I WAS quite shocked when I saw Prince Harry wearing the Nazi costume, probably because it's an area that I know quite a bit about. In workshops I've run, we talk about what to do if students draw a swastika on their exercise book, and his behaviour equates to that - it's unthinking. A lot of people's reaction was: "But the Holocaust is taught in schools. I can't believe that you can even get costumes like this."
I did my PhD thesis on the teaching of the Holocaust in school history because of my own experience. After my undergraduate degree at the University of Kent, I did a secondary-school history PGCE at Canterbury Christ Church University College. I taught for two years in Kent, and found myself struggling to teach the Holocaust. To some extent, I felt that I wasn't clear about the objectives. Was it genocide prevention, was it anti-racism? In the curriculum, it just says "the Holocaust", but what does that mean?
So when I won a three-year bursary to Goldsmiths, I decided to research the teaching of the Holocaust in schools. I finished my thesis last year and am about to be given a viva date. My research looked first at how the Holocaust has evolved as a subject on the curriculum. I wanted to explain to teachers like myself why it was there. Originally, the 1989 history working group didn't mention the Second World War and the Holocaust, but since the introduction of the national curriculum in 1991, the Holocaust has featured with increasing prominence. It is currently one of only four named topics that must be taught before the end of Key Stage 3.
I also wanted to see how teachers interpret the curriculum and present it in schools. One teacher, Marie, said: "I play the part in Schindler's List where people are going into the gas chambers without any volume, but with Enrique Iglesias's `Hero' playing very, very loudly. I've found it works really well."
I was stunned when she told me this. Marie said she wanted her students to consider and protect the democracies they live in. But she didn't teach them anything about Hitler's policies and his rise to power, or the treatment of gypsies, people with mental and physical disabilities, homosexuals and political and religious prisoners. Most teachers say they don't have time to do this.
I've found being a PhD student really liberating. At first, I felt a bit isolated, and it was odd waking up in the morning, looking out of the window and watching people going to work, thinking: `I should be going off to work.' I felt quite guilty, as though I shouldn't be indulging myself. And would anyone read my thesis anyway?
But after the initial period I loved it, and I really enjoyed the teaching that was required as part of my bursary. At the moment I'm a visiting tutor at Goldsmiths in the educational studies department, and I've been writing quite a bit, too. I'd like to disseminate my work to history teachers, to tell them what I've found.Reuse content