Historical-Political Education in Teachers' Training

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Hanns-Fred Rathenow/ Norbert H. Weber (Hg.): Nationalsozialismus und Holocaust. Historisch-politisches Lernen in der Lehrerbildung [National Socialism and the Holocaust. Historical-political education in teachers' training]. Hamburg: Krämer 2005

The publication under review is a compilation of 22 different contributions on the importance of the topic National Socialism and the Holocaust for the training of teachers in Germany and worldwide.

An article by Elke Gryglewski illustrates the importance of the quality and quantity of Holocaust education in teachers' training. Among the many examples of didactical mistakes quoted by her are the confrontation of students with photographs of medical experiments, mass executions or strangled children without getting their prior consent or preparing them in any way. Adults pick up the questions that children ask in connection with National Socialism and use them to inundate the children with innumerable examples of discrimination and extermination, complete with a ready moral assessment of the historical events, thus by far exceeding the children's power of comprehension and remaining abstract at the same time. The learners' capability to cope with the topic or their interest in the problem are of little importance. Are these negative examples exceptions or are they the rule when National Socialism is taught in schools? Are they caused by teachers' individual incapability or do they indicate a structural problem in training and ongoing education?

The contributions included in the first two chapters of the book, dealing with this question in the context of the Federal Republic of Germany, provide some suggestions in this respect.

In their introduction, the editors describe the societal and education policy background of historical-political education about National Socialism and the Holocaust. They expressly refer to a growing racism since the German reunification and to an increasingly more open anti-Semitism within German society. The areas of politics of remembrance and culture of remembrance, reflected e.g. in the revised curricula of the new Bundesländer, have seen a renaissance of theories of totalitarianism which shows in expressions like "the victims of violent regimes" or "the victims of both dictatorships".

Wolfgang Stammwitz und Matthias Mücke approach the importance of the Holocaust in teachers' training in the Federal Republic of Germany and in the German Democratic Republic from a historical point of view. Stammwitz shows that the "annihilation of the European Jews" was virtually non-existent in teachers' education during the 1950ies and 1960ies. Unless this generation of teachers studied the topic on their own initiative; they learned nothing about it. Departing from the "blind spots" in his own perception of history, Matthias Mücke describes how anti-Semitism and the annihilation of the Jews were relativised in the education guidelines on the topic "National Socialism" in the GDR. Dimitroff's mono-dimensional analysis of National Socialism saved the "New Germany" from answering questions concerning the participation of "entirely normal Germans" in the extermination of the Jews as well as from coming to terms with anti-capitalist rhetoric in National Socialist ideology. Consequently, historical research on the annihilation of the Jews remained very limited in the GDR; in the curricula, it did not occur at all.

The contributions of Dagmar Grenz, Wolfgang Wippermann, Hanns-Fred Rathenow and others and Eckehard Tramsen describe the present situation of teachers' education at German universities. The educators of future teachers of German Language, History and Political Science stress the necessity to include the topic firmly in the university curricula. They point out that didactics cannot be restricted to imparting the "historical facts"; it has to take into account and analyse expert literature as well as books for children and young people which form part of the history of reception. Grenz and Rathnow further recommend a more intensive discussion of different biographies of perpetrators and of the fascinating side of power, guilt and the sense of community. Both contributions show the same dilemma: on the one hand, students are expected to develop their own views of National Socialist history in (inter-generational) discussions, on the other hand, they are confronted with a rigid compulsory curriculum, quite similar to that in schools.

From a practitioner's perspective, Heidemarie Sow and Jens Augner describe their projects related to education at teachers' seminars. Augner's progressive approach to education is of particular interest: he has developed a consequent and successful method of training peers as multipliers while the teacher's role is restricted to providing support. Augner stresses that a "constellation of minimal hierarchy" within a homogeneous age group of students was of fundamental importance for the success of their visit to a memorial - for the acquisition of cognitive basic knowledge as well as for a voluntary emotional approach to the topic.

The third part of the volume presents best practices of teachers' training (Heinrich Bartel, ISR; Norbert H. Weber, PL). Annegret Ehmann looks at teachers' in-service training in the new Bundesländer, analysing the most recent curricula and criticising their approach as emphatically concentrating on the group of Jewish victims. Elke Gryglewski shows how it is possible to approach the topics of National Socialism and the Holocaust with children and young people without demanding too much of them through shocking pictures and stories. She expressly recommends to depart from the questions and points of interest of the children and young people and provide answers or follow-ups within this framework. Learners must be perceived as being competent to know their own limits of coping with the topic. A shock strategy may be well-meant, but it denies this competence and negates the superior educational goal of developing responsibility.

The fourth chapter of the book presents approaches to Holocaust education at the level of multipliers in other countries. The authors introduce to the specificities of different countries based on the analyses of text books for school (Krysztof Ruchniewicz, PL; Zdenek Jirásek, CZ), interviews with teachers at schools and universities (Sami Adwan, Palestinian Territories), the description of didactical approaches (Ian Davies, UK; Tomasz Kranz, PL) and the attempt to give an overview of existing study courses and curricula (Samuel Totten, USA; Michael Schwennen, Michael Yaron, ISR).

The contributions show that all historical-political education is related to and justifying the present. In the Palestine Territories, for instance, teaching or ignoring the Holocaust is determined by the teacher's individual view of the Middle East conflict. Ian Davies puts teaching about the Holocaust in the context of universal education for human rights and democracy. Presenting his didactical concept for universities, he departs from his own individual experience of coming from a migrant family background and thus also belonging to "the others".

School text books show most clearly how historical and political education depend on what is deemed politically opportune. In Czech and Polish history text books, Jews do not appear as victims of National Socialism until the 1980ies; a significant change is only brought by the 1990ies. Quoting an analysis of Polish history text books made by Feliks Tych, Tomasz Kranz states that most text books still perceive the Holocaust as part of the German occupation policy towards Poland. This interpretation suppresses the specific importance of anti-Semitism and the annihilation of the Jews for the National Socialist state as well as Polish collaboration with the Nazis.

However, in recent years, new text books have been developed that do not subordinate the Holocaust to Christian-Polish history any more and that also deal with problems of Polish co-responsibility in connection with the "Jedwabne-debate". These books are results of the Israeli-Polish and Polish-German commissions for the development of text books for schools.

A final article by Britta Frede-Wenger and Peter Trummer presents a tri-national project with teacher trainees from Poland, Canada and Germany, focusing on different perspectives on the history and goals of historical-political education. While white Germans, Poles and Jewish Canadians perceive the Holocaust as directly connected to their personal and collective identities, non-Jewish Canadians tend to see it as part of a general non-racist education concept. Therefore the project did not aim at a shared view of history, reception and educational approaches, but at an understanding of the different contexts of guilt, remembrance and coming to terms.

The volume under review does not provide an immediate answer to the question posed in the beginning, concerning the quality and quantity of teaching the Holocaust and National Socialism in national and international teacher education. The strength of this publication lies in the diversity of topics and approaches offered by its authors. The presentation of "best practices" in didactics at school and university level deserves to be special acknowledgement. The diversity of the publication leaves it to the reader to come to conclusions. The volume remains more or less on a descriptive level. There is very little discussion of shared fields of problems, e.g. a connection between Holocaust education and universal human education, anti-racist education or nation-specific narratives is hardly made. The reflection about "What?" and "How?" instead of "Whether?" and "How much?" postulated by Annegret Ehmann is only picked up in a few contributions.

The editors are right to demand that a discussion of the ethnic frame of reference after Auschwitz must become compulsory for all education at university level, including teachers' training. For the latter in particular, the intensive discussion of didactical and methodological approaches and their limitations should be added, because this is where, behind the backs of those involved, different ethical and political frames of reference and theories of learning take effect. Only then may the question be answered how teachers' education at university level could provide a structural contribution towards an up-to-date and learner-centred teaching of National Socialism and the Holocaust.


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