Geschiedenis onderwijs world-wide

Door J.H.J. Andriessen

Nu in Nederland het geschiedenis onderwijs onderwerp van discussie is en de Eerste Wereldoorlog voor het eerst in de geschiedenis examenstof VWO/HAVO 2008 is opgenomen heeft onze ‘commissie research’ een klein survey gehouden over de mate waarin aandacht wordt besteed aan het onderwerp ‘Eerste Wereldoorlog’ in landen als Gr.Brittannie, Australie, Canada en de USA.

Een tiental interessante reacties op de door onze commissie gestelde vraag wat er in die landen gedaan wordt aan het geschiedenis onderwijs met betrekking tot deze voor die landen toch uitermate belangrijke periode, laten wij hier te uwer informatie volgen.” title=”<–break–>” class=”wysiwyg-break drupal-content mceItem” data-mce-src=”/sites/all/modules/wysiwyg/plugins/break/images/spacer.gif”>


1: Canada

‘Sad to report that most Canadian school curriculums give scant attention to both world wars, or to history in general for that matter. One survey reported that when military history is taught at all, three quarters of the teaching periods given to the topic concentrate on the „conscription crisis.” Interestingly, elementary and junior schools pay more attention to the subject. Particularly the significance of Remembrance Day – November 11th. – is studied in elementary schools. But, most Canadian high school teachers seem uniformly obsessed with the PC views of the totalitarian Left, and barely mention Canada’s vigorous participation in (shudder!)wars.


2: Gr. Britain

As a 47 year old British male who attended a Direct Grant Grammar & Public School, though I hate to admit it, I have to say that at no time in my school career was I EVER taught anything at either O or A level about either World War, nor do I recall it from primary or infant school.

You want Tudors, Stuarts, Romans, Normans, French C17th history, Sweden in the 18th century, Renaissance Italy or the German Reformation I can probably produce notebooks and essays.

I am completely self taught on the Victorian Army following an interest in the Zulu War raised at the age of 11 and was given some docs from a WW1 RNAS officer about 20 years ago. I took them out of politeness, knowing (though from what source I really don’t know) that WW1 was boring and dominated by bad generalship, pathetic heroism and (somehow) a victory over Germany.

Having studied (mainly from original documents) the course of the war I know see young students being taught WW1 history from teachers who seem to have got their ideas of WW1 from watching „Blackadder goes Forth”.

Does history teach us anything? Well history teachers don’t seem to, not in my case at least - though I can still do a pretty good German Reformation after thirty years.


3: USA

In New York State, WW1 is taught in tenth grade from the „world perspective” in what we call Global History. It is taught from a US perspective in the eighth grade and then again eleventh grade in US History and Governnment. The NYS textbooks are good generalist works that present mainstream historical thinking at those levels. They are comprehensive and balanced (and do not present US-centric views). ve that New York is more representative of American education that Kansas (which has had many problems with issues like Darwinism v.intelligent design….). Take the time to check out the mainstream texts by Prentice Hall, Jarrett, or Hineman (Greenwood) if you can find them – Ithink that you’ll be surprised and pleased.
Since my retirement from the army, I’ve been teaching tenth gradersworld history.


4: USA

„…It would be an interesting exercise to research for example, the level of WW1 history taught in European countries, the USA, and Commonwealth countries….”
Sadly, in US middle school and high school standard history books, WWI is hardly talked about, except in a national view of US finally going over to win it…and of course the glory of Wilson’s Plan, etc. WWII is also covered in a very weak way – basically, the US is attacked, we fight, Hitler kills himself and a couple of (unnamed !) cities in Japan are nuked – war won – then good guys over bad Communists Cold War starts ……….
I was stunned when seeing that Hiroshima was not even listed by name in the Kansas standard history book for middle school –
Very weak history taught in US public schools at this point, as far as I can see. And certainly not enough facts to teach any long term lessons about the causes and outcomes of either WWI or WWII ….except that We Won.


5: Indiana

I teach high school social studies in Indiana. Part of the problem of teaching history is the state standards now include everything and then some in order not to leave any group out, so by the time you include all of the groups and issues you have very little time for in-depth enrichment. I teach a class exclusively on the Cold War that I essentially make up a curriculum for as I go along, depending on what the kids seem interested in. We cover more of the 20th Century than any other class and still yet I don’t feel I do it justice. But my kids do at least know about the Intervention.


6: Gr. Britain / Australia

I know nothing about current teaching in Britain, but I can speak about my own schooling in England during WW2 and my daughters’ schooling in Australia. WW1 was a compulsory subject for history in the Oxford and Cambridge School Certificate and there was always one WW1 question in the English History examination, although detailed knowledge about the war and its causes was certainly not required. Looking back, it is apparent that what I was taught was often incorrect - I remember being taught there was a stalemate in
the Western Front until the great British tank victory of Cambrai ! (when the church bells were rung in celebration of the breakthrough!) I was NOT taught about the successful German counter-attack that nullified the initial gains!
However, to put the English teaching about WW1 in perspective, the subject was covered only in the last chapter of a very dreary and closely printed history text book, and this book covered British history through the 18th century up to WW1. I am sure that I was taught nothing about Grey’s machinations - only that he said „The lights are going out all over Europe… etc.”
German history was an optional subject, I chose to study this and studied German unification under the influence of Bismark. In fact it was learning about cunning old Bismark that stimulated my lifetime interest in history as an extra-curricular subject.
We migrated to Australia in 1960 and my elder daughter attended secondary school in Brisbane in Queensland. At that time the teaching of history was from the European perspective, but as far as WW1 was concerned she was only taught about the origins of the war. At some time in the 1970s Australian teaching of history changed from the European to the Australian perspective. In Sydney, in 1980, my younger daughter was taught a great deal about WW1 including the Western Front, the Middle East and Gallipoli, but not very much about the origins of the war.

When I was at school, at a (state) County High School, between 1925 and 1942, we did lots of history, starting with pre-history and going up to 1914. I don’t think we went into WWI, perhaps because we were too near it, and some of the teachers had served in it (others had been too old to do so). Interestingly our 19th century history was almost entirely social history - most unusual for those years of my schooling - so we learned about Robert Owen and the Co-operative movement, the opposition to the Crimean War, women’s suffrage, etc. (I do recall in one lesson, when a teacher (in a non-History class) asked what were the main consequences of the Great War, I replied ‘Women getting the vote’, which was not the answer he wanted.)

I’m sure my memory is not at fault if I recall that in my 2nd or 3rd year at the secondary school (aged between 12 and 14, in 1937 or 1938 or so) the history teacher gave us a brief introduction to cyclical theory - he may even have mentioned Oswald Spengler - and we had a brief discussion about whether it applied to the British Empire. Some of us said the the decline would happen or we hoped it would.

Incidentally, on Armistice Day some of the school prefects (senior students) wore white poppies, the emblems of the Peace Pledge Union, rather than red ones.


7: USA

My American university students, mostly English majors, come into my „Twentieth Century British Literature”classroom knowing very little about WWI. As I recall (dimly) from my own youth, WWI history book coverage included a picture of the Lusitiana and the Kaiser and not much informational accompaniment.
They also know little about Britain or the world at all. At the beginning of the term, I ask them to name as many British cities as they can. I’ve never had a single student who hadn’t been abroad that could name more than three–always London and Liverpool (thanks Beatles)–and invariably they try to put something like „Wessex” in that category having read Thomas Hardy in some incarnation.
The same occurs with my question about British prime ministers–I always get Blair and Churchill, but remarkably few can even come up with Margaret Thatcher.
Thanks mostly to the wonderful British WWI poetry and the well-deserved coverage in most anthologies of British 20th Century poetry, students leave knowing at least the minimal amount about diplomatic stalemates, trench warfare, and the major battles and fronts as well as the war’s aftereffects.
For a lot of students, as was the case with me, the literature leads them into the history.
Sometimes it’s Hemingway, sometimes it’s Remarque or Vera Brittain, often Owen or Sassoon or Rosenberg, but something will grab ahold of them and get them interested.


8: Gr. Britain

I spoke with my wife this evening, she being as interested in WW1 as I am and of a similar age and background. She agrees with me that WW1 was barely mentioned at school in the UK in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, and certainly not part of the curiculum. Nor did she study it as part of her history degree at university, though she did do the start of the Cold War, so „contemporary” history was not excluded from her education.

Thinking more about this, I was given the private papers of a Royal Naval Air Service officer in 1988 and accepted them purely out of politeness. As I’ve said, I „knew” that WW1 was boring, trench stalemate, idiot generals, Paschendaele (which I somehow managed to identify with Armageddon, though don’t ask me how) so having got the papers I decided to do a crash course in WW1 to try and work out what they meant. I attended a Western Front Association meeting on 1st Ypres and it meant absolutely nothing to me at all……………….

I suppose it took me about 3 Battlefield Tours with Flanders Tours, many more WFA meetings, an enormous amount of reading of books, and several years digging about in our National Archives amongst original documentation before I felt able to call myself even half educated on the subject.

One thing I will say though - having been well educated at school in the areas of history I was taught about, and having done a lot of research of my own into Victorian miiltary campaigns, I can see why HMG did what they did and why they did it in a long term historical context (no great power dominant in Europe, no great power dominant in the Low Countries, no great power even getting close to naval parity) and am not sure what else they could have done without rolling over with their legs in the air. I’m also perfectly well aware howe easy it has always been for HMG to cloak practical politics in apparent idealism („Gallant Little Belgium”) or to disguise rampant Imperialism in „Christian” virtue („savage beastly Zulus”).

But I still can’t see what else Asquith, Grey etc could have done in the circumstances apart from roll over, and no politician is going to do that unless there is absolutely no option.


9: Australia

Just to add my own experiences, at school in Australia in the 1980s: I don’t remember being taught anything about WWI at primary school,history then mostly seemed to consist of bushrangers and the First Fleet (which I’m afraid put me off Australian history for a longtime). Though I’m sure we must have talked about it around Anzac day.
In high school, I did an elective 20th century history subject in year 11, in which we did a pretty intensive study of Gallipoli (most of a term, as I recall) – lots of poring over maps with strangeplace names like Gaba Tepe and the Nek – but next to nothing about the rest of the war, or its origins. In the only compulsory history subject a few years earlier, the curriculum covered nothing more
recent than the Tudors, though it was excellent in teaching critical thinking and handling of sources.


10: USA

A number of people have made interesting and thoughtful points on the teaching of WWI in history and other classes worldwide. I would like to add a comment or two from my perspective.
As background, I am an American with a pretty average education. I went to local public schools until I was 12 years old, then Catholic school through high school. I got a four-year degree/bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas, which is considered one of the better large public universities but isn’t exactly Harvard. I majored in journalism and, if I could have done, I would have minored in history – but at that time, journalism students were not able to select a minor course of study.
I basically remember being taught the dates, the main allies and enemies and the fact that „We Won.” World War II was not covered much better, but both of my grandfathers were WWII veterans, and one in particular told a lot of stories about his experiences – so I did absorb a little more about that. I did not become specifically interested in WWI history until about 18 months ago, and it was in a very strange and roundabout way. Since then I’ve just been reading everything I can get my hands on.


11: USA

My experience in Catholic grade schools in East St. Louis, Illinois and St. Louis, Missouri and a private Catholic high school in St. Louis in the late 1950s and through the 60s is that WWI was mentioned in history, but very little detail was given. I do remember one high school teacher telling us that few Americans went overseas and that we should ask if our grandfathers really went over there. I said that I did not have to ask because I knew that one did.Other than occassionally showing the movie „Sgt. York” very little attention is payed to WWI. I teach occassional continuing ed classes through the local community college. If I am still doing them in 8 years I plan to try a series of Centennial WWI classes.