However, our curriculum was in some measure even stranger than the Hitler-centric approach which the Consul criticises. Not for us the simple Nazis. We were lead down the whole porcine path – starting off with scheming Otto von Bismarck’s efforts to unify the various petty duchies of the disparate German states, progressing to the First World War, tarrying over the abortive Weimar Republic, delving into the Nazi’s rise to power, before plummeting into the gunmetal and smoke of the Second War. My teachers were too enlightened to be pushing we hollow-headed pupils towards any theory of the organic evil of the German people or to couch the broad Germanic narrative we pursued as the genesis of Holocaust and War. Yet I’ve never felt comfortable with the choice to teach us so much about the origins and tumults which have torn through and out of
This is no error. In fact, I was last tutored in any Scottish history in primary school, aged about 8, on the Jacobites of 1745. Thus I could relate to you in (vague) detail about how
However, other elements are likewise neglected. Take the English Civil War. It is rare, I find, that one encounters an educated English person whose schooling has furnished them with much information on this English radical history – in which Scots played a role, despite the occlusions affected by the nomenclature. Which returns us, smartly, to the question – why did they choose these subjects and German subjects so exhaustively? Why were Scottish subjects excluded, almost without exception, from my secondary education? A particular staff member with a Teutonic itch, do you suppose? A consequence of their absence of a national curriculum in
Neither of these, it seems to me, being a good enough reason to produce a generation of schoolchild-historians experts in German Studies. The premise of the article is that attitudes towards Germans one might encounter in the world and a larger, social image of
My point, in brief, is that the relationship between ideas and our knowledge about cultures and social units – and the styles and characterisations which we place on that knowledge – entails no necessary expression in the lived experience and interaction with individuals who one identifies as participating in that generalised category. Learning about Nazis certainly furnishes the hostile with a vocabulary and a term of reference which can be negative. Similarly, race-thinking among those who are not systematic racists in their day to day lives can prompt apparently racist rhetoric and responses in moments of tension or conflict. Like much knowledge, however, pitted through with the tension-filled relationship between those ideas and reality as we experience it – its field of influence is ambivalent, capable of reading one way or another, able to determine, but exerting no necessary determining force.
That’s why I doubt that teaching folk about Hitler is the reason why students are dropping off from the study of the German language. Think of all the other, plausible, intelligible reasons why an in situ pupil may find their attention draws elsewhere academically and linguistically. He is right in one respect, however, at least in terms of my own experience. My German historical education was bizarre, the invisibility of Scottish and British sources profoundly silly, whatever differential political significance individuals read into it.