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John Simkin

Nationalism and History Teaching

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Is it a realistic approach or just a dream? A never ending conference with the goal to write and rewrite recommendations to historians and publishing houses in countries around the world?

Both, I think. And yes, trying to write a European and/or international textbook means monitoring and if neecessary rewriting it.

I will try to contact the Eckert Institute; a friend of mine works there.

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Is it a realistic approach or just a dream? A never ending conference with the goal to write and rewrite recommendations to historians and publishing houses in countries around the world?

Both, I think. And yes, trying to write a European and/or international textbook means monitoring and if neecessary rewriting it.

I believe that you disregard from one important fact. Writing and rewriting history could of course be used for good purposes like enhancing the truth content or showing better understanding of the events thus showing tolerance towards involved participants.

But writing and rewriting could be misused for political or ideological reasons. Until now this happened so many times in history of mankind that it easily up to this day outnumber any good intentions like the one you proposed.

I think that we should not cheers good intentions without considering what kind of bad consequences these same intentions may at the same time contain.

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For those who read French, I have published, on the web, abstracts from a conference on 14-18 : Armées, Combats, Sociétés (France, Grande-Bretagne, Allemagne), by Antoine Prost , a well-known French historian :

http://aphgcaen.free.fr/conferences/prost.htm

To become a teacher, students have to work on "Les sociétés, la guerre et la paix (1911-1946)". The dominant historical view is that 14-18 was the mould of WW2 atrocities.

2 side questions :

- What role has George L Mosse's books in history teaching in your country ?

- Can we teach that violence has a different status in Germany between 1914 and 1924, and in France or England at the same dates ?

write and rewrite recommendations to historians and publishing houses

3 comments on this debate :

- Recommendations may be useful in some cases.

But it may be difficult to avoid bureaucracy or political issues.

- in fact, we may differentiate 2 cases :

. past wars, which may no longer affect education - France-Germany, Napoleon vs England

. present conflicts : it is nearly impossible to set a quiet discussion on Middle East issues on this forum ; I have seen another quarrel between Turks and Armenians.

In such a case, a very strong political will is necessary. Adenauer and Schumann, Adenauer and de Gaulle are good examples.

Daniel

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present conflicts : it is nearly impossible to set a quiet discussion on Middle East issues on this forum (...) In such a case, a very strong political will is necessary. Adenauer and Schumann, Adenauer and de Gaulle are good examples.

Daniel,

This is the sort of situation where history teachers are more necessary.

I think that after, let's say a generation, teaching a type of nationalistic history a whole generation is seriously influenced by these ideas.

I know that probably this task will be impossible to implement in a Gaza or Tel Aviv school. I am thinking about Western Europe and Catalonia, Ireland, Corse, Flanders, Germany, Spain and so on.

I consider that the idea of writing a European text book which tried to uncover and denounce the most important lies of nationalistic histories would be one of the most interesting outcomes of international cooperation between history teachers.

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I upset many a Professor, and many a class, with my views on this in the earlt '90's, when "agent of change" was au courant. My view, considered heresy by most, was that we, as prospective teachers, were not "agents pf change"; rather we were keepers of the sociocultural Flame.

It is our responsibility to take society's body of knowledge, and pass it on to the next generation. There are two important reasons why this must be so.

First, societies, like individuals, must value themselves - their knowledge, their traditions and their values. To study one's own society as if it "just like all the rest," or worse, "not as good as others," is to propagate a sort of cultural "learned helplessness," a notion that there isn't much purpose in going on, and improving one's own land.

Second, adolescents (13 - 20 years of age) are notoriously rebellious and thoroughly convinced that they have fresh new approaches to situations and events that they are encountering for the first time. It would be inaccurate, if not harmful, to teach them that their powers of analysis, unleavened by experience, are the equal of adults. I think we are still paying the price for that misunderstanding with regard to the PostWar 'babyboomers' even now.

We should not confuse "critical thinking" with revisionism, or worse, cynicism or pessimism.

As an American, nothing has disturbed me more since the early '70's than to hear educated people amend the statement "America is a great country", by inserting "with all its faults" after the name "America."

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It is our responsibility to take society's body of knowledge, and pass it on to the next generation.

When are we going to realise that we "know" nothing, Moreover that which we think that we "know" is palpable nonsense.

A teacher's role is surely to give children a better chance of making less of a hash of the world than we have?

This will indeed require us to encourage "critical thought" over the indocrination of failed ideas and values.

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When are we going to realise that we "know" nothing, Moreover that which we think that we "know" is palpable nonsense

It is this kind of thinking that frustrates education, rather than cultivating it. If we don't "know" anything, then it is, ipso facto, impossible to learn anything. Education is not epistemology; we are not discussing whether we know, but rather, what we know. You are engaging in sophistry.

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It is our responsibility to take society's body of knowledge, and pass it on to the next generation

For me one problem is to decide what we teach, which facts we choose from the ever -growing general knowledge we and our culture have inherited, create and here nationalism comes into play. For History that often meant and I think still means concentrating on chosen aspects of a country's national history.

The second point is that what we know is not the same as absolute truth. If we reduce teaching history to teaching bare facts and/or dates we pass on information but not knowledge. History is not simply the past but a told, narrated version of what has happened and this means history is always the result of interpretation and evaluation and history always mirrors the way people thought,acted and justified their actions in their own time - is is always subjective. Hence it is necessary to help students understand this and teach them to read between the lines, to deconstruct historic myths, to detect bias, to notice and consider our own values and how these influence our perception of history. As a result we have to help them to form their own opinion which means nothing:

but  to encourage "critical thought" over the indocrination of failed ideas and values
Edited by UlrikeSchuhFricke

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When are we going to realise that we "know" nothing, Moreover that which we think that we "know" is palpable nonsense

It is this kind of thinking that frustrates education, rather than cultivating it. If we don't "know" anything, then it is, ipso facto, impossible to learn anything. Education is not epistemology; we are not discussing whether we know, but rather, what we know. You are engaging in sophistry.

In the 19th century many educationalists in the UK believed in what have subsequently been characterised as "Victorian Values". These included a belief in the greatest of the empire, loyalty to the flag and monarch, certainty in the "superiority" of the christian faith, a commitment to self help and a disastrous belief in the desirability of "small" government. Such values were the accepted knowledge and wisdom of several generations which did their utmost to make sure these values were perpetuated by being "taught" in schools.

Such "values" it could be argued lead directly to the last foul century of oppression, war, intolerance and misery.

As educators we have a duty to empower out students with at least the hope of being better than us and those who came before us. We must therefore encourage critical minds that think about and challenge what is put in front of them. This is not of course an argument against knowledge despite what "fd10801" rather glibly implies. Rather it is a commitment to real education over the transmission of half truths

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UlrikeSchuhFricke

Hence it is necessary to help students understand this and teach them to read between the lines, to deconstruct historic myths, to detect bias, to notice and consider our own values and how these influence our perception of history

Andy Walker

As educators we have a duty to empower out students with at least the hope of being better than us and those who came before us. We must therefore encourage critical minds that think about and challenge what is put in front of them

I am still not clear on how it is that as historians you are unable to determine, and, therefore, impart truth. I, too, think it is important to teach the methodology of history. It will show the student how bias, myths, or social pressures influence not only the interpretation pfevents, but the priority of events to be covered. For example, when I was in grade school, two Hungarian students came to our school - refugees from the stillborn revolution. In that same year we learned that Indochina was going to be called Cambodia, Laos, and Viet Nam. Contrast that with, say, 1972, when Viet Nam was being discussed from Kindergarten to University; but there were undoubredly Teachers who couldn't identify Hungary on a map. Nonetheless, Hungary is what it is, and what it was; so, too, Viet Nam.

Do either of you have an argument with that?

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I am still not clear on how it is that as historians you are unable to determine, and, therefore, impart truth.

Sounds simple doesn't it.

However determining truth seems to be the redefined impossible dream of the modern/postmodern era.

Look at your two examples. The context of history changed dramatically over the course of 15 years. Nationalism as Eric Hobsbawn has very effectively argued is in part mythbuilding. It is so ingrained in our societies that that mythbuilding has become imbedded in our self-definitions.

Historians need to try their hardest to learn the skills of their craft and weed out bias as best as we can. I truly hold scorn for those who argue that we can never transcend our biases so we should not try. But we cannot (short of a few geniuses) transcend bias. It shows up in selection. (whether or not we even include Hungary or Vietnam in our material) It shows up in interpretation. And yes, a good history teacher has to provide interpretation.

The history of something like World War II varies wildly when filtered through different national lenses be it German Russian, Norwegian, Australian, or Cuban.

Truth is the most difficult quest of all and in can not be easily or permanently arrived at.

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