There we are, trying not to be too complaining about everything, and the Guardian gets me going again.
Having moaned – with absolute legitimacy – about the state of language learning in England, I open today’s Guardian and find Simon Jenkins pressing another button: the history curriculum’s obsession with the Nazis.
Under the header ‘Britain’s Nazi obsession betrays our insecurity – it’s time we moved on’, Jenkins asks:
What is the matter with us? We seem unable to get the Nazis out of our system.
He goes on to put his finger on a point we in the Meissen Commission have been trying to address for several years:
Small wonder Hitler is now the ruling obsession of the national curriculum. I remember my son asking me, after a punishing term of the Weimar republic, if there was a second world war when was there a first? The GCSE history website scores 417,000 mentions of Hitler against just 157,000 for Henry VIII and the Tudors.
My own son managed to study history right through school and university, but it was only at uni that he managed to find an alternative to Hitler and Stalin.
Is it a mark of Britain’s insecurity that we can’t let Hitler go? Is it simply that 1945 was the last time we ‘won’ anything? Why when we play Germany at football do tabloids still do puns on Nazi imagery or football crowds sing such inanities as “Two world wars and one world cup – na na na na na.”?
The tragedy is that post-1945 Germany is an extraordinary story of division, political brinkmanship, economic re-engineering, social and psycho-social reconstruction, conflict, re-culturisation in Europe, and so on. If I didn’t like Berlin and Berliners so much, I would suggest that every school child in Britain should be taken to Berlin for a few days. Walk 100 metres down Unter den Linden to the Brandenburger Tor and you have to embrace language, history, geography, theology, economics and politics. You can’t understand German politics or culture without knowing history and how it has been shaped by theology.
The Meissen Commission is trying to address the English obsession with one exciting period of German history in two ways: (a) pressing for reform of the history curriculum in schools, and (b) embarking on what we are calling the Meissen Schools Initiative, aimed at establishing live links between schools in England and Germany.
Simon Jenkins concludes:
I must not fall foul of Godwin’s law, but the demands now being made of Germany “to show leadership” come with ghostly overtones of reparation for past guilt. Nothing is more likely to incur German resistance than to imply that rescuing Europe is somehow an obligation on a present generation of Germans for the deeds of a past one. Misreading Germany was a lethal failing of Europe’s 20th-century leaders. It is surely time to consign the Nazis not to oblivion but at least to history.
Like Jenkins, I suspect our obsession with Hitler and the Nazis is indeed a mark of our insecurity (or envy?). It is time we grew up.