Respectful Insolence

A while back, I posted about news reports that teachers in the U.K. were reluctant to teach about the Holocaust because of fears of offending the sensibilities of certain parts of the population. The subtext, of course, was that Muslims were the ones who would be offended. I lamented that such sensitivity might be causing teachers in the UK not to teach the Holocaust properly, much as sensitivity to the religious beliefs in the US lead to teachers not teaching evolution. I wasn’t alone in making this connection. Both PZ and the Bad Astronomer made similar comments.

It turns out that perhaps I should have heeded the words of some of my commenters, who warned me that this story didn’t quite pass the smell test. Indeed, there was speculation that the Department of Education report that mentioned reluctance to teach the Holocaust in some UK districts had been quote-mined for ideological purposes and those quotes promulgated by a press release, to be lapped up by a credulous press.

Thanks to Deborah Lipstadt, I now have indications that the state of Holocaust education in the UK is nowhere near as dire as the news reports suggested. Indeed, Professor Lipstadt points out parts of the report that produce a more balanced view:

It notes that there are some teachers who are not prepared to teach topics which might evoke a strong reaction from students. This, however, is NOT referred to as a trend. The authors of the report hypothesize that some teachers

may be 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. [p.15]

There was a history department in a northern city which recently

avoided selecting the Holocaust as a topic for GCSE coursework for fear of confronting anti-Semitic sentiment and Holocaust denial among some Muslim pupils…. In another history department, the Holocaust was taught despite anti-Semitic sentiment among some pupils, but the same department deliberately avoided teaching the Crusades at Key Stage 3 because their balanced treatment of the topic would have directly challenged what was taught in some local mosques. [p.15]

But the report also documents some very sensitive and careful teaching of the topic with teachers addressing

misconceptions students might have about the topic, including the beliefs that all Germans were Nazis, that the Nazis invented anti-Semitism, that all Jews were helpless victims and that all the victims died in gas chambers.[p.32]

[...]

In certain areas where extremists groups are strong teachers have made a special point to teach about the Holocaust as a means of countering hatred and antisemitism. [p. 32]

In short, while there are areas of concern there are also areas of distinction. It certainly does not give reason for panic or attacks. The Holocaust Educational Trust comments about teaching of the Holocaust are worth reading.

Indeed, the Holocaust Educational Trust states about the report that there was reluctance to teach the Holocaust in one district due to concern about offending:

Within the TEACH report from the Historical Association, there is one particular line relating to
Holocaust education which has been the focus of the press and various alarmed emails. It features in the section addressing why teachers avoid teaching certain subjects and states: ‘… a history department in a northern city recently avoided selecting the Holocaust as a topic for GCSE coursework for fear of confronting anti-Semitic (sic) sentiment and Holocaust denial among some Muslim pupils’. (p15)

The key points regarding this statement are:

  • This does not refer to Holocaust education on the National Curriculum-it is a post-14 History GCSE course (publicly examined course)
  • History at GCSE is not compulsory (only one third of pupils opt for history post-14)
  • This is an anecdotal response from one teacher in one school out of four thousand five hundred secondary schools in the UK. While we cannot say what happens in every single school, our understanding is that this is highly unusual and not general practise of teachers around the country.
  • All schools can choose which history topics they wish to study for coursework at GCSE level.
  • There is no suggestion that this or any other school is failing to cover the National Curriculum in teaching about the Holocaust at Key Stage 3, Year 9 (age 13-14).

At no point does the report from the Historical Association suggest that the Holocaust be removed from the National Curriculum for England and Wales. Obviously we and all Holocaust related organisations in the UK take this very seriously, however on this occasion we want to allay all fears and impress upon everyone that the Holocaust is not being removed from the National Curriculum. This particular incident does of course merit further investigation but in no way represents all the good work in our schools across the country.

I suspect that I and others exhibited insufficient–shall we say?–skepticism about the news reports coming out. All I can do is admit this to be the case and promise to try to be more careful in the future before biting at something like this.

Comments

  1. #1 SS
    April 23, 2007

    Reports from the Edge of Evolution. Or Something.

    Renee Reeser Zelnick – April 23, 2007

    “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
    -Arthur Schopenhauer

    I am amused and shocked @ what ire was raised, simply by stating I’m attending the SCIENCE & CONSCIOUSNESS conference in Sante Fe.

    While the critics and skeptics may say what they will, I had a educationally entertaining and mind opening time hearing the presentations of Intentblog’s own Dr. David Simon-
    Yes Janet, an MD!
    (see previous entry thread)
    and the exciting work of Dr. Gary Schwartz
    Yes people, a PhD!
    ( again, see previous thread)-

    Really I encourage anyone interesting in the debate of science vs. pseudo-science to check my previous post’s thread:
    http://tinyurl.com/2vrvls

    DO we really create our own individual realities through our belief system?
    Ask Plato.

    I find it interesting how the materialist community is always so quick on the draw to criticize-
    However, I find the state of modern medicine can best be summed up by the following model

    A Brief History of Medicine:

    2000 B.C.
    “Here, eat this root!”
    1000 A.D.
    “That root is heathen. Here, say this prayer!”
    1500 A.D.
    “That prayer is superstition. Here, drink this potion!”
    1940 A.D.
    “That potion is snake oil. Here, swallow this pill!”
    1985 A.D.
    “This pill is ineffective, take this antibiotic!”
    2000 A.D.
    “That antibiotic doesn’t work anymore.
    Here, eat this root!”

    http://tinyurl.com/3yk4lr

  2. #2 Bronze Dog
    April 23, 2007

    Happens to the best of us.

  3. #3 Scott Belyea
    April 23, 2007

    “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
    -Arthur Schopenhauer

    What of course is often ignored is the reality that a great deal of stuff that would like to be considered “truth” is riduled … and then dropped because it is indeed ridiculous.

    I now have indications that the state of Holocaust education in the UK is nowhere near as dire as the news reports suggested.

    A bit of critical reading would have helped. There was certainly sloppy reporting, but I saw items early on saying that it was one school in a “northern city.”

  4. #4 olvlzl, jamais cool
    April 23, 2007

    You see, it’s not what the skeptics don’t know, it’s what they know that’s the problem. Especially when they make believe they know what they only believe and call it skepticism.

    Think I got that straight, or do I only believe it? I don’t know.

  5. #5 Ahistoricality
    April 23, 2007

    Actually, my first reaction was to look for an April Fool’s catch, but following the links back eventually did lead to the more minimal conclusion.

  6. #6 G. Shelley
    April 23, 2007

    For anyone not familiar with the Daily Mail, it is perhaps understandable that they may mistake it as a credible news source, and not one given to prejudice and bigotry.

  7. #7 llewelly
    April 23, 2007

    Scott, Chopra’s robot is posting the same garbage on multiplie threads in multiple blogs.

  8. #8 wolfwalker
    April 23, 2007

    Sorry to have to say it, Orac, but I don’t share your optimism.

    I now have indications that the state of Holocaust education in the UK is nowhere near as dire as the news reports suggested.

    That sounds to me rather like saying “the state of science education in the US isn’t as bad as reported, because some school districts do teach a limited, watered-down version of evolutionary theory.” You’re essentially saying “oh good, at least some of the schools are still doing their job.” Since when was mere competence a cause for joy? The fact that any public school district in the US teaches creationism as science is grounds for alarm; the fact that any school district in the UK refuses to teach the Holocaust is also grounds for alarm.

  9. #9 olvlzl, jamais cool
    April 23, 2007

    Since when was mere competence a cause for joy?

    You’ve never found a seventh grader who knew what seven times eight was after, on the basis of long experience, having every reason to expect they wouldn’t, have you.

  10. #10 James
    April 24, 2007

    Your concern was valid Orac, the problem is just not as pervasive as you originally thought. Your error was merely one of degree. But then I was was a climate sceptic for many years, so don’t feel too bad.

  11. #11 csrster
    April 24, 2007

    “the fact that any school district in the UK refuses to teach the Holocaust is also grounds for alarm”

    Indeed it would be, if it were the case, which it isn’t. In fact one _school_ is (anecdotally) not teaching the holocaust
    _at GCSE_. _All_ schools in England are continuing to teach the holocaust under Key Stage 3.

    Just for comparison, at my school in Scotland, about 25 years ago, the post-14 European history curriculum ran from Henry IV of France up until just prior to the French revolution, with a special emphasis on the 30 Years’ War. Fitting the holocaust into that would have been quite a triumph.

  12. #12 josh
    April 24, 2007

    wolfwalker, although it is cause for alarm, you should understand it is still taught up to 14. At 14 kids choose from many subjects so may not even do history. If they do then the school gets a list of topics and chooses from the list which to do. It’s not that they turned down holocaust teaching in any way, they just didn’t specifically choose to do it, perhaps for the reasons given in the article. I still think it’s cowardly but it’s not uncommon for teachers at that stage to push for teaching their favorite topics, I for one could have done with a few less lessons about the bloody tudors, thats for sure.

  13. #13 iain
    April 24, 2007

    Wolfwalker,

    When I was at school in Scotland 20 years ago, I was allowed to drop History completely at the age of 13, after only 2 years of secondary school. Now, it is compulsory (in England) not only to continue with History, but to study the holocaust. It’s one of very few topics that it is illegal not to include in the curriculum. Every school pupil in England at around the age of 15 studies the holocaust. Not all of them go on to take a public exam in History at 16. Not all those who do will study the holocaust for that exam course. Of one of the schools that opted to study other topics, a single teacher suggested that the decision might have been motivated by a desire to avoid objections from anti-semitic students. One unsubstantiated rumour. That’s all this is.

  14. #14 csrster
    April 24, 2007

    Oy, iain, are you sure you’re not just me writing under a less-sarky pseudonym?

  15. #15 Dunc
    April 24, 2007

    Good on you for coming back to this one Orac. Unfortunately this has already snowballed into a nasty spam campaign suggesting that the teaching of the Holocaust is to be banned in Britain at the behest of the invading Musim hordes…

    Interesting to see how many Scottish history students we have commenting here – I’m (at least) the 3rd.

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