Fear and deference in Holocaust education. The pitfalls of “engagement teaching” according to a report by the British Historical Association
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This article questions the effectiveness of “engagement teaching” when dealing with controversial subjects by exploring the role of fear in contemporary education about the Holocaust in the United Kingdom. It begins by assessing a governmental report about education and a series of related press reports and chain emails, whose assumption that secondary school teachers are afraid of teaching controversial subjects (in particular the Holocaust) triggered an international scandal about Holocaust education in the UK in April 2007. The author argues that three forms of respectful fear or deference are undermined in Holocaust teaching: epistemological (towards historical knowledge); political (towards curricula); and intergenerational (towards teachers). The article further demonstrates that the object of fear expressed by journalists and the public was not the Holocaust itself, but the reversal of deferential relations between teachers and pupils in the school classroom and the supposition that we may not learn from history. Whereas history education is held up by policy-makers as a safeguard of social stability and of the transmission of values, the application of “engagement teaching” to controversial subjects may in fact undermine the authority of historical education and the enlightenment principles on which it is founded.
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