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There is new school guidance which advises to “focus on” what historical figures are “most renowned for” when teaching younger children about individuals with “contested legacies”. This is likely related to the question about Churchill, which caused controversy as it was in the lesson plan of thousands of teachers.
Working within senior level recruitment consultancy, operating largely across the Education sector, Panoramic Care’s Managing Director, David Geaney, turned to his network and asked for their thoughts on the matter. He asked, ‘Is it wrong for a teacher to pose the question: “Winston Churchill: hero or war criminal?”.
*Please note, we were not asking if Churchill is a war criminal, but if a teacher should be free to debate this question with their class.
The results were as follows:
Yes – 22%
No – 76%
Unsure – 2%
An important point to recognise, and one that came up multiple times in our qualitive responses, is that a teacher shouldn’t push any political agenda. However, this shouldn’t restrict all teachers from being allowed to encourage healthy debate on historical figures.
In this way, it is essential to develop young people to critically analyse characters and events in history from multiple viewpoints. We shouldn’t ‘hide’ any history from any generations, all historical events are opportunities to learn from. Similarly, the use of adjectives such as: neutral, open, balanced, proportionate, agreed in policy, unbiased and facilitating, are key.
Still, should teachers be free to ask provocative questions which challenge the orthodox views of history? An alternative way to look at this question is to focus on teaching children to be critical thinkers. Churchill oversaw some appalling events, but a lot of people see him as a hero. Questioning this established narrative is crucial to a student’s development, and the more open and robust debate we can have on events and figures from the past, the better.
A particularly poignant response read that there may be an overall problem with the way the world currently views history and is trying to eradicate the past. History by its very name relates to the past. The actions in History relate not only to negative outcomes but many successes that this generation benefits incredibly from. History should remain what it is, we need to and hopefully will learn from its mistakes.
Furthermore, we can’t change history, we shouldn’t remove reference to it, we should continue to learn from it. It is a dangerous practice not to acknowledge past events, for the good things and the bad things that the past contains for us all regardless. It is crucial to acknowledge the fact that an educator should not push their own agenda or political viewpoint, however, our results speak volumes: it is important that we ask these important questions.
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