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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Education


Petroc

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Howdy,

Just a thought...in today's modern, multi-cultural Britain we have, perhaps more than at any time in our Isles' history, a mass of people with a wide variety of ethnic, religious and foreign backgrounds. Now, I know that this has always been a tradition in the UK....just look at the Celts, Picts, Romans, Norse, Anglo-Saxons, Jutes, Normans of the Dark Ages and beyond to pick a few...but if the Daily Mail is to be believed we are now suffering from a dilution of 'British identity'.

So with the Great War being such a pivotal moment in British (and global) history, how difficult (or easy) is it to instill, encourage or nurture a passion for the period amongst the UK's contemporary ethnic or migrant communities? It is very easy, I suppose, to portray the conflict as being, essentially, a white European war which utilised in varying numbers troops and civilians from conquered colonies. What are the opinions of the kids themselves when taught about the subject? How do teachers approach it? Do, for instance, teachers in schools with a predominantly Asian or Middle Eastern intake lay emphasis on the war in relation to Indian troops and/or the conflict in Mespot and Palestine in order to develop the historical mindset of students? Are certain aspects avoided given the current controversial aspects of British foreign policy?

I'd be extremely interested to know your opinions, including those of members of the forum based in other parts of the world

Andy

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The teaching of history is a complex matter but that is more because of the subjects own disciplines raher than any other factor. Different national views bring perspectives that it is good for young people to consider. As you suggest, many young people that do come from commonwealth nations (former colonies) are engaged by the actions of their countrymen and women in the war. However, we must bear in mind that, despite the popular press at times, increasing numbers of these young people see themselves as British first and relate to the history of this country. So what is important in the formation of this country is important to them.

It is always difficult for any nation to look closely at its faults but often in Britain we can find someone saying it was wrong at the time. I am sure most history teachers try to show thoughtful balance in their lessons - but that is good history teaching rather than the product of the ethnicity of their children.

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Around here the multi cultural element seems to be ignored, I have heard first hand and via children at school that Asian children regard it as not part of their history. This is a view fostered by both the IWM where it is hard to find evidence of the multi racial composition of the Imperial armed forces.

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I teach in a school with considerable ethnic diversity, including a large number of boys whose families originally came from the Indian sub-continent. I have always tried to emphasise that the 'British' army of the Great War was a multi-cultural one. I have for many years used as part of my teaching the Imperial War Museum's very good resource pack on this topic, which includes an interesting video with footage of Indian, African and West Indian troops on the Western Front and elsewhere. To be fair, the AQA GCSE Modern World History syllabus and others specify that the contribution of troops from the British Empire be taught. I am pleased to say that boys of all backgrounds have been participants in my annual (voluntary) battlefield tours over the years. I have tried to feature Indian Army sites on recent tours, for example in 2004 recreating the famous picture of men of 57th Wilde's Rifles in October 1914 at the exact spot, visiting the Indian memorial at Neuve Chapelle on two occasions and in 2005 retracing the attack of 2/2nd Gurkhas at Aubers Ridge in the company of one of my most faithful battlefield tour 'veterans', a boy of Nepalese descent.

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thnks for your interesting comments, chaps,

If I could link briefly to another concurrent discusion on the board, namely the involvement of our American friends in the Forum in general...they have been commenting upon the difficulty in imparting historical interest and enthusiasm in the Great War across the Pond when compared to a major and growing interest in the US Civil War, the Second World War and the Vietnam War...any comments on this original topic from the US would be appreciated...also from the Commonwealth countries (and I'd really like to hear how, and if, the subject is treated in the West Indies, Africa, India, etc) and, as equally multi-cultural nations, any pals in France, Belgium or Germany

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