Alternative History

Article in The Times 2nd April 2007

"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 mosques.

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

The study, funded by the Department for Education and Skills, looked into 'emotive and controversial' history teaching in primary and secondary schools.

It found some teachers are dropping courses covering the Holocaust at the earliest opportunity over fears Muslim pupils might express anti-Semitic and anti-Israel reactions in class.

The researchers gave the example of a secondary school in an unnamed northern city, which dropped the Holocaust as a subject for GCSE coursework.

The report said teachers feared confronting 'anti-Semitic sentiment and Holocaust denial among some Muslim pupils'.

It added: "In another 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 (11- to 14-year-olds) because their balanced treatment of the topic would have challenged what was taught in some local mosques."

A third school found itself 'strongly challenged by some Christian parents for their treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict-and the history of the state of Israel that did not accord with the teachings of their denomination'.

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."

The researchers also warned that a lack of subject knowledge among teachers - particularly at primary level - was leading to history being taught in a 'shallow way leading to routine and superficial learning'.

Lessons in difficult topics were too often 'bland, simplistic and unproblematic' and bored pupils."

This is what happens when people have their views misguided by religion. The job of a balanced education is to present evidence and teach people how to form conclusions fom it. The Holocaust is unique not only in the magnitude of it atrocity, but the magnitude of evidence that we have showing what happened. Everybody who studies this period of world history needs to be presented with the evidence, without it i's impossible to fully understand some of the major conflicts in the present day.

Personally I would like the events of the Crusades to be discussed more often. There can only be one true version of events, and the process of deducing this sequence from the evidence is a worthwhile study for any school child.

If history disagrees with religion, one of them is wrong.
If science disagrees with religion, one of them is wrong.

I think I'll stick with my science and history.


Bruce said...

Well by all means, let's put the whole curriculum down in a checklist, send it out to parents, local religious leaders, students, passersby...

Anything that offends anyone...well, we'll just skip that. Eventually we'll be able to set whole days aside when it'll be unnecessary to go to school. In Canada we have occasional "professional development" days for teachers to go to seminars or whatever (goodness knows they can't do that in the 3 months of summer holidays). But these new saved days might be "Non-offense" days..."Hooray for ignorance" days..."Inconvenient truth" days...


I like your summary: When religion & history disagree, one must be wrong..." etc.

The Rational said...

"If history disagrees with religion, one of them is wrong. If science disagrees with religion, one of them is wrong…I think I'll stick with my science and history."

Interesting logic there. What happened, happened and obviously there is one truth to how it happened. That being said, history, science and religion are not fruits to be compared. Parts (or interpretations, or facets, or perspectives) of each as a whole can correspond or conflict, but there is not an either/or choice to be made. If "history," the o'so perfect science that it is, seems to conflict specifically with a religious tenet, then by all means, your statement is true and you must make a choice. The creators of religions make omission, mistakes or lies (or else they wouldn't be any that claimed to be the only way to “Heaven.”), but so do historians, and even (God forbid) scientists. Shocker! Science is not truth, it is a method to discover what is discoverable. History is not truth, it is the currently agreed upon interpretation of what happened. Religion is not truth, it is a collection claims about a truth that is supposedly beyond what can be perfectly discovered or recorded by either science or history.

The question is not which studies do you trust more, the rational or the super-rational (that seems obvious, the rational is much easier) but where do these three studies conflict at definable points?

You can't go about attempting to "disprove" religion by saying things like, "Islam can't be true because Mohammad couldn't have wrestled with an Angel. They don't exist." Historians weren't there and the assumption is you can’t see angels unless they let you. How do you argue with that? You can’t! You can shed doubt on them by historians asserting that religious stories with researchable 'details' have not been backed up by years of study. Like, show me historical evidence of angels or "where's Jericho?" Oh wait, plenty of “historians” have claimed to have seen angels and they found Jericho. Hmm… But you get the point. You can say the Old Testament can't be taken literally because science seems pretty clear on the fact that the universe seemed to have been created in slightly longer than a 6 day period. But how far does that get you? "It says explicitly that God's days are like a 1000 years. Pretty much means it's not to be taken literally, dummy!" is the response. (except for some, I grant you, who just argue that science is wrong...but that's not rational and you can have fun with them. They're all yours.)

I admire and applaud the effort to apply reason at ever opportunity, but some in some situations it is not applicable.