THE THIN LINE between propaganda and fake news: a blog post

Birgit Göbel Articles

On a cold day in November, we enjoyed Dylan Wray’s plenary seminar: THE THIN LINE between propaganda and fake news. Attendees joined in from across the globe; spanning Vietnam to Turkey, Norway to Portugal, Albania to Canada, Croatia to Denmark and Slovakia! Dylan’s presentation set the tone for the thematic webinar: Fake & Real, as webinar series on Propaganda and Fake News, which was organised in collaboration with the House of European History. 

 

As any good plenary does, we began with defining some crucial terms, such as 'Fake News' and 'Disinformation'. Dylan then took a turn to the secret power of history teachers: how they are equipped to instil skills in their students that will help them determine the credibility of sources and news. Lastly this blog post also includes several resources on the subject, for further reading. 

 

Please note that if you are interested in what you have read here as a little taster, the plenary session of Dylan Wray has been recorded and published over on our YouTube channel.


 

Key terms

Before embarking on such a topic or presentation, it is important to clarify and define the terms which dominate the debate. Both the terms propaganda and fake news are heavily loaded and mean slightly different things to everyone. But aiming to provide a neutral stance, Dylan opted for the following definitions:

PROPAGANDA: The selective use of information for political effect.

FAKE NEWS: News stories that are false, fabricated, have no verifiable facts or sources (note this definition is not entirely sufficient).

Whilst these are the most-used terms, at least when it comes to journalism and the news scene, it is perhaps more useful to think about propaganda and fake news in different terms. The following terms below are somewhat more appropriate for history education and also help to perceive how these phenomena have existed far before they became well known under the above-mentioned names.

DISINFORMATION: false information shared intentionally to cause harm or to deceive.

MISINFORMATION: false or misleading information shared not necessarily with the intention of causing harm.

Despite the overlap between the two terms, they highlight a crucial distinction: that the spreading of incorrect information is not always maliciously done, as is the case with ‘misinformation.’ 

Amongst many examples Dylan used to illustrate the terms, he mentioned that certain media outlets had created Fake News about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 US Presidential election. This Fake News was created not with the intention to support Donald Trump, but to obtain clickbait and likes on their websites. Therefore it is a case of misinformation not disinformation. 

There are also certain dangers by propagating the term Fake News, as it could promote the use of censorship. Maybe it is more useful to think: how do we encounter disinformation? And this is where the role of history teachers comes into play…

 


 

Fake News/Disinformation- How teachers can fight back

(History) teachers have a responsibility to impart with students ways in which to deal with disinformation. Once students leave school, this chance is arguably missed or at the very least it is much harder to engrain on young adults.

 

The power of history teachers lies in the skill set they possess, most notably: how to scrutinize a source- e.g. identify the source, who, where, when, what kind of document and why was it produced (the 5 W’s). Within history it is of the utmost importance to evaluate the information presented- what are the intentions, what if any assumptions are made, and what sources have been used? The techniques historians use to painstakingly examine historical sources can also be applied to sources found in the news and on social media if these types of questions are asked.

 


 

Disinformation/Misinformation and social media?

Nowadays our exposure to materials, information and resources knows no limit. A lot of what we read about the news is also published on social media channels. However, caution should be taken as many social media platforms are known to use ‘confirmation bias’- a tool that means posts on our feed tend to usually agree with posts we have supported and believe in, therefore confirming the worldview we already possess.

Here are some tips and questions we should ask to avoid confirmation bias:

 

  • How do these facts fit into my worldview versus how do these facts confirm what I already believe?
  • Vertical reading (reading top-down) versus lateral reading (reading across, opening different tabs, different sources). We should do a bit of both
  • Read widely. Become comfortable with ambiguity. If you haven’t read a news article with a critical eye, DON’T SHARE IT

 

About the Host: Dylan Wray

Dylan Wray is the co-founder and executive director of Shikaya, a non-profit civil society organization that acknowledges the increasing role of teachers in building up South Africa’s democracy. Shikaya supports teachers and school leaders to educate and teach young pupils to become responsible, active citizens who think critically and engage socially in their country’s democratic processes. Dylan Wray is the co-author of an online blog  A School Where I Belong – Creating Transformed and Inclusive South African Schools (www.aschoolwhereibelong.com), on an online platform dedicated to the transformation and belonging in schools. Dylan Wray is a former History teacher. He wrote and created numerous educational resources and textbooks to help young people to grapple with ethical and moral decision-making.

 


 

Useful Resources

Lie Detectors, the pan-European news literacy project - article or podcast (Juliane von Reppert-Bismarck) Press Release https://lie-detectors.org/
Resources to counter COVID-19 conspiracy theories through critical thinking and empathy https://en.unesco.org/news/new-resources-counter-covid-19-conspiracy-theories-through-critical-thinking-and-empathy
The Conspiracy Theory Handbook https://www.climatechangecommunication.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/ConspiracyTheoryHandbook.pdf
#ThinkBeforeSharing resources from UNESCO http://en.unesco.org/themes/gced/thinkbeforesharing
Under Pressure- Interview with a Teacher https://www.getunderpressure.com/interview-with-a-teacher/
The Facing Facts programme was set up in 2011 by four organizations with the goal to improve monitoring of hate crime data. Since then, it has grown into a Europe-wide civil society network. Managed by CEJI – A Jewish Contribution to an Inclusive Europe, the programme offers training to law enforcement personnel, people working in authorities, and civil society actors. In recent years, the programme has shifted to focus on online hate crimes and since 2015 has implemented a comprehensive online learning curriculum. By working in close collaboration with partners across sectors, the long-standing initiative has generated a wealth of lessons learned. www.facingfacts.eu
The Media Diversity Institute works to ensure a correct representation of minority groups in traditional and social media. The Institute acts as a resource hub and brings together a wide range of actors across Europe in its programmes. One of the projects, “Get the Trolls Out,” seeks to monitor and combat anti-religious hate and other discriminatory behaviour on social networks. The materials and workshops of the initiative help civil society actors to identify different kinds of anti-religious hate speech in order to develop and implement counter campaigns. Because it is so widely connected, the Institute was one of the first actors to detect and report about the QAnon movement in Europe. www.media-diversity.org
In 2018 the Libertas Center for Interconfessional and Interreligious Dialogue implemented the “School of Interreligious Journalism,” a training project with the goal of combatting fake news and one-sided narratives on social media platforms. The Libertas Center is a non-profit organization and was founded in 2013. Its work concentrates on promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue to contribute to peacebuilding and understanding in the Ukraine and beyond. Its School of Interreligious Journalism brought together religious representatives and media professionals and enabled joint learning and spaces for dialogue and reflection. www.facebook.com/libertascenter
The Global Disinformation Index has as their key mission to reduce the amount and spread of disinformation. https://disinformationindex.org/
Ich bin hier (German resource)- Encourages digital civil courage and promotes a culture of better discussion. www.ichbinhier.eu
Facing History and Ourselves Resource- WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO LIVE WITH SOCIAL MEDIA? https://www.facinghistory.org/educator-resources/current-events/what-does-it-mean-live-social-media?utm_campaign=fy22-educator-newsletter&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=182080527&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_3bSNzjvw8ufqO6jGvV70M6yW4mxK2T9Lfvq-Gn0LkfjyrtW6Lq5ZPwFVwVtqKyjPdNwnEj95TED1sRtgW-0oK82cblQ&utm_content=182080527&utm_source=hs_email
Taken from Practical Histories- Teaching pupils the importance of ‘truth’ in history https://practicalhistories.com/2021/09/teaching-pupils-the-importance-of-truth-in-history/

 

—Fake (f)or Real temporary exhibition at the House of European Histories is open to the public until the end of January 2022. Please see opening times on the website, or view the virtual exhibition following this link: https://historia-europa.ep.eu/en/fake-real

 

We are the Best! – Defining nationalism by looking at popular culture examples

Marcel J.M. Put, History Teacher, the Netherlands

This practice uses historic football pictures to learn about and recognize the characteristics of nationalism. In connection to this activity, students will learn to ask different kinds of questions about the sources, organizing the sources and formulating a hypothesis about them. The activity has different difficulty levels, includes several assessment rubrics, and can be easily modified. It can be used to introduce the topic of nationalism, or to conclude a module on it.

In the image: Athletic Club Bilbao and Real Sociedad carrying the Ikurinna, the Basque flag, before a football match between those two Basque teams in San Sebastian, Basque Country, Spain in 1976.
Image by Argia.eus under CC BY-SA 4.0. Retrieved on Wikimedia Commons.

The practice

The main goal of this practice is to address nationalism through football, and to recognize characteristics of nationalism in historic football sources. It has been developed to use with students aged 12-18, who will:

  • Learn about how nationalism can be expressed;
  • Learn to recognise nationalism in historical sources;
  • Learn the difference between political and football nationalism;
  • Learn to question and analyse sources.

This practice helps to promote inclusivity and multiperspectivity while tackling discrimination and inequality.

About the author

Marcel J.M. Put is an independent historical researcher and writer on historical subjects. From 1998 until 2022 he was an Economics and History teacher at SVOPL (Secondary Education Foundation Parkstad Limburg) and between 2000 and 2004 also a teacher trainer. He has been involved in the Football Makes History project with EuroClio.

Background to this practice

This practice has been developed by Marcel J.M. Put within the framework of the Football Makes History project, which is co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union as part of the Football History for Inclusion project.

The project aims to promote multiperspectivity, tackle sensitive and controversial issues and make history relevant and accessible.

The practice step by step

The practice is implemented in the classroom. It is a combination of lessons, independent work and group work. There are some preparations required on the part of the teacher:

  • find a video of a national football team singing their anthem
  • find photos of football fans expressing their support for their nation in several ways. Copy them for the students.
  • find photos of national football teams containing expression of nationalism (e.g. national symbols on the jerseys, the salute in Nazi-Germany, or under Francisco Franco in Spain, …). Make some copies of these for the students.
  • Print out the worksheets and the Student information sheet, available below.

Tip: use a lamination machine to make the pictures last longer and label them with a letter or a number. In this way, you can repeat the activity with several classrooms.

Once the preparations are finished, the practice is broadly divided in four activities, which can be adapted to the specific classroom context:

  • Introduction (10-15 min): Looking at a football example, define together ‘nationalism’.
  • Assignment 1. (10-20 min.): Identify different ways of expressing nationalism.
  • Assignment 2. (20-25 min.): Working with the sources found in the preparation phase, identify examples of nationalism.
  • Conclusions (10 min.): reflect with students on lessons learned.

There are 3 extra assignments if there is time and interest.

 

The practice step by step

Introduction (10-15 min):  Looking at a football example, define together ‘nationalism’.

Step 1: Tell the students that they are about to watch a short video and that they have to watch closely so they can describe it to the classroom and identify what it was about

Step 2: Show a short video clip of a national football team singing the national anthem and the people in the stadium waving national flags. You can use a clip of your own national team, or a clip from a famous game, or a clip from the most recent game played in a tournament.

Step 3: Ask your students “What did you see?”. Ask several students to describe the video with their own words, and ask them to reflect on why were people in the video behaving like they were. You want your students to reach this conclusion: footballers are going to play for their country and are proud to do so; their fellow country(wo)men are cheering them and showing from which country they are / which country they support.

Inspiration

“I was born and raised 5 kilometers from the Dutch-German border. We always had German D-Marks at hand because we went shopping in Germany. Language wasn’t a problem. The Germans understood our dialect and because I grew up watching German television I understood and spoke German at an early age. Now I have family and friends all over Europe and speak several European languages. I consider myself to be a European. But there are times when I feel mainly, or rather exclusively, Dutch, especially at sporting events, such as football matches. It is a phenomenon I also see in others. I started to wonder where this sense of belonging to a nation comes from. How does it make people, even those who consider themselves to be Europeans or world citizens, like myself, think about their country: ’We are the best!’ And is this thought dangerous? Does it divide people?

Because students struggle with the concept of nationalism (maybe even more in the Netherlands then elsewhere because the Dutch pretend not to be nationalistic at all) the first step to approach this idea of a nation is to look for its characteristics. That’s what these lessons are about.” – Marcel.

Step 4. Ask your students “What is nationalism?”, and write their answers on the board. Together, try to reach a definition. Alternatively, you can write the definition of nationalism used by your textbook or teaching material and ask your students to connect it to the conversation they just had.

Step 5: Now, ask your students to answer again to the first question (“what did you see in the video?”). Discuss with them if what they saw can be considered an expression of nationalism.

 

Assignment 1. (10-20 min.): Identify different ways of expressing nationalism.

Step 1: Ask your students to reflect on at least 5 different ways in which nationalism can be expressed. Give them around 5 minutes to reflect by themselves, and ask them to write down their ideas in their notebook or on a piece of paper. Note that if you wish to collect students’ answers at the end of the lesson to assess their work, then you should let them know now that they should use a clean slate of paper and write their name on it.

Step 2: Make a collective list of ways of expressing nationalism, mentioned by the students. Ask students if they agree / do not agree with each other, and moderate the discussion. Ultimately, you wish to have a list of features that most students agree with.

Tip! You can work on your collective list in two different ways, depending on the size of your classroom and on whether all your students feel comfortable in sharing and intervening.

Approach 1.   Ask students to simply take the floor and share what they wrote down. Write their words on the board for everyone to see. If you are doing your lesson online, you can use a wordcloud programme to collect all the ideas (such as this: https://www.mentimeter.com/templates/education – template Language Class). Note that in this approach it is likely that after a couple of minutes all the most obvious answers will be on the board. Then, you can ask students if they have something to add, or add expressions of nationalism that shouldn’t be left out yourself.

Approach 2.    Divide students in groups of 3 or 4 and ask them to discuss their ideas in the group. Ask them to put together a list of the 5 ways in which nationalism can be expressed that they all agree on. Then, every group shares their final list with the rest of the classroom, and you can follow the steps of approach one.

        We suggest that you use Approach 2 if you are not sure that all your students would feel comfortable in sharing with the whole classroom, or if you have some students that tend to claim all attention during plenary work. Approach 2 will help you give each students a fair chance to be heard.

 

Assignment 2: Working with the sources found in the preparation phase, identify examples of nationalism. (20 – 25 min)

In this phase, students look for examples of nationalism in the sources, connecting them to the list created together during Assignment 1.

Step 1: Divide your students in smaller groups. We advise you to make groups of 3 students, because they are small enough that every member of the group has a possibility to share, but also uneven, which would make it more likely to have meaningful discussions. If you used approach 2 from above, you can also keep the same groups.

Step 2: Distribute the sources found in the preparation phase to the groups. Depending on how much time you want to spend on these assignments and on how difficult you want to make the task, we advise you to distribute:

  • beginners – 1 source each group (10 min.)
  • medium – 3 sources per group (15 min.)
  • expert – 6 sources per group (20 min.)

Note: Give each group the same source(s)! This makes it easier when you come to step 4, the Conclusion of the lesson.

If this is going alright it is very interesting to use different sources, for example sources chosen by the students themselves.  By doing so you also raise a different kind of discussion in the classroom.

Step 3: Write the following questions on the board / show the students the following questions:

Note: sometimes it can be helpful to read the questions out loud

  1. which of the expressions of nationalism listed before do you see in this (these) source(s)?
  2. try to put the source in its historical context: when was the photo taken? What was going on in that time?
  3. You can say that in football we have ‘political’ nationalism or ‘football’ nationalism. What do you think is the difference between these? Do you think this (these) source(s) is an example of ‘political’ or of ‘football’ nationalism? Please explain your choice.

Ask each group to answer the questions. Ask them to note down the answers that they agree on, but to also list each individual answer in case they do not agree. If you use an event the students should recognize from earlier classes you can disallow them using other sources then their textbook. Otherwise the internet might be a good help. After all, finding the right information is also a learning goal (but to keep it simple that’s not rated here)

Note: Give students enough time to proceed with their group discussions, and in the meanwhile walk among the groups and see if they need any help. If groups are done quickly, you can give them some more sources to work with.

 

Step 4: Conclusions (10 min.)

In the last ten minutes of lesson, ask each group to share their findings, and discuss with the classroom what they have learned during the day. Read the expected learning outcomes to the students and ask them if they feel they have met them.

Collect students’ answer sheets. Normally, Marcel uses an assessment grid (you can find a copy here) to assess whether the lesson has had the desired result.

More information

This practice was developed as part of the Football Makes History initiative. More information, including many other practices, source collections, and lesson plans, can be found on the project’s website at www.footballmakeshistory.eu.

To carry out the practice in his classroom, Marcel has developed a series of supporting materials, including two worksheet for students to fill in (here and here), a rubric for assessment (here), and an information sheet on what is nationalism (here) for students. Since different contexts and classrooms call for different sources, we have decided not to share the sources used by Marcel with his students. Here, however, you can find a list of potential expressions of nationalism (in football) that you can look for when creating your own sources collection.

Finally, in this post we are describing the core practice as carried out in the classroom. In case you would like to do more with your students, at this link you can find some suggestions for extension activities.

Let us know your thoughts!

Have you tried this practice with your classroom?  Or do you already do something similar? Marcel and all of us at EuroClio would be very glad if you took time to reach out to us and let us know your experience! You can reach out to us at secretariat@euroclio.eu or by getting in touch directly with Alice (project coordinator for Football Makes History) at alice@euroclio.eu.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Obstacles and Lessons Learned

Nationalism is a controversial topic, which is why teachers have to approach it in a sensitive manner. There can be obstacles, when different opinions arise and clash. Teachers must be equipped to deal with these situations.

The needed prior knowledge of the students depends on the variant the teacher chooses. It is possible to start without any prior knowledge of nationalism. If there is also not much knowledge about history in general, finding out what the sources are about might be difficult, but then students can write down what they think is going on.

The effect of the practice

Introduction.

By using a by a lot of people as normal excepted situation (fans in a football stadium) and a well-known ritual (singing the national anthem) to introduce and to discuss the concept of nationalism, students realize nationalism isn’t something from the past or only exists in far-far-away countries. It is something they too can encounter in their daily lives. This makes it is easier for them to engage. (Football can also be replaced by another international sports event or even by a cultural happening like the Eurovision Songfestival or the World Fair)

Assignment 1.

Nationalism is no longer an abstract concept. Pupils have suggested their own characteristics. Because of this, they not only know what nationalism is, but also how to recognize it. The concept is not just learned, but analyzed and used. They understand better.

Measuring the intended learning effect can be done by looking at the student worksheets, but of course also by listening to the group discussions about the source(s) and by questioning the students in the next lesson.

Assignment 2.

Because students will be looking for things they themselves came up with it will probably be easier to interpret the image. Using sources related to the subject matter is likely to work best. Captions can help students. And football knowledge is not necessarily necessary. In practice, I see that football fans often know the captured moment (especially if it is from a match), but others often provide other necessary information. An example from Marcel’s practice is a photograph of Maradonna’s hand goal in the game against England at the World Championship in 1986, captioned: The Hand of God. The football fans often can tell everything about the moment and the tournament. The Falklands War is not part of the curriculum in the Netherlands, so this is seldom mentioned, but even without knowledge of it, there are students who make the link between a protecting God and the nation, citing other examples of this (related to topics we have covered, like a phrase in the Dutch national anthem or ‘In God we trust’ on the American money).

Written by Ulrika Steven (EuroClio Trainee) and Marcel J.M. Put (Football Makes History Contributor), in Finland and the Netherlands, June and November 2021. Click here to access a short letter from the author!

Statement and appeal on Memorial

EuroClio EUROCLIO ,

EuroClio has joined a consortium of organizations and networks led by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Osteuropakunde (DGO; German Association for East European Studies) and the Verband der Historiker und Historikerinnen Deutschlands (VDH; Association of Historians in Germany) in expressing our profound concern for  the recent announcement by the Russian Office of the Prosecutor General to dissolve the well-known and much-respected civil rights organization and historical society "Memorial International“.

Jointly, we launch two statements to the Russian authorities and to other national governments and the European Union, respectively, to help safeguard Memorial.

Please find here our joint appeal to national governments and EU bodies to defend Memorial.

Please find here our appeal to Russian authorities to end the assault on Memorial.

Teacher interview on students’ media habits

Andreas Holtberget Articles , ,

Under Pressure talked to Anouk van Butselaar (41), who has been a teacher for more than 20 years, about the media habits of her students, how polarisation is increasing and why she is concerned about her students

Hi Anouk! Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about this issue. Let’s begin with what you enjoy most about your job.

I love that I can get students fired up about playing an active role in society. I raise awareness of the fact that they are allowed to vote, file complaints or join organisations to express their views. We address relevant topics such as ‘how does the government work’  and ‘why follow the news?’

Why are you looking to take part in Under Pressure?

My students often have a rather singular point of view. During the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, for example, they focused solely on the story of “the white man brandishing weapons to defend his property against a mob”, completely losing sight of the fact that there are lots of black American citizens fighting against inequality. They can get overly focused on one side of a discussion, to the point that they actually start believing that that side is the only “real truth”.

Under Pressure combines peer education and gamification to make European young people resilient to disinformation and polarization. It was co-developed by Diversion, the Dutch bureau for social innovation. We recommend that teachers interested in employing the Under Pressure methodology consult their overview page for educators. For more information about Under Pressure or Diversion, please go to www.getunderpressure.comwww.diversion.nl or get in touch with Emma van Toorn at etoorn@diversion.nl.

Are you concerned about your students’ media usage?

As a teacher, it concerns me that all these young people are thrown into society with such black and white conceptions of the truth. They watch videos posted by conspiracy theorists or footage of mobs storming the Capitol and create their opinion accordingly: they believe what they see on social media. Fortunately, I can see that they still have empathy. Sometimes, they will talk to me about what they watch and tell me: “I don’t know whether you would want to see this” or “I don’t think you would quite agree”. I always try to encourage them to consider a different perspective by asking them whether they watch the news, but I can tell that there is a huge gap in how we use media. They often either do not care about the news, or they do not understand it.

What do you like most about the Under Pressure method – peer education and gamification?

Having students engage in conversation with their peers is very powerful. I have found that, unfortunately, I am getting a bit old: I get my news from other sources and often have a different opinion than my students. Talking to someone who speaks their language and who they can identify with can be helpful, because it is a far cry from the he said/she said discussions they will typically have with teachers. We have taken part in peer education programmes before and it is very successful every time, with students really identifying themselves with their peers. In my opinion, we currently do not make enough usages of games in education, because teachers are still afraid to give up personal interaction with their students. Students, however, love learning by playing games: it gives them a clear role to play, something to do, and a break from having to listen to the teacher.

Do you think your students can recognise disinformation, or distinguish a fact from an opinion?

No, I do not think they can. It is difficult, of course, because there is often a thin line between disinformation and the truth. Sometimes, I will hear my students say that “all journalists are fake news”, but only because they do not know better. If you do not know that journalists have to abide by certain codes of ethics and that you can lodge complaints with the Press Council, it is no surprise that you believe that all journalists do is share their opinions.

Under Pressure was set up with the aim of countering polarisation by making young people resilient to disinformation and strengthening democratic values. How do you view polarisation in the Netherlands?

Attitudes in society are becoming more tough. In the past, I could show my students whatever I wanted, but now, I have started second-guessing myself more often. The Charlie Hebdo attacks ushered in a real change and you have to be careful about what you say and how you say it.

How does this manifest itself in the classroom?

Students are much more rigid and outspoken, even to each other. In the past, they would think: “I don’t know you, so I don’t know if you’re any good.” Now, they think: “I don’t know you, so you must be no good.” Now that many schools have stopped offering all different levels of secondary education, dedicating themselves to one or more levels instead, a kind of segregation has emerged. How much do VWO pupils really know about VMBO pupils, and vice versa? They do not meet anymore.

How do the Internet and social media contribute to this?

I have noticed that young people tend to gravitate towards opinions that match their own and only watch what they want to watch. Social media reinforce this and it is easier than ever before to disappear into a tunnel of sorts. In the past, people would watch mainstream media and see people from all kinds of different backgrounds. Now, it is as if old-school polarization has returned in a new guise.

We are now a year into the corona crisis. Has this affected your students’ media habits?

I do not have as much insight into what they are interested in anymore, because I am more concerned with their state of mind: what do their days look like and are they getting enough sleep? In the past, I would watch the news with my students, but now it has become hard to tell what is happening on the other side of the screen, which also makes it more difficult to make them aware of the bubble they could be in.

Soon, you will be taking part in Under Pressure and welcoming our peer educators. What do you hope to accomplish with the classes?

I can not change what my students come across online, but I hope that I can inspire them to ask themselves whether what they are being told is true. What are the intentions of the person who created this video? At the moment, they see everything in black and white and they are blind for shades of gray. Questioning what you see happening around you is essential, as it makes the world a more nuanced place.

Anouk van Butselaar is a teacher of Citizenship at the Koning Willem I College in Den Bosch, the Netherlands. This interview was originally published on getunderpressure.com.

For more on how to deal with fake news, propaganda and media literacy in the classroom, join EuroClio's thematic webinar series Fake & Real.

Three key takeaways from the 1st World Congress of School History Teachers in Moscow

EuroClio recently joined forces with the National Committee of Russian Historians in co-organising the 1st World Congress of School History Teachers. The Congress, which took place in Moscow 4-7 October, brought together more than 300 history teachers from around the world to discuss both thematic and methodological issues of history education. As co-organisers, EuroClio had the opportunity to bring a large delegation of both speakers and participants to Moscow.

Executive Director Steven Stegers interviewed on Russian TV

The Congress tackled a number of thematic issues, most notably Revolutions in World History, the role of textbooks in history teaching and how World War II is taught across countries. EuroClio’s Secretariat staff and several Board members were present as either participants or workshop hosts at all Congress sessions. Here are our three key takeaways from our stay in Moscow:

History teachers in Europe, Russia and the rest of the world all face similar challenges

Being a history teacher can be an incredibly rewarding profession. Teachers contribute to the personal development of young people, teaching them to think critically and how to respectfully disagree with one another. History teachers are also uniquely placed to provide students with the toolbox needed for recognising and resisting manipulation or “fake news”.  

Being a history teacher can also be challenging. During the World Congress it became clear to us that most of these challenges are widely shared across borders and educational systems. 

Teachers in most countries struggle with the sheer amount of content that they need to cover in their curriculum. With too many facts and too little time, it is difficult to teach students how to think rather than instructing them what to think. An overloaded curriculum also makes it difficult to focus on questions and topics that resonate with a teachers’ classroom, selecting questions and topics that tick the right boxes with their students. It is also challenging to keep up to date with the latest research, especially when there is so much content that needs to be covered. 

History teachers everywhere have also been faced with an additional challenge as they struggled to transition to teaching online during the pandemic. Online teaching, in some form at least, is likely to stay with us even beyond the current pandemic, but few teachers have been given specific training on teaching methodologies or the practical aspects of online teaching. 

Shared challenges also call for shared efforts and EuroClio’s team left Moscow with a renewed faith in cross-border collaboration with colleagues both in Russia and elsewhere. Our joint resolution with the National Committee of Russian Historians is hopefully a small step in the right direction.

World War II remains a difficult and sensitive subject

Panel on WWII

Several sessions of the World Congress in Moscow were dedicated to the Second World War - including by EuroClio Ambassador Emina Zivkovic who provided a personal reflection of how her own perception of the war and how to teach it has changed over time. A history teacher in Belgrade, she also pointed to the longer term repercussions of the memory of the war for the relations between peoples of the former Yugoslavia. 

Perhaps not entirely surprising, the history of World War II remains both a difficult and sensitive subject. We left Moscow with an impression that a prevailing view in Russia is that there are efforts elsewhere to intentionally downplay the role of the USSR in WWII. Delegates from Russia frequently emphasised that history must not be “rewritten” to remove or mitigate the contribution of the Soviets in the defeat of Nazi Germany. Speakers and participants from other former Soviet republics and more peripheral regions of Russia itself also called for a greater recognition of the contributions of their own republics or regions in the defeat of Nazi Germany. 

World War II is evidently of immense importance in Russia, as witnessed by choice of language (it is largely referred to as the “Great Patriotic War”) but also by recent legal measures adopted by the Russian Federation that criminalise the “defaming of War veterans”. The law was invoked in a question from a Russian teacher trainer present at the WWII roundtable (how can we investigate as historians when faced with the threat of legal repercussions?). The response from the chair of the panel, the editor-in-chief of the journal Historian, Vladimir Rudakov, was revealing: According to him "the history of WWII victory is akin to a 'civic religion', in need of regulation in order to prevent 'social explosions’ with unpredictable consequences” (see video recording).  

Linguistic - and cultural - challenges are there, but can be overcome!

One of the biggest challenges in organising a World Congress is language. The sessions at the Moscow Congress were all held in either English or Russian with simultaneous interpretation. Evidently, a lot of thought and planning had gone into making this run as smoothly as it did, but, as EuroClio’s bilingual staff members could attest to, things nevertheless got lost in translation on occasion. 

In addition to language, cultural differences must also be overcome. For instance, what constitutes an interactive or participatory workshop in one setting might be seen as static in another. 

We witnessed a great deal of openness and interest in innovative teaching methods, including place-based and project-based learning, along with open discussions with colleagues both from Russia and elsewhere. 

A number of already existing initiatives in which historians and history educators are working together across borders were presented during the Congress that can be used to seize this openness and interest: Textbook committees, the development of educational resources, creation of parallel histories, and source banks. These resources, which are often complementary to textbooks, can help to promote a more nuanced and complex image of the other and promote multiperspectivity in history education. 

These and other initiatives give us great hope for the future editions of the World Congress and we look forward to continuing working together with colleagues in Russia and elsewhere to facilitate international dialogue, exchange and cooperation among teachers, methodologists, textbook authors and other representatives of the history education community in the future. 

 

To watch recorded sessions of the 1st World Congress of School History Teachers, please visit the youtube channel of the Institute of World History.

Please also consult the Joint Resolution adopted by the National Committee of Russian Historians and EuroClio at the conclusion of the Congress.

In Memoriam of Roy Hellenberg: Towards inclusive classrooms in South Africa

Birgit Göbel Articles ,

The following article takes a look into the life and work of the South African educator, Roy Hellenberg. First of all Roy’s career and his personal connection to Apartheid are explored. The relevance of the past in education is next reflected upon, from the standpoint of Roy’s position as a history teacher. Lastly, informed by decades of experience, we take the time to acknowledge Roy’s takeaway solutions to teaching in post-conflict societies.

“How can I expect students to make themselves vulnerable and expose their ideas to criticism if I am not willing to do the same myself? How can I encourage my students to become active citizens and challenge the people and practices that undermine democracy, and then fail to take any action myself in the face of injustice?”

 

Roy Hellenberg and Apartheid

These are the words of the late South African educator, Roy Hellenberg, who sadly passed away towards the end of the summer. The questions posed above are not rhetorical nor merely reflections on society, but were huge motivations for Roys’s career. His values and work, however, cannot be viewed in a vacuum. To understand his approach to pedagogy, which focused on post-conflict environments as well as the role of the school in establishing democratic beginnings in society, it is important to understand that Roy grew up under apartheid, was educated under apartheid, and became a teacher during this time. 

As a result, his understanding of apartheid is not just because of his professional choices but his life experience--and he knew that he was not alone in that reality, that all South Africans were shaped by apartheid and carried apartheid's legacies. He also understood that he was shaped by his family, by dinner table conversations, by an emphasis on respect, on listening, on being informed and negotiating with others who might not be like you. He knew that his education was incomplete because he saw and heard the contradictions---this piece--the conversations, the respect, the engaging people outside the classroom and school--this is also critical.

Aside from being a teacher, he was heavily involved with developments in teaching methodologies. Since 2006, he has worked with the organisations Shikaya and Facing History and Ourselves to develop resources, design and run teacher training programs. In line with his teaching philosophy, these programs encourage the development of critical thinking in the classroom and stimulate democratic debate with the purpose of allowing young people to develop as compassionate, engaged, and active citizens. Additionally, Roy co-founded FutureProof Schools with Dylan Wray - an initiative that strives to ensure that education is offered to successive generations and will provide students with the critical skills needed in today’s society. One of the outcomes of this was a program entitled A School Where I Belong, that addressed exclusion and discrimination across South African schools. Together with Prof. Jonathan Jansen, they published a book with the same name. 

In many ways, Roy will be remembered as a trailblazer, one of the educators who supported the schooling system through this process of significant societal transformation. 

 

Relevance of the past

"The past defines us, ... So whether we study it or not, the reality is it affects us as a nation and it affects us as individuals as well. The advantage of studying it is it gives us an idea of what streams have impacted us and to what degree, and also, how it has unfolded in our community, in our society and the institutions that we are a part of. Until we understand where we come from, we don't really appreciate where we are. And we can't really define the pathway forward."

Roy was a firm advocate for history education. He believed that too often the focus is placed on the here and the now, that the past can become easily neglected. He understood that people inherit the legacies of the past and carry that “residue.” For that reason, it is important to compel young students and their adult teachers to gain a deeper knowledge and understanding of history. Particularly in countries of social unrest, or those experiencing societal transformations, a lot of attention is given to change, developments, and other progress but little thought is given to the very recent tumultuous history. However, how then can we aim to move forward after such times?

 

Solutions to teaching in post-conflict societies: Make it personal, recognise the challenges, the legacy

"One of the challenges is overcoming the baggage that we carry, ... Facing the Past, and participating in it as a teacher in that program, helped me to open the suitcase that I was carrying around, to take the articles out. I wish I could say that the suitcase is empty--that I've moved on from there--but it's not true. But at least I understand what's inside there and what's affecting me."

Roy’s approach to dealing with the legacy of societal inequalities and struggles is simple: the past cannot be ignored, nor swept under a carpet. On the contrary, persisting challenges and the legacies of past history need to be recognised, and only then can we begin to address them. In this way, Roy encourages teaching to be personal, not only for the students but also for the teacher who themselves need to grapple with the legacies they have inherited. The mutual willingness to face the past is what ultimately fosters a relationship of trust and a comfortable environment, where ideas can be freely discussed.. This philosophy sees the school as a ‘playground’ for the future, where it shapes citizens that are respectful of one another’s opinions and thereby encourages students to become active participants in society. 

“Teaching democratic values is not contained in a series of lessons; it is a lifestyle, an ethos that one creates.”

 

South African educator Roy Hellenberg passed away on 23 July 2021. 

Interested in the intersection of democracy and education? Please take a look at our webinar series: A Resilient Promise: Teaching the Fragility of Democracy

EuroClio launches an Instagram video challenge on Democracy

Adriana Fuertes Opportunities

EuroClio is hosting a youth video challenge on Instagram to collect voices from young people aged 14-20 about why democracy matters, running from September 15 to October 31, 2021.

The goal of the campaign is to activate a conversation among diverse youth in Europe on the importance of democracy, and to find out how to better present core concepts, values and competencies of democracy to youth today. 

TECHNICAL ASPECTS

  • Video length: 1 minute
  • Platform: Instagram
  •  It can be done individually or in groups of 3 people (teachers can also take part in the video)
  • For the use of images, please make sure that they are not copyrighted, and the same applies for the songs.
  • The video can be in horizontal format, or vertical in the case of reels.
  • The language of the video can be in any language, but it must contain English subtitles or captions (e.g. Clideo or Adobe Spark).

For the video, students are free to use their imagination and present in whichever way they want. For example, they can opt for an interview format, presentation or a voiceover. 

Some questions you may want to address:

  • What does democracy mean to you? 
  • Why democracy matters?
  • What do you think are the current challenges for democracy today?
  • What do you think are possible solutions to those challenges?
  • Why is democracy worth fighting for?

When uploading the video, remember to:

  • Say your name and / or your school
  • Add in the post #youthfordemocracy 
  • Tag @euroclio

Prize:

We will select between 1 and 5 winners. The winning video will be featured in our website and social media channels, and we are in contact with partners and museums for more promotion!

Still have any questions?

We’re here to help! Contact us at adriana@euroclio.eu 

Call to Action: In Europe Schools

Adriana Fuertes EUROCLIO ,

Following the success of last year in which we welcomed over 120 participating schools from all over Europe, we invite you to join the new round of In Europe Schools!

Head over to www.vprobroadcast.com/ineuropeschools and select your Education Kit of preference:

In an effort to constantly keep innovating and improving the program, and as a result of last years' feedback session, we are launching an Online Start of the Project and Inspiration Session with every new cycle (thus taking place in October and February). During these sessions, teachers across Europe partaking in the project will have the opportunity to meet each other (digitally), get acquainted with In Europe Schools, and share ideas or experiences.

Do you want to join, but only later this school year? That's no problem! You can already register via this form or send an email to eugenie@euroclio.eu to subscribe to the In Europe Schools Newsletter. 

Interested in our latest student-made documentaries? You can find them on the In Europe Schools  YouTube Channel.

For the Fall cycle, please make sure to register before November 1st, and we can match you with your partner school right away!

EuroClio is mentioned in the new report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education

Adriana Fuertes EUROCLIO , ,

The new report of the Special Rapporteur ​UN OHCHR on the cultural dimensions of the right to education or the right to education as a cultural right is now available, and EuroClio's input is mentioned six times in the document.

The UN Special Rapporteur, Dr. Koumbou Boly Barry, calls for the right to education to be viewed as a cultural right – that is, as the right of each person to the cultural resources necessary to freely follow a process of identification, to experience mutually rewarding relations, to deal with the crucial challenges facing our world and to engage in the practices that make it possible to take ownership of and contribute to these resources. This cultural dimensions of the right to education is crucial to ensure that the universal right to inclusive and quality education is realized, as called for in Sustainable Development Goal 4.

Some of the contributions that have been considered from EuroClio are that intercultural education is important to address issues of national minorities and indigenous communities, as well as migrants and refugees. However, the situation varies by country - sometimes with a very small curriculum - where existing multicultural realities are not covered.

Moreover, some submissions emphasized the importance of giving schools a degree of freedom when it came to defining their learning program, with standard requirements for each subject by compulsory common topics but without defining specific learning content, which allows schools to take into account the cultural diversity of its students appropriate to their specific context. However, in many cases, education systems remain highly centralized and local actors are deprived of the opportunity to develop curricula that take into account cultural diversity and the local situation. Nevertheless, there are countries where alternative historical narratives have developed as a result of national policies on minorities.

In any case, what is unique about this approach is its conception of educational life as a living relationship between actors (students, educators, organizations, and other associated actors) and collections of knowledge that form shared cultural resources, vectors of identity, values and meaning, without which action is impossible.

 

In Europe Schools – Building an Online Safe Space

An online meetup with your partner school is very exciting, but can also be a bit challenging or overwhelming for both you and your students. To ensure a safe and fruitful online learning environment, we have created Guidelines for an Online Safe Space. Before meeting up online with your partner school, read and discuss the document with your students. This way, we can create a virtual classroom, in which both teachers and students will feel safe to engage in conversations and discussion while feeling respected and valued at all times.