In January and February 2021, EuroClio hosted the ‘Lest We Forget’ webinar series. In four sessions we focused on networking, practices and the relevance of remembrance education. The series was based on the RETHINK project. This article gives a brief reflection of the last session of the ‘Lest we forget’ series; the World Café focused on ‘How can we bring Remembrance Education to the classroom?’.
History education is learning about the past, while remembrance education is learning from the past
In the first discussion round, participants shared insights on the meaning and importance of Remembrance Education. Remembrance education was defined as developing critical thinking about the past while avoiding polarisation and drawing on a multiperspectivity approach. The need for connection and relevance to history curricula was emphasized while also managing feelings of both teachers and pupils in a constructive and positive manner. An educator mentioned that the younger generations are often far removed from realties of war, it is therefore important to remember to enliven difficult histories. Remembrance Education can be a tool to help students speak about difficult issues and to make events more tangible. It may help bring forth not only a national but also an individual identity as Remembrance Education helps with creating generational bonds or more broadly, meaningful connections between past and present. The role of teachers for Remembrance Education is multifold. Educators can help develop critical thinking and memory building as well as assisting in understanding more recent atrocities. Educators can help students realise dehumanisation was not only limited to the Holocaust, but has happened in many forms in many places.
Silence is a natural response to sensitive topics. People prefer to be silent rather than dare discuss controversial or unpleasant topics. However, when an entire generation can go without knowing what happened, silence becomes harmful to society and specifically to classrooms
Participants shared many reasons as to why it is hard to remember. Tensions may arise between narratives in the classroom and that of student’s family members. This can be related to generational differences but also to historical amnesia, the act of forgetting historical events. Students may look at the past through the eyes of the present as contemporary films, games and media may misrepresent historical events leading to apathy and desensitisation. Educators might be faced with a wide range of emotions from students. Students may react emotionally, show apathy, assign blame to others or become angry when faced with Remembrance Education.
Every perspective has blind spots. Only by changing your perspective can you see what you were blind to
After having identified obstacles, we discussed tips and tricks for educators when it comes to Remembrance Education. One of the main tools when dealing with apathy from students is to sensitise students to traumatic histories and experiences. This can be done by site visits, by the use of primary sources such as video-testimonies and diaries or by personal visits from survivors. Emphasizing ordinary experiences and feelings will help make Remembrance Education more relatable. Key is to open up dialogue, possibly through mediation, and involve the audience. One of the teachers mentioned Schindler’s List, the use of film can assist in airing dialogue. Educators may need to compromise with institutional or political pressures. Preparation and debriefing are crucial when talking about atrocities and genocides. A visit to Auschwitz for example should be paired with preparation beforehand and with a reflection afterwards as not to be overwhelmed by experiencing a traumatic history. A network of educators who are teaching traumatic histories to manage such emotions can also be helpful.
The focus of educators should be on teaching human values, not sole facts
This sentiment has come forward throughout the ‘Lest we forget’ webinar series. The opening lecture was given by Peninah Zilberman. As a child of Holocaust survivors, she talked about the inherent obligation to ‘Remember’. In particular, Peninah Zilberman confronted participants with issues, myths and responsibilities children of survivors inherit from their parents. The obligation to remember comes with difficulties and can be addressed using a multiperspective approach. In the workshop ‘Multiperspectivity in Remembrance Education’ we discussed the difference between memory and history and the use of various methods to explore differences with students in a way that respects their feelings and does justice to history. The use of video-testimonies in the classroom can be a tool to give voice to the stories of survivors of atrocities. In the workshop ‘the use of video testimonies in Remembrance Education', the genesis of video-testimonies was discussed as well as practicalities as where to find video-testimonies and understanding their potential for a learning environment.
EuroClio would like to thank the speakers and participants of the ‘Lest we forget’ webinar series and in particular the participants of the ‘World Café’ for sharing their experiences and insights on Remembrance Education.
Would you like to know more about the RETHINK project, it’s teachers guide, or the network created? Have a look at our project page. As part of the ‘Lest we forget’ series, EuroClio has created a resource booklet for all participants. Would you like to receive it as well? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The virtual launch of the eBook “Contested Histories in Public Spaces: Principles, Processes, Best Practices” will be held on Thursday 11 February (18:00 – 19:00 CET).
During the webinar, hosted by the International Bar Association, participants will hear from the volumes’ co-editors, such as Dr Timothy W Ryback, Dr Mark Ellis, and Benjamin Glahn, along with practitioners and scholars.
The landmark volume is intended for policymakers confronting controversies over historical legacies in public spaces like statues, memorials and street names. It presents ten case studies and discusses their significance, interpretations and possible remedies – placarding, resignification and repurposing, to relocation, removal, or destruction. Iconic examples are disputes over Christopher Columbus, Edward Colston, Robert E Lee, and Cecil Rhodes, among others.
‘Contested Histories’ is a project developed by EuroClio’s research centre Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation in order to tackle these issues and offer a resolution to such controversies. As of February 2021, the project has identified more than 230 cases of contested histories in public spaces.
The registration for the webinar and other details can be found on on the IBA website.
Then, we encourage you to apply to become a Member of the EuroClio Board. To apply, please read carefully this document, and fill in the form that you can find at this link by Thursday 25 February at 13:00 CET.
The EuroClio Board
As a member-driven organization, EuroClio is led by a General Assembly, an elected international Board of volunteers (governance experts and history educators) and run by a professional Secretariat. The Board acts as a Supervisory Board, tasked with the overall responsibility for governing the organisation and to ensure wide and successful implementation of its core mission.
The Board supervises the work of the Director, who manages the Secretariat. The Board and Secretariat work together in a Finance and a Membership Committee and meet at least 3 times a year.
Board roles include:
Fundraising beyond the “traditional” public (at present mainly EU) grants;
Working with the Secretariat and members to develop and deliver our vision;
A supervisory role overseeing the Secretariat in a monitoring and accountability role;
Maintaining member relations and building individual membership.
The EuroClio Board is composed of 5 members, who are elected for a period of 3 years, with the possibility to be re-elected once. On 10 April 2021, current EuroClio President Riitta Mikkola will terminate her second mandate, and a new Board Member will be elected by the General Assembly.
What are we looking for
We are looking for Members of the EuroClio Board that are:
Practicing History Educators with a special interest in promoting critical and historical thinking skills;
Experienced in the governance of local history teachers’ associations;
Committed to the promotion of EuroClio’s Mission and Vision as expressed in the EuroClio Manifesto;
Interested in contributing to steer EuroClio’s activities and strategies in the coming years;
Able to join regular online and in person meetings, for a minimum of three in person meetings per year (under regular conditions);
Able to represent EuroClio at national and international events;
Additional governance or fundraising experience is an asset.
However, please do not be afraid to apply even if you do not tick all the boxes. EuroClio is first and foremost interested into education, and we will be glad to help you learn more about the Association’s governance and the work of the Board.
What do we offer to Board Members?
The possibility to participate in international Board Meetings, including visits to EuroClio Members and Partners Across Europe;
The possibility to participate in the EuroClio Annual Conference throughout the mandate as a Board Member;
A view of how are EuroClio activities and strategies established and managed;
The possibility to steer EuroClio toward the future;
The possibility to join one of the Board Committee, gaining specific experience on (1) finances, (2) members and policy management, (3) fundraising.
How to apply
To apply, please fill in the Board Application form that you can find at this link by Thursday 25 February at 13:00 CET.
In the form, you are asked to touch upon:
How you would contribute to EuroClio’s work;
Your relevant fields of expertise, including in governance.
The Selection Process
Board Members are selected by the General Assembly. In 2021, the selection process will follow these steps:
The EuroClio Secretariat will collect applications until Thursday 25 February at 13:00 CET;
Applicants will be contacted by the Secretariat should any follow up information be needed, by Friday 05 March;
Relevant information on the applicants (biography and motivation) will be published in the official documents of the General Assembly, on Wednesday 10 March;
The voting procedures will take place during the General Assembly, which will take place online on Saturday 10 April, starting from 14:00 CET. We will elect ONE Board Member;
The newly elected board member will be invited to join the first Board Meeting, which will take place in the week following the General Assembly (12-18 April).
For additional information on the EuroClio Board, visit the EuroClio website. For more information on the application procedure, reach out to Alice Modena at email@example.com. For more information on the role and responsibilities of a Board Member, reach out to Board President Riitta Mikkola at firstname.lastname@example.org.
International Day of Education: Celebrating with football history
The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed January 24th as International Day of Education, in celebration of the role of education for peace and development and highlighting how inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong opportunities should be available for all.
EuroClio’s own Football Makes History project keeps inclusive education at the forefront, aiming to help young people explore European history and heritage through the lens of football to tackle social exclusion. We look at issues of racism, gender & sexism, homophobia, migration, poverty & inequality, nationalism, war & peace – all through the lens of the world’s most popular game!
Our project – financed through the Erasmus+ scheme of the European Union – is now entering its final stages and we are publishing educational resources on a weekly basis. We’d like to seize the opportunity of the International Day of Education to showcase some of the ways our project can benefit you as an educator to teach an inclusive history.
In addition to these full-fledged lessons plans, we have also added another feature useful to the educator: The Football Lives. These profiles are not your usual hall of fame. While some football lives are heroic and have paved the way for inclusion, democracy and human rights, others have done just the opposite. Take for instance the journey of Alex Villaplane who went from sporting hero, captaining France at the 1930 World Cup, to being executed by firing squad as a war criminal and collaborator with the Nazi occupier in 1994! A traitor to some can of course also be a hero to others. One such figure is Jörg Berger whose footballing career stalled after he refused to sign up as an informer for the East German secret police, Stasi, before later escaping to the West. While celebrating great footballers with interesting backgrounds (hello Zlatan, Maradona, Rapinoe and Özil!), our life stories also point to some of the darker sides of football and football history. Robert Enke committed suicide after years of suffering from depression. Was football partly at fault?
A common feature of all these Football Lives is that they tell a wider story that could feature as part of a history lesson. To help you as an educator, we have included a few “thinking points” to each story.
Have you already used (or plan to use!) some of our lesson plans or life stories in your teaching practice? If so, we’d love to hear from you! (please get in touch with Andreas Holtberget at email@example.com!)
We finally invite you to follow our Football Makes History accounts on social media to get the latest of both news and educational material. Stay tuned also for a number of professional development opportunities that will take place online or on site in the Netherlands, Germany, Romania and the UK this coming Spring. EuroClio’s own webinar series on football history will kick off 28th May!
European histories are most prone to conflicting interpretations in places where national borders shifted repeatedly and local communities were uprooted or new communities settled in. To integrate these border dialogues in the classroom, EuroClio’s Sharing European Histories project supported efforts by the EUscreen Foundation to develop learning activities about borders and their significance in European history. The resulting educational project (Re)Viewing European Stories has now published three ready-to-use innovative learning activities, which make creative use of audiovisual content from the EUscreen and Europeana archives. The activities encourage students to widen their perspectives and provide better context to many events in twentieth century European history, making them useful for any national curriculum. Additionally, the activities put personal stories at the center of students’ engagement, promote critical historical thinking, develop media literacy skills, and give students and teachers the flexibility they need to adapt them to their own learning goals.
About the project
(Re)Viewing European Stories kicked off in October 2019, when a team of archival practitioners, historians and educators, as well as external experts convened in Warsaw to come up with ideas for engaging and interactive learning activities provoking critical thinking, while also using digital source materials and enhancing media literacy. The team settled on exploring the themes of migration and movement around three short films made by The European Network for Remembrance and Solidarity, one of the contributors, in their 2017 In Between project. The films investigated the dynamics of history and remembrance in three European borderlands, which suffered from big changes and upheavals in the twentieth century. By displaying oral history research in the chosen regions, the films allow students to engage with local and personal stories, before connecting them to the bigger historical context. The depicted borderlands include the Polish-Lithuanian border, where different groups of people have lived together for centuries while the borders drastically changed during 20th century, the Bosnian town of Mostar, which found itself at the crossroads of the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, and the Catalan cross-border region, where many Spaniards attempted to flee the Franco regime at the conclusion of the Spanish Civil War.
The Learning Activities
In December 2020, the team finished their work and the completed activities are now freely available for teachers to use in their classrooms. All learning activities come with a premade package of learning materials, including information packs, step-by-step activity plans, and stimulating visuals. The intended age of students varies between 11 and 18 years old. The activities are initially designed for two lessons of forty-five minutes each, but can be adapted to suit any teacher’s needs.
Download the Learning Activities
The project’s learning activities have been published here under EuroClio’s educational materials or can be downloaded directly from the EUscreen Blog:
Visit the EUscreen blog for more information on the development of (Re)Viewing European Stories:
(Re)Viewing European Stories is coordinated by the EUscreen Foundation, funded by the Evens Foundation and supported by EuroClio as part of the Sharing European Histories project. The project brought together archival practitioners, historians and educators, as well as external experts from a number of European countries: Documenta – center for dealing with the past (Croatia), Borderland Foundation (Poland), European Observatory on Memories (Spain), European Network Remembrance and Solidarity (Poland and others), National Film Archive – Audiovisual Institute (Poland), Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision (Netherlands), with Jacek Staniszewski (Poland), a history teacher and EuroClio ambassador, serving as an independent education lead.
On December 9th, EuroClio ambassador Helen Snelson kicked off the four-part webinar series on mastering the art of developing eLearning Activities on Historiana. By using source material on post-war Europe, Helen was able to create a meaningful and engaging eActivity for her students. In this article you find the tips and tricks on using source materials as evidence that Helen shared, and get ideas on how to use Historiana in your educational practice.
Historiana is an online portal developed by EuroClio, Webtic and UseMedia with Europeana for and with history and citizenship educators from Europe and beyond. On Historiana you can find ready to use learning activities, multiperspective historical content and digital tools that are all free to use, adapt and share.
What can sources teach your students?
The webinar started off with an insight in how using individual sources can instill a ‘sense of period’ with students. This helps them to feel more secure about their understanding of the past and make sense of historical people and events in a broader context. Helen demonstrated this in her eLearning Activity with a 1949 German election poster, generating a sense of the hunger and hardships, but also the future-oriented mindset of the time. Exercises using single sources to this effect can easily be made in Historiana’s eActivity builder using the question, analysing, or highlighting tool. Helen recommended assigning this eActivity as homework to prepare students for your classes, especially when in-class time is limited.
(Click on the image to watch) 7:12- 11:48: In this segment, Helen Snelson demonstrates how to build a ‘sense of period’ of post-war Europe using a 1949 German election poster.
Afterwards, the webinar concentrated further on using different sets of sources. Helen stressed how different sets of sources, such as maps, pictures, or objects, give us different types of evidence. By really engaging students in these different types of sources, they will discover for themselves what type of information these sets can give them on the historical topic at hand. The comparing and discovering tools in the eLearning Activity are especially suited for this end.
“Fascinating as we all are as history teachers – sometimes, students turn off when we talk at them […]. But actually, because they have really engaged with the source material, they are burning with questions which you can then help them to find some answer to, and their curiosity is aroused.” Helen Snelson
(Click on the image to watch) 13:40- 22:41: In this segment, Helen Snelson builds on the previous activity by contrasting the poster with a testimony of a French schoolgirl and demonstrates how to do this as an eActivity in Historiana.
What distinguishes evidence from sources?
When discussing sources in general, Helen pointed out that teachers also need to be very careful about their language, as ‘sources’ and ‘evidence’ are not interchangeable. A source is something a historian can use as evidence to say something specific about the past, but with widely varying degrees of certainty. It is important for teachers to confer the uncertainty inherent to the historical profession, for example by asking students what they can ‘infer’ from a source. When we start using multiple sources, we can show students that one type of source can be corroborated and connected or compared with other sources to create more valid evidence.
To demonstrate the limitations of sources when studying the past, Helen shared the metaphor of sources as ‘a window to the past’. We are all inside, in the present, looking at the outside world, the past, through the window that is available to us: remaining sources. And when looking out of this window, everyone notices different things. We might choose to focus on the other buildings, the trees, or a bird flying by. Helen: “If we looked through that window, we would all notice different things, because we are all built slightly differently and we observe differently.” As educators, we should remind ourselves and our students that sources are not a representative reflection of the past, they are but fragmentary remains. And when students get a handle on this metaphor, they start to avoid these oversimplifications that a single source would tell them a truth about the past and that’s that.
(Click on the image to watch) 36:25-37:54: How professional historians use source material to establish evidence and how to integrate this way of thinking in the classroom.
How to use sources effectively?
Helen also gave some helpful pointers to make the most effective use of sources in the classroom. By showing a well-selected source or set of sources, for example, you can demonstrate how new source material can overturn the popular view on historical events. She illustrated this by using a source that shows how the first shots in the First World War were fired outside of Europe, to overturn the entrenched image of trench warfare. Whenever possible, Helen advised to show the real source and not just a textual copy. This will train your students to pick up clues from context that otherwise might be lost. She further demonstrated how to use a Layers of Inference Diagram to teach students about deconstructing a source.
(Click on the image to watch) 47:02 - 50:41: How to use a Layers of Inference Diagram to deconstruct sources.
Conclusion: How to translate all of this into an eLearning Activity?
At the closing of the webinar, Helen explained how she combined all of her insights into an eLearning Activity on Historiana called ‘How does a historian use sources as evidence’ that she uses in her classroom. She then concluded with her expectations on the future of sources in history education: “I think what’s really exciting about history and history teaching at the moment is the wide array of sources that has been particularly driven by the young academic historians.” With the support of Historiana, you could train the next generation of young academic historians to engage with sources through your history teaching!
(Click on the image to watch) 55:08-59:30: What the final eLearning Activity using sources on Historiana looks like.
Want to learn more about using sources as evidence in the (digital) classroom? Watch the full webinar here: https://youtu.be/s3ThUq1hTDs.
This article is part of a webinar series, in which teacher educators who are experienced in using Historiana show examples of the eLearning Activities that they created, while also diving into a specific topic and discussing a critical thinking skill to teach students.
These events are scheduled next:
On February 17th, Bridget Martin (History Teacher, International School of Paris) will be focusing on the Contributions to WWI and talking about perspective. (register here)
On April 21st, Jim Diskant (History Teacher retd.) will be looking at Visual Representation of women (Thinking skill TBA). (register here)
On June 16th, Gijs van Gaans (Teacher Trainer, Fontys Tilburg) will be examining Schisms within Christianity and discuss change and continuity. (register here)
This article is written as part of the Europeana DSI4 project co-financed by the Connecting Europe Facility of the European Union. The sole responsibility of this publication lies with the author. The European Union is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.
The History Teachers’ Association (Malta) organised its annual Michael A. Sant Memorial Lecture on 22nd September 2020. This lecture has been held uninterruptedly for the past eighteen years but due to the current international circumstances this year it had to be held remotely. The guest speaker for the webinar was Helen Snelson, from the University of York. Helen Snelson is also a EUROCLIO ambassador and chair of the UK Historical Association’s Secondary Teachers’ Committee. Snelson joins a string of international history educators who have presented at this memorial lecture.
The presentation was entitled, The personal and the particular: Stories to add intrigue, interruption and intensity to the History that students learn. The key argument was that well-chosen stories of individuals at specific moments in time help enrich learning in the history classroom. Highlighting the power of stories in helping students to understand and remember more, Snelson argued that stories can be a motivating factor in learning.
Using intriguing examples of life stories, Snelson showed how personal and particular stories can add complexity to historical narratives, ensuring that students learn that there are multiple perspectives on the past. Snelson added that stories help students understand how the past was experienced by different people in different ways. The presenter also discussed the centrality of stories in supporting students to connect topics.
This was an insightful presentation which contributed to the professional development of Maltese history teachers and educators. As a first, this webinar was well attended and the participants’ questions and comments showed that the array of examples brought up by Snelson to illustrate key ideas sparked off pedagogical ideas that can be developed and implemented in the classrooms.
In 2019, EuroClio joined forces with Dutch public broadcaster VPRO for the development of an online exchange project for European schools - In Europe Schools. Inspired by the VPRO television series In Europe - History Caught in the Act on modern European history, EuroCio and VPRO, alongside a team of authors, created four Education Kits on Difficult History, Migration, Climate Change and Gender Equality. Part of the online exchange programme are documentaries made by students on their local histories, which they share and discuss with their peers from the partner schools. Students engage in research on their local histories and are supported by various Tutorials on Filming, Editing, Research, and Interviewing, in which the makers of In Europe - History Caught in the Act share their tips and tricks for making good documentaries.
Following a piloting phase in Spring this year, nearly 100 schools have just started a new round of In Europe Schools. EuroClio has taken a moment to reflect on the project with two teachers who successfully completed the piloting phase and are currently participating in the new round. and Anila Beshaj from Albania and Cristina Gila from Romania took a moment to share their experiences with the project.
What prompted your participation in the project?
For Anila, who worked on the topic of Migration, the making of the documentary was a specifically appealing aspect of the exchange project . Cristina, who worked on Difficult History, found out about the project during the 2019 EuroClio Annual Conference held in Gdansk, where In Europe Schools was presented. The collaborative aspect of documentary making and the exchange of ideas was of particular interest to Cristina.
Anila: The idea of making a short documentary was rather captivating. It was also instructive as the students (and I together with them) had to go through different phases (research on the subject, creation of some kind of script, carry out the filming), which was at the same time challenging, but also very interesting from the student/teacher point of view.
Cristina: I found the idea of involving students in a collaborative European project interesting. Young people exchange ideas, document themselves and carry out their own research. Also, the fact that the students assume different roles: interviewer, director, cameraman, to create a documentary seemed a challenge to me. We felt that learning through the project in history classes has a strong impact on the future training for the lives of young people.
How did your students experience documentary-making as a part of their history classes?
Anila: The making of the documentary was an interesting experience for the students. They had to combine socio-historical research and art which, in itself, was a new thing to them. They were very involved at a personal level and tried to find and use personal connections that might be of help in the making of the documentary. They were delighted when they saw the final product of their work.
Cristina: The project started in January 2020, so we had time to go through the materials, analyze and decide on the documentaries that we will make. By March, one of our documentaries was already finished. The students experienced documentary making by collaborating in different teams and working together on creating our final product. The video editors got to learn the different techniques in video editing, while the writers and researchers got to discover the stories of the people they interviewed for the topic. The participation in the project, for some students, was a chance to assert themselves, to come out of anonymity and to prove their personal talent or their passions (film editor, writer). Although they were enthusiastic at first, after some time a part of them withdrew as it took a lot of work and involvement. Those who retired were replaced by other school classmates, curious and attracted by the idea of making a documentary on a historical theme. Involvement in the project, documenting, creating interviews, filming and editing films were moments of learning, but also moments of relaxation for students - they appreciated the stimulating and collaborative way of working.
How did you experience the outbreak of Covid-19 and how did this affect the project at your school?
As the piloting phase of the project took place in the beginning of this year, the participating schools faced different challenges related to the global outbreak of Covid-19.
Anila: The Covid-19 experience was a unique one, as for almost everybody worldwide. The physical separation (due to the school closure) made the communication more difficult but they were able to fully use the technology to stay in touch, continue their work and get the final product ready on time. I believe that the difficulties helped, in a sense, making them more organized and attentive towards the challenges.
Cristina: Our school continued its teaching activities online. The second documentary was not fully completed, although it was in progress and the third documentary was never made. The students were not prepared for the activities at a distance, and this affected us all.
How did you experience the contact with your partner school?
Project participants are matched to another school in Europe for the exchange of documentaries. Right from the very beginning of the project, the pairs are introduced to each other and advised to get to know each other (and their students) as soon as possible. After the first introduction, both schools continue working on the project separately, and exchange their documentaries online, following a final moment of contact for reflection: How is the same topic approached from different perspectives? For most schools participating, contacting the partner school remained to be a challenge due to local lockdowns and restrictions.
Anila: I would say that the contact was rather superficial, just a few email exchanges - the pandemic weighed also on this situation.
Cristina: Since the beginning of the project we have cooperated with our Dutch partner, from Zeven Linden College, Linda. Linda created a common space in Google Drive, where we uploaded our students' materials: their presentations. We conducted a Skype meeting, where our students were able to exchange ideas and opinions with our partners.
What was the most challenging part of the project overall?
Anila: All the phases had their own difficulties. Of course, the film-making was a novelty for them and it took an important part of the preparation time. The research was, also, I would not say challenging but time consuming as they looked at a lot of materials and talked to different people in order to get a clear picture of the facts dealing with the documentary subject.
Cristina: The most challenging part of the project was the lack of equipment (as in good cameras, different lights and semi-professional software) that could've made the workflow so much easier. Our experience last year was really fun. We got to experience video editing and filmmaking for the first time, all while learning about our past.
Two of Cristina’s students were happy to share their own experience working on the project. Octavian (17 years old), worked together with his classmates on the history of Communism in the Romanian context and interviewed his grandparents. For Rares (15 years old), the project contributed to his personal development as he very enjoyed working together within a team.
Octavian: For me, this project represented a beneficial experience because I had the opportunity to work with some of my classmates. Also, I documented and I learned a lot of interesting things about life and about the priorities people had during Communism. I started my project activity by writing information that my grandparents told me about the Communist period. Moreover, the most important events from that time have happened during their youth. Also, I studied some materials with my teammates and we cooperated with Dutch students. I’m so proud of the effort I put in to achieve the desired goal and I'm glad I took part in this project!
Rares: This project was my first experience working in a strong team that overcame all the difficulties. I realized that I have managed to climb a new level in my personal development. I learned a lot with my fellow classmates, did the interviews and did the subtitles. The refusal of the elderly to answer our questions and to remember a painful history for the majority of the population was a challenge though. However, I am proud that the work done has paid off and our film has been appreciated at the European level.
Understanding History & Media Literacy
The overall aim of In Europe Schools is to contribute to the teaching and learning of modern European history from a transnational perspective, creating an (online) international working and learning environment for both teachers and students. One of the main learning objectives in this regard, focuses on the development of skills related to media literacy. In this case, media literacy is not merely the making of the documentary in terms of filming and editing, but perhaps even more so in doing research and reflecting on each others’ work. Conducting research on their local histories, students make use of different media (mostly on the Internet) and are challenged to critically reflect on the sources they use.
To see how the project has impacted students’ understanding of history and media literacy, the VPRO conducted a survey among the participating schools following the piloting phase. For most students, completing the project has resulted in an increased awareness and understanding of how history and the media framing of history can influence opinions. Even more so, 80% of the students indicated that their own views have been affected by the project and the documentaries they have made. Some of them state that, ‘’I better understand why migrants are fleeing from their home countries’’ or, ‘’I can see now that a lot of parts of European history have never been told (...)’’. The educational materials encouraged students to think about issues like: What makes a source reliable? How does fact-checking work? How does recent (difficult) history impact one’s own views and opinions? What role does the media play in forming views and opinions? In Europe Schools seems to have helped students on their way in exploring such questions and challenges.
Why is it important that we learn to disagree with each other? How can we teach young people to disagree in a democratic and peaceful manner? Maarten van Alstein from the Flemish Peace Institute contextualized and answered these questions during the opening of EuroClio’s 27th Annual Conference. His lecture Dealing with Controversy and Polarisation in the Classroom built on empirical research, democratic theory, and insights from conflict transformation. Based on his research, Maarten van Alstein came to the understanding that schools should be seen as a place where students can explore differences in a constructive manner. Through a wide diversity of methods ranging from dialogue to artistic practice, he made a case for conceptualizing the school as a laboratory for democracy.
Democracy as dialogue
Central to the idea of tackling controversial topics in the classroom is dialogue. As tensions are rising in our society in the form of conflict and polarisation, dialogue is a method which can facilitate deliberation about societal topics and acute questions. Van Alstein illustrated the extremes of democracy with two concepts relating to the digital sphere. The first is the echo chamber, the idea that the digital sphere creates one single voice and erases multiperspectivity. The second concept describes the chaos of tweets in which polarisation and chaos become the norm. As in society, we should take these extremes into account when facilitating dialogue. In the classroom, educators should create space for democratic dialogue ranging between these two extremes.
The meaning of conflict
“Conflict is like oxygen” (Bickmore, 2007 )
The quote illustrates the inevitability of conflict. Both Maarten van Alstein and Kathy Bickmore argued that conflict will always be present in society. The danger lies in the explosion of conflict. The group polarisation theory illustrates how, due to confirmation bias mechanisms, putting a group of likeminded people together will generally lead to polarisation. When people in groups polarize this can be very dangerous, think of hate groups or terrorist cells. However, polarisation and conflict can be used for the better, an example is abolitionism. There are numerous examples of positive change stemming from conflict, the women’s vote or the more recent Black Lives Matter movement. It can be, on the one hand, destructive and dangerous. But, if we are able to manage it well, we can create a force for good. Then if conflict is an ambivalent phenomenon, how do we deal with it?
Suggestions for pedagogical practices
When dealing with controversy and disagreement in the classroom, recognizing that conflict is inevitable is the first step. When recognizing that conflict is normal, creating dialogue around it becomes easier. How do we translate this concretely to the classroom? At the Keynote Lecture three main suggestions were given.
Tailor your approach in function of what is happening in the classroom
While this may sound like kicking in an open door, the big challenge for educators lies in tailoring the approach to what is happening in the classroom. Finding good techniques for discussing controversy and polarisation requires making a distinction between different scenarios. Each scenario calls for a different approach. First, when the class is in turmoil, a more provocative or extreme discussion may call for depolarizing strategies. Second, controversial issues in the curriculum sometimes steer the educator into a certain direction complicating multi perspectivity. Finally, controversy as pedagogy means looking for multiperspectivity and controversy in the subject matter. This scenario allows for a more open discussion in which artistic pedagogical practices can be used, such as painting.
Defuse harmful forms of polarisation, but keep the space for discussion as open as possible
Creating an open classroom helps students express their opinions freely. When students are comfortable discussing controversial topics their generalized trust increases. Generalized trust means their trust in society and in others. This, in turn, has positive effects on citizenship attitudes as students are able to recognize that conflict is normal in a democratic society. In the classroom educators should be intent on teaching students to disagree. However, it is crucial for students to recognize polarisation. Of course, dialogue has certain limits and the emphasis should be placed on reasonable arguments. Maarten van Alstein advised that the teacher, especially initially, should focus on the language used during discussions.
A good conversation often starts with a good question
The final suggestion was that a good conversation often starts with a good question. The use of open-ended questions is something educators themselves can train. Safety for all pupils should be guaranteed. It is a good idea to be impartial as a teacher, but not necessarily neutral, reflection is, of course, needed on positionality. Additionally, van Alstein advised not to start discussing the most controversial topics first. Start with a more safe and so called colder topic. When students feel more comfortable discussing, one can move on to hotter topics. Actively facilitate the discussion, it might be polarising otherwise.
At the opening of EuroClio’s 27th Annual Conference, Maarten van Alstein argued that conflict is inevitable. Teaching students this notion can help facilitate dialogue and prevent polarisation. Van Alstein provided three suggestions for pedagogical practices when dealing with controversy in the classroom. First, tailor your approach in function of what is happening in the classroom. Second, defuse harmful forms of polarisation, but keep the space as open as possible. And finally, a good conversation often starts with a good question.
Would you like to read more about Maarten Van Alstein’s work on Controversy & Polarisation in the classroom? You can find the full publication here.
EuroClio’s Annual Conference has come to an end. The conference was set to take place in Belgrade, first in March and then in October, to be then moved online, due to COVID-19. The conference centred around the question: How can you teach your students to have a respectful debate on controversial topics? This skill is increasingly important as classrooms (and societies) are diverse and teeming with opposing and diverging views. Worryingly, it seems students (and people in general) are losing the ability to respectfully engage in conversation with people they do not agree with. Paradoxically, students (and again people in general) whilst living in these diverse society, gather mostly information and opinions from others in their “bubble”. This is problematic in its own right, however, this is especially problematic when these bubbles exist of extremist ideologies, conspiracy theories, alternative facts and so-called ‘fake news’. As a consequence, teachers are more often confronted with radical and opposing views in the classroom and expected to deal with them. But how do you do that? The 20 workshops and 5 plenary sessions of the Annual Conference aimed to provide teachers with tangible strategies and lesson plans on how to go about this immense challenge.
This Annual Conference was part of the Learning to Disagree project. This project was initiated in response to the needs of educators who experience difficulties in addressing sensitive and controversial issues in their classrooms. The project, now in its final stages, offers training and support materials to teachers to face these topics head-on with their students. These materials aim at teaching students vital skills such as the ability to listen, to consider alternative interpretations, and the ability of interacting with people that they disagree with in a constructive manner. It was a great opportunity to share all the workshops that were developed for this project with a wider audience.
This was the first time EuroClio organised the Annual Conference online, which was an exciting challenge for us. We quickly saw the benefits of hosting the conference online; many more than usual could join the Conference as people did not have to take days off work and travel to Belgrade. Everyone could attend the Annual Conference from their kitchen, bedroom, or office. Already months into home office solutions, zoom fatigue was perhaps our greatest worry.
You can imagine we were a bit nervous on the first Monday of November. However, we soon found out, as the first workshop started, that we had nothing to be nervous about. For four weeks participants from across Europe joined us every afternoon at 16:30 and actively and enthusiastically participated.
The workshops, whilst limited by the online format, were all different both in terms of content and format. Some workshop hosts explained how to incorporate the new media in the classroom. During workshops like these participants learned how they could incorporate meme making, documentary making, and graphic novel writing in their lesson plans. Others presented how one could develop historical games to play with students in class. Many workshops gave participants cases, activities and teaching strategies to encourage discussion, dialogue and debate. Most workshop hosts had participants experience the strategies and activities first-hand, as participants became students and went through each learning activity as if they were a class of high school students.
The workshops hosted by Learning to Disagree team members, who presented the learning activities they had developed, were all received positively by participants. In these workshops participants were introduced to the many lesson plans developed as part of this project. Participants were also introduced to the many teaching strategies that are the product of this project. You can find the teachers’ guide with all teaching strategies here.
Workshop hosts were not the only ones transferring knowledge as participants shared their own experiences and philosophy of teaching, which fostered a sense of mutual understanding and made this Annual Conference a place where peers could exchange knowledge. So much so, we sometimes forgot we were not in the same room.
We really want to thank everyone who participated in one of the workshops and all of our workshop hosts all of your efforts, participation and contributions made this an Annual Conference we will not forget! See you soon!