar 2014, 04:30

We had a German teenager staying with us about fifteen years ago, and he was fascinated by our Anzac Day commemorations and the memorials to soldiers.  The impression he left me with was that German people did not talk about the war much at all, and it was still a source of considerable embarrassment to them.  He said there was no way that Germany would have been able to have open memorials to their soldiers.  However when he left school he was expected to either go into military training or do some sort of civilian service - most youngsters chose the latter. 

It's hard to get the balance right between acknowledging the faults of the past and unnecessarily dwelling on things that can't be changed.  Or as Gil says, creating a victim mentality on people who are perfectly capable of making contributions to society and living very satisfactory lives as they are.  In New Zealand there has been a focus in the last 40 years on redressing Maori grievances via the Waitangi Tribunal settlements, but this causes a bit of resentment among some who feel (with some justification) that the more that is handed out the more is wanted. (Sometimes the resentment is of Maori by other Maori.)  But generally these settlements are working well, and the South Island iwi (tribe) in particular has managed their large hand-out very well indeed, and shown considerable acumen in making a large amount of money even larger.
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PostSubject: Re: Teaching History with Balanced Truths   Sun 09 Mar 2014, 06:28

Not to do with shame or guilt, but about how people's history affects them and needs to be accommodated somehow.  I was reading the correspondent from Beijing in the NZ Listener, and he quoted Professor Wang, Chairman Mao's French interpreter, speaking in 1991.  They were off to a conference in Pingliang, which had been isolated from foreigners since the 1920s.  Professor Wang told the writer, "People have lived in these valleys for over 3000 years.  In China, history is a strength and a burden.  Sometimes we must ignore the past to deal with the enormity of the presence, but in our desire to modernise I fear that we may forget too much."  Young people were leaving Pingliang for work in eastern industrial cities.  David Mahon was a novelty to put it mildly, and a crowd followed him, pointing and staring until one young girl shouted, "I know what that is! It is not read, it's a ghost, a foreign ghost." The crowd then broke their silence "with good-natured laughter".
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