Leading article: Germany can offer a positive example, too


The guardians of the national curriculum have been busy over the holidays. No sooner had the schools broken up than the Quali-fications and Curriculum Authority produced an end-of-term report on the 15 subjects covered by the national curriculum. This judged, among other things, that history concentrated too much on "Hitler and Henry" (the Eighth, that is), to the exclusion of the broader and longer-term context.

Today, the QCA balances this negative criticism by offering guidelines for a new course on German history from 1945 to 2000, entitled: "How Germany has moved from division to unity". This is a thoroughly constructive development. To study the Nazi period, as many pupils currently do, and stop at the Allied victory in 1945, tells nothing like the whole story. It leaves Germany frozen in the role of global villain for all time. It leaves the Germans of today associated only with the crimes of the Nazi era. And it says nothing about the ways in which Germany has been rebuilt - and rebuilt itself - following the cataclysm of military and ideological defeat.

In fact, Germany in the second half of the 20th century offers almost as many lessons in what is praiseworthy in a nation as the Nazi period offers negative lessons in what is reprehensible. With the help of its former adversaries, Germany emerged as a stable constitutional democracy, with the necessary checks and balances in place and respected. With the assistance of the Marshall Plan, it began the revival of its industry, which culminated in the "economic miracle" of the late 1950s.

West Germany's Ostpolitik, initiated in the following decade by Willy Brandt, sowed the seeds that grew into the Helsinki process across Europe as a whole and eventually weakened the hold of Soviet communism. The collapse of East Germany, and the peaceful reunification of Germany that followed, vindicated the democratic and social market course taken by West Germany. It also demonstrated the benefits of European cooperation. Germany was at the start of the process that led to the Common Market and thence to the EU. And Europe provided united Germany, as it had post-war Germany, with a framework and constraints that neutralised the perceived threat from its size and its past.

These are all excellent reasons why post-war Germany should be studied as part of the national curriculum, and not Germany alone, but Germany - along with Britain, France, and the rest - as part of Europe. Experience has shown, however, that devising a course is only part of the problem. The teaching of history, and German history in particular, will improve only if teachers teach the new course, and pupils take it. And villainous individuals, we fear, will still prove a greater draw than virtuous states. The battle for the denazification of the national curriculum has only just begun.

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