How can History Education Help with Dealing with a Difficult Past? – Part I

This is the first part of a blog post about a study visit to Cape Town, South Africa. It is the second article in a series of reports and blog posts on Dealing with the Past in History Education. A report of the visit to South Africa, written by Khaled El Masri, is available here. For more information about the project, visit the project page: Dealing with the Past in History Education.

It is after 9 PM, and I have just arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, for the first time. I am met at the airport by a driver that was arranged by my hotel, Frank Mountanda, a smiling, lively, funny, man who also happens to be an immigrant from Congo. As he took my luggage and was putting it in the trunk of the car, I walked up to get into the car, and he started to laugh and said, “You are welcome to drive it you want.” Without thinking I had walked up to the driver’s side of the car, which is on the opposite side of where it is in the United States. I had just done what was normal for me to do, proving that we humans definitely are creatures of habit.

The word "habit" is an interesting word. Its meaning is simple enough: it is something you regularly do that is often times hard to give up or change. It is needing to brush one’s teeth every morning before work, biting one’s finger nails, smoking cigarettes, or benignly walking to the wrong side of the car. Habits are not inherently bad; many are good, but they are most certainly difficult to change. We get used to doing a thing, and it becomes common practice. It is just what we do.

What if you grow up in a society where the social norms dictate that you separate yourself from people who look different than you, perhaps a place where white people don't use the same public buses or bathrooms as black or colored (mixed-race) people? It is just normal life. How does a society go from changing the mindset of its people so that one group is not superior to all other groups? This has been the challenge of South Africa since ending apartheid— institutionalized racial segregation laws and practices— in the early 1990’s.

While I was visiting the South African Jewish Museum, I talked to Roz Von Zaiklitz, one of the museum’s tour guides and experts, as she reminisced about a story when she first came to South Africa from nearby Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). While standing in front of a sign on the wall entitled "Facing Reality," she tells the story of when she was a young student, barely 18, waiting for the first time for the bus in Cape Town. When the bus stopped in front of her, she did what she always did back home, she started to board it. However, the driver stopped her and said, "Sorry but my job is more important to me than letting you get on this bus." Roz was confused by the driver’s reaction, because all she wanted was to ride the bus to the university. She then saw the driver point to a sign. It said in Afrikaans, "SLEGS NIE-BLANKES," or in English "Non-Whites Only." Roz was trying to board a bus for non-whites, and this was against the law in apartheid South Africa. This was her welcome to South Africa’s reality.

Years after trying to board that bus, in 2000, Roz was standing in line with other museum employees at the opening of the South Africa Jewish Museum. They were in line to welcome their guest of honor, Nelson Mandela, as he was there to officially open the museum. Roz recalls how excited everyone was to meet the great Madiba, the name South Africans use for Nelson Mandela. She said, "We were all crying and smiling" to meet this "larger than life hero" of South Africa.

This brings me to the purpose of the trip to South Africa, which was to interview several South Africans in order to gain some understanding of the important role education plays, particularly history education, in helping the people of South Africa, young and old, deal with the difficult past of living in a post-apartheid South Africa. Joining me on this task was Khaled El Masri, a history educator from Lebanon. Our job was to pose the question, "How can history education help with dealing with a difficult past?"

Our first stop was the IJR, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, where we had the pleasure of working with and interviewing Cecyl Esau, Senior Project Leader for Building Inclusive Societies, and Lucretia Arendse, Project Leader for Education for Reconciliation.  Both of them work in IJR's Sustained Dialogue Programme. Essentially, their jobs are to put into practice the essence of our proposed question. Their work / projects revolve around dealing with South Africa’s difficult past and how to bridge the divide that apartheid created between people of different races.

"Make way for the uncle."

In our first conversation with Cecyl Esau, he relayed a recent story of himself visiting the market. Telling his story, he started by clarifying what he meant when he said "Black South Africans." He stated, "When I say black people in general, I mean black Africans, and coloreds, and Indians." He said in the past "we (meaning Black South Africans) were not spoken of with familiar terms."

I wasn't quite sure what he meant when he said "familiar terms," but as he continued with his story it made perfect sense. While walking through the grocery store he recalls a white mother telling her white daughter to "make way for the uncle." The term "uncle" is used as a respectful term for older South Africans. In the past a white person would almost never have referred to a black person as "uncle." It would have been, in Cecyl's thoughts, too "familiar."

It is not just young white mothers with children changing attitudes toward blacks. According to Cecyl, older whites will now make "small talk," whereas in the past they would be more likely to ignore the black person standing or sitting next to them. Cecyl ends his story saying, "There is some movement when it comes to making overtures to other people, unlike under apartheid."

These are just a few small indications of the positive strides made in South Africa in the past twenty years, but the work Cecyl, Lucretia Arendse, and all the others at IJR do on a daily basis helps to ensure that these small, positive stories translates to a more "fair, democratic, and inclusive" society, as their vision statement states.

Woundedness

One part of Lucretia Arendse’s work deals with creating curriculum for teachers to use in order for them to have these difficult conversations with their students about the apartheid past. The purpose of such lessons is the hope that it will help with achieving the IJR’s mission of promoting reconciliation and applying "human-centered approaches to socio-economic justice."

Teachers need to ask themselves: "What wounds are you carrying that make it difficult for you to be accepting to the other?"

While presenting to teachers, Lucretia and others from IJR became aware that the teachers themselves found teaching lessons about apartheid and reconciliation to be difficult and emotionally challenging. Since most of the teachers grew up in an apartheid South Africa and knew first-hand the cruelty and injustice apartheid inflicted, many of them simply did not have the ability to teach to their students what was meant to seek reconciliation.

Lucretia Arendse of the IJR (Michael Robinson).

Lucretia recalls what teachers would tell her, "We can't give what we do not have."

Lucretia then posed the question, "What wounds are you (the teacher) carrying that make it difficult for you to be accepting to the other?" In order to teach reconciliation, teachers had to face their own "woundedness." Teachers would need more specific training on how to go about dealing with the difficult issues they would face in their classrooms. They needed to practice scenarios that they would face and possible solutions they could enact.

Walking with anger

It is not just teaching teachers in order for them to teach their students. The reality in South Africa is that the student’s parents have the same difficulties and challenges that the teachers face in dealing with their own wounds attributed to the apartheid past. As Lucretia Arendse stated:

There is that inter generational trauma that is passed from parent to child and you wonder why children are prejudiced? How do you, as a school, get your parents on board to come along side you…you are teaching one thing in the classroom and they go home and parents are teaching them another thing.

Create an awareness.. you need to get your parents involved.

Creating a school culture where parents are an integral part of the learning process is not as easy as creating curriculum for teachers. It will require structural changes in school districts and schools to find ways to best meet the needs of their diverse student populations. It will require school leaders and community leaders to work together to find ways to bring all stakeholders together in ways that will help all involved deal with their difficult past so that the future will be one of corporation, mutual respect, and peace.

Lucretia Arendse answered our question on the importance of history education this way:

We have to understand where we come from in order not to go back there. If you are walking with anger or you are walking with shame as a white person then how does that transfer to children. This has to be taught in all subjects. We want learners to understand what was the past, an inclusive perspective of the past.

The past in South Africa just cannot be forgotten or ignored. It is the past that impacts their present and continues to frame their future. For South Africa to reach the reconciliation, hopes, and dreams of the rainbow nation it must be with confronting the difficult history of the past with tough courageous conversations in the schools, in the homes, and in the communities.

This is the first part of a blog post about a study visit to Cape Town, South Africa. It is the second article in a series of reports and blog posts on Dealing with the Past in History Education. A report of the visit to South Africa, written by Khaled El Masri, is available here.

Dealing with the Past in History Education: A Study Visit to Cape Town, South Africa

This report of a study visit to Cape Town, South Africa, is the first in a series of reports and blog posts on Dealing with the Past in History Education. An in-depth discussion of the visit to South Africa, written by Michael Robinson, is available hereFor more information about the project, visit the project page: Dealing with the Past in History Education.

On March 1st, 2017, Michael Robinson and I arrived at one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Cape Town, South Africa. This visit was meant to start our study about peace making in one of the model countries, “Dealing with the Past in History Education”.

My first day wasn’t very fruitful. Our contact, Mr. Cecyl Esau, and I were shocked because our first interview was canceled by a voice note after we had waited two and a half hours for the representative of Robben Island to attend the meeting, which was prescheduled by Mr. Cecyl. This limited the study visit to one interview, and we missed important information about how Robben Island was transformed from a prison to a peace figure.

On our second day, March 2nd, my colleague Michael and I conducted our first interview with Mr. Ceycl, Senior Project Leader for Building Inclusive Societies at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR). We had a beautiful and detailed introduction from him about South African history and the huge shift from the apartheid to democracy. He talked about the efforts given to ensure that these changes were made. One of the most beautiful examples of Mr. Cecyl’s interview is detailed in Michael’s blog report, which talks about a lady who told her daughter to make way for the uncle.

After this interview Michael and I went to the South Africa Jewish Museum and Holocaust Center. The museum is located just across the street of IJR. We took a small tour, trying to find something that could have been related to our visit. For me it was my first time ever being this close to the holocaust tragedies. After our self-guided tour, we met Roz von Zaiklitz, a guide from the museum, and she shared with us her story in South Africa, which can be found in Michael’s blog report. It is a very interesting to read.

When our break was over we went back to IJR to meet with Lucretia Arendse for a half hour. It was a very good interview; Michael wrote about it in his blog report. Lucretia is the project leader for education and reconciliation to promote peace education in South Africa. Her team develops history resources about the transition of South Africa from apartheid to democracy. Their work started by looking through the history curriculum and trying to find out what was really working in the history classrooms and what acts of discrimination were happening. They also examined how they were dealing with what was happening in the classrooms, and if the teachers had special methodologies of their own to deal with discrimination. After starting this project with the cooperation of UNESCO, they were triggered by the following question: As a teacher, when he/she steps into the classroom, how will he/she teach while having to deal with his/her own wounds?  This raised another difficulty, so they decided to create a workshop to train teachers on how to deal with these wounds in the classroom. Lucretia thinks that people who are working are doing an excellent job, but still, when they look in social media they find out that they have more work to be done.

In the Afternoon of the same day we met with Mr. Dylan Wray, the executive director of Shikaya. Dylan introduced himself as a former history teacher, who then quit teaching to start writing history curriculum and training history teachers on delivering it in ways that allow children to leave schools as active, democratic, and caring citizens.

He also clarified the aims of the project, which are meant to allow teachers to teach about the apartheid to those who lived the apartheid. In spite of his efforts, he mentioned that there are some difficulties and challenges facing his project. One of these difficulties is that in some schools, teachers are assigned to history teaching. This makes training the teachers in some ways difficult, since they are forced to teach the subject. Another challenge facing him is that students drop out of schools in large numbers, and Dylan thinks it is hard to reach them to ensure they’ll become active and compassionate citizens. Feel free to read the nice passage Michael wrote in his blog report on this topic, especially the part which talks about “classes of hope”.

When the meeting with Dylan was over, Michael and I headed back to our room where we made a deep reflection on our day, and we both agreed that we had good interviews including the unscheduled one to the Jewish museum. We thought we had a good idea about the efforts the NGOs are trying to put into dealing with the difficult past or into the development of history teachers and resources.

After our reflection, it was the time to discover the natural beauty of Cape Town so we visited one of nature’s wonders, Table Mountain. I think anyone would regret visiting South Africa without going to this beautiful site. There one can discover the beauty of the place and the peace it gives to the soul.

3rd of March, 2017, was a new day with a different schedule. It was the time for the team to visit a school. Our major goal was to get interviews from history teachers and then students. We wanted to discover what is taught in history classes, and how history teachers are helping to face the difficult past. These interviews will give us clear ideas and answers from people who are directly concerned with history education.

We were close to not being able to conduct the visit, especially after the delay of the official approve to our school visit request. But luckily Mr. Cecyl received the permission to visit one of Cape Town’s high schools, Kensington High School. It was around 20 minutes’ drive to the school, and were sad to know that we couldn’t stay more than an hour and forty-five minutes in total. This time frame was very challenging for us to get good interviews from students and teachers, before we were scheduled to do the other visit of the day to Robbin Island.

Getting back to the Kensington High School visit: I had this feeling that the school’s principle and history teacher didn’t have any idea why we were visiting the school. They thought we want to monitor a history classroom and get ideas about the teaching methods and strategies used for history teaching in South Africa.

So after spending some time viewing the lesson; which gave us some ideas about the history teaching there, we asked the teacher if it would be possible to interview some of the students and then himself. He agreed to our request, and three of his students volunteered for the interviews. A fourth student, Paola, asked us if she could join in, and she got our permission.

First we asked the students why learning history was important to them from their own perspective. They thought that learning history would teach them about their past, where they came from, and how they become who they are.

Then we asked the students what the word “apartheid” meant to them, and they replied that some of the people were still segregating others by their color. They thought that all people are equal and it isn’t fair to judge others because of their color.

We asked them about history education and if it is helping to overcome this racism and segregation. Paolo, one of the interviewed students answered that it actually did help, qualifying his answer by saying that the help is mostly directed to the students’ generation more than their parent’s generation, because the students are going to schools and interacting with others.

After that we started interviewing Mr. Shaun Rossou, the only history teacher at the school. He shared his feelings and memories from when the apartheid was over. He still remembers when Nelson Mandela was declaring the beginning of the new era for South Africa. He also talked about teaching of the apartheid in the history curriculum.

Students learn about the apartheid in different grade levels, but most of them work on projects about the apartheid as grade nine students. They have to work with their parents or close friends who lived during the apartheid and get their perspectives about one of the apartheid’s laws. And due to the fact that parents are becoming those who didn’t live during the most “brutal” part of the apartheid laws, as he described it, students now are working with their grandparents or other elders who lived during that era. Some of them came back with their grandparents pass book or “Dom Pass” as they called it during the apartheid. The “Dom pass” was to be carried by all non-whites, and the non-white individual with no pass would get into trouble.

This was our last interview at the school. We wished we could be there longer, but it was time to visit Robben Island.

Standing in a long line to take the boat to Robben Island, Michael and I were excited to get there and witness the history of this memorable island. The whole trip took us less than five hours, but to be honest it was worth it.

On the island there were buses waiting to pick up the tourists to start a guided tour showing them the different sites such as prisons, churches, schools, and the high commissioner residency.  For me the most emotional site was the prison, through which I went on foot. A former prisoner narrated his story of his time on the island. He shared stories of the prisoners and himself and how they were treated in savage ways. He also told stories of how the jailers tried hard to separate them from Nelson Mandela by cheating the system. In spite of all of this, when everything was over and a new system was born, the prisoners had to forgive those who treated them badly and had to live with their oppressors to build a new era for South Africa. This shows how big their hearts were, and the honest efforts they were making.

On the way back we stopped for some lunch at the sea line, and then we got to the hotel to evaluate our day. We came to the conclusion that the Robben Island trip was an excellent one, though it would have been better if we could have met some of the former prisoners in person, or if we had had a personal guide to share with us the success story of this island being turned into a peace model. Regarding the school visit, we both agreed that it would be better to visit more than one school from different sectors or towns as well. We thought that perhaps these visits would provide us with different narrations from different perspectives. At the end of this day, the best lesson I witnessed was that of the brave forgiving heart. It was the time to get ready for our next day visit.

District Six was our last destination on that study visit to South Africa. We met with Ms. Mandy Sanger, the museum’s Education Manager, who introduced Michael and I to the museum’s brief history of the district and its peaceful message, which Michael included in his blog report. Mandy shared with us how people were forced to leave their homes and their properties. Beautiful pictures are hung on the museum walls showing real sites from the old district before it was declared a white area. Mandy thought that the most important purpose of the museum was to educate people, and mainly students, about what the apartheid was so they’ll never go back to it. The museum continues to provide workshops, discussions, conversations, and other methods for delivering or sharing stories about the apartheid with museum visitors.

We also met Mr. Joe Schaffers, one of the museum educators. Joe was born in Bloemhof Flats, District Six. He lived for 28 years in the district before being moved out of it because he “didn’t qualify to live there anymore” as he said. He gave us a brief testimony for what he witnessed at that time, concerning himself and his neighbors.

After this visit was over we headed to the hotel where Michael was traveling from that day and I was staying for the next day.

This report of a study visit to Cape Town, South Africa, is the first in a series of reports and blog posts on Dealing with the Past in History Education. An in-depth discussion of the visit to South Africa, written by Michael Robinson, is available here.

A Multiperspective Understanding of the Past: The Elephant in the Room of Diverse Societies?

Dealing with sensitive histories through intercultural dialogue

Dutch society is diverse, and Dutch citizens express in everyday life their multiple identities and perspectives. However, Dutch society has also seen plenty of controversy when a one-sided view on history and heritage has inflamed public debate. We need to get to the root causes of this kind of conflict, radicalisation and polarisation. Could people's interpretations of the past be one of these root causes?

Whereas every society has its own peculiar struggle with 'dealing with the past', there is an emerging understanding of common challenges.

On the 14th of July, the symposium "The Past: The Elephant in the Room of Diverse Societies?" will bring together views and experiences of civil society activists, including educators, cultural workers, and engaged citizens, from The Netherlands, as well as Bosnia-Herzegovina, India, Lebanon and Ukraine.

What can you expect?

We will start the day with a critical look at Dutch society from the perspective of an outsider and an insider, introducing relevant debates surrounding the Golden Coach and Black Pete controversies. Dr. Timothy Ryback, contributor to The New Yorker and director of the Institute of Historical Justice and Reconciliation, will share his view on the ethics of facing historical legacies of the past. In particular, the discussion will address difficult issues of identity, belonging, and polarisation. It is clear from the public debate in The Netherlands that radically opposing views on these matters challenge social cohesion.

Global perspectives, including those from Colombia, Croatia and South Africa, will be introduced by leading history educators who have traveled across the world to share their experiences and gain new insights. Their personal and professional journeys demonstrate the difficult nature of dealing with the past in divided, post-conflict societies. Often the recent, violent past has directly and immediately impacted their lives. How have they transformed their experiences into a catalyst for positive change?

The afternoon will explore in practical terms how civil society initiatives are finding ways to address sensitive histories for a range of societal purposes, including reconciliation, intercultural dialogue and social cohesion.

We hope to meet you during our symposium and to learn from one another, in the Netherlands and across the world, whether we are frank enough about the elephant in the room.

The symposium is organised by EuroClio - Inspiring History and Citizenship Educators, the Anna Lindh Foundation Netherlands Network and the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation, and the event is made possible by the generosity of the Robert Bosch Foundation and Konferentie Nederlandse Religieuzen.

Details

Date: Friday, 14 July 2017 @ 09.30
Location: Mandeville building Erasmus University
Thomas Morelaan, 3062 PA Rotterdam

There is no fee for this symposium. A lunch will be provided.

Programme

09.30 Welcome

10.00 Panel discussion: “Sensitive history in the Netherlands”

11.45 Panel discussion: “Dealing with the past: a global perspective”

13.00 Lunch

14.00 First round of workshops

15.30 Second round of workshops

16.45 Conclusions, reflections and closing remarks

17.30 Drinks

Programme - Symposium 14 July 2017

Applications open for Robert Bosch Stiftung Berlin Seminar

EuroClio Partners

An international Seminar in Berlin on Truth, Justice and Remembrance

From November 26 – December 8, 2016 the Robert Bosch Stiftung is organising an International Seminar about Truth, Justice and Remembrance in Berlin. The two-week seminar brings together 25 actors from (post-) conflict societies from all over the world, all of whom work on remembrance, the politics of memory and documentation and truth-finding during and in the aftermath of conflicts. The program facilitates cross-regional learning about dealing with the past in different societal contexts.

During the Seminar participants will have the opportunity to learn more about Dealing with the past in Germany with a focus on the Nazi regime and the communist regime in the GDR as well as the ensuing public discourses, to exchange best practices with participants from other post-conflict societies, to work intensely on the challenges they face in their own work, organizations and societies through professional facilitation as well as through peer consultation and to strengthen their leadership skills and to develop strategies for self-management and self-care.

The program includes visits to different sites of memory and meetings with representatives from politics, civil society and media, witnesses and experts as well as advanced application workshops with selected German institutions and individuals. The program will furthermore include sessions on leadership development and systemic analysis, and offers space to discuss and reflect on the learnings in an international group from different (post-)conflict societies.

There are some criteria to keep in mind when applying for the Seminar:

  • The program is targeted at mid-career and senior staff working for civil society organizations, government bodies and media institutions with relevant work experience in the field of dealing with the past. Practitioners, activists and experts from (post-) conflict societies directly involved in peace processes are especially encouraged to apply.
  • Have very good English skills in order to participate in group discussions and to write a short reflection paper.
  • Be open to a comparative and participatory learning experience: Participants are expected to actively engage with participants from other countries, to consult to each other on challenges they face in their home contexts, and to share reflections and lessons learned within the group.
Interested to apply? Deadline for applications is August 15, 2016.
For more information please write an email to Ms. Patricia Degueldre.

 

Kick-Off Meeting – Dealing with the Past in History Education

EuroClio will kick-off a new project within the context of the upcoming conference “Teaching for Peace: History in Perspective” held in The Netherlands coming July. The project, funded by the Robert Bosch Foundation gathers 8 civil society actors that have a mission and relevant experience in the promotion of innovative and responsible history education and work on a cross-regional level on Dealing with the Past in History Education. During the meetings, which will be held over the course of three days, the core team will agree on an action plan for study visits, and develop a common strategy for the documentation of strategies. Besides that, the core team will participate in parts of the “Teaching for Peace” conference.

Dealing with the Past in History Education

The objective of the project is to create, empower and increase the impact of a global core team of civil society actors who work on dealing with the legacy of a violent past. By doing so, the networks of the core team members will be expanded. The project will result in a knowledge base consisting of teaching resources, multi-lateral textbooks, relevant stakeholders, policies and recommendations, journals, (action) research and strategies that are not yet sufficiently disseminated. In addition, core team members and the organizations hosting the study visits will engage in joint advocacy to inter-governmental organisations and targeted media on regional and global levels, raising awareness among policy makers and civil society actors on the importance of responsible history education on dealing with the past for sustainable peace.

https://euroclio.eu/projects/dealing-with-the-past-in-history-education

“Dealing with the Past in History Education” Will Kick-Off in The Hague

Jaco Stoop Project Updates

EuroClio will kick-off a new project within the context of the upcoming conference “Teaching for Peace: History in Perspective” held in The Netherlands coming July. The project, funded by the Robert Bosch Foundation gathers 8 civil society actors that have a mission and relevant experience in the promotion of innovative and responsible history education and work on a cross-regional level on Dealing with the Past in History Education. During the meetings, which will be held over the course of three days, the core team will agree on an action plan for study visits, and develop a common strategy for the documentation of strategies. Besides that, the core team will participate in parts of the “Teaching for Peace” conference.

Dealing with the Past in History Education

The objective of the project is to create, empower and increase the impact of a global core team of civil society actors who work on dealing with the legacy of a violent past. By doing so, the networks of the core team members will be expanded. The project will result in a knowledge base consisting of teaching resources, multi-lateral textbooks, relevant stakeholders, policies and recommendations, journals, (action) research and strategies that are not yet sufficiently disseminated. In addition, core team members and the organizations hosting the study visits will engage in joint advocacy to inter-governmental organisations and targeted media on regional and global levels, raising awareness among policy makers and civil society actors on the importance of responsible history education on dealing with the past for sustainable peace.

2016 International Conference on History Education for Peace in East Asia and Europe

 

Regional Participation of History Educators in Ohrid Conference Boosted

Thanks to the generous and kind involvement of the Robert Bosch Stiftung, the Kingdom of Norway Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Open Society Foundations Education Support Programme, the Georg Eckert Institute and the OSCE Mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina, History Educators from across South East Europe are able to fully participate at the EuroClio Annual Conference 2014 in Ohrid, Republic of Macedonia entitled “History Education beyond Borders. How can we share our cultural heritage?”. EuroClio would like to thank these institutions for promoting the value of capacity building and peer learning among History Educators.