Not that funny

Ellis:

[Podhoretz]also barks:

As with Finlandization, Islamization extends to the domestic realm, too. In one recent illustration of this process, as reported in the British press, “schools in England are dropping the Holocaust from history lessons to avoid offending Muslim pupils . . . whose beliefs include Holocaust denial.” (ellipses in original)

Now when you use apostrophes like that you indicate that you are quoting something. And there’s a trifling scholarly convention that you indicate in a footnote what it is you are citing and where an interested reader can find it. But Podhoretz is above the petty restrictions of conventional scholarship. He cites in a vacuum. There are no footnotes. His dubious quotations float in a void. And this particular citation is patently bogus. It sounds like some feverish nonsense copied from a Melanie Philips column.

It does, rather – not least because of Podhoretz’s own editoralisation. “Schools in England are dropping the Holocaust from history lessons”, eh? OK, let’s say that a school in this town and another school down the road independently decide to scrub round the Holocaust in their History lessons, because the teachers get sick of mouthy kids chipping in – but Sir it didn’t actually happen like that did it Sir? Now, there are only so many lessons in the week and only so many topics you can teach; it’s not inconceivable that you could design a History curriculum that skipped the Holocaust, for convenience’s sake. I did History O Level, time back way back, and I don’t remember the Holocaust even being mentioned when we covered World War II. (There was a Holocaust denier in my class, as it happens, although he was a born-again Christian and there was just the one of him.)

Still, this would be a pretty depressing scenario. What it wouldn’t be, necessarily, is an illustration of a broader process, a symptom of the creeping tide of Islamization from which only the righteous vigilance of a Podhoretz can save us. For that to be the case, rather than simply opting for a quiet life, the schools would have to be following the agenda – or at least cutting with the cultural grain – of the local education authority, or central government, or the teaching unions, or the Labour Party, or the Guardian… or, well, somebody. If this is the tip of an iceberg, there has to be an iceberg.

So, where is Podhoretz getting his information from, and does it justify the spin he put on it? For a start, where did that phrase come from? I googled. The first thing I discovered was that it’s a phrase with legs: 24 hits for “schools in England are dropping the Holocaust” from a variety of sources, including an open letter to the government from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre (not pleased). Rephrase and google for “schools are dropping the Holocaust”, and bingo:

Schools are dropping the Holocaust from history lessons to avoid offending Muslim pupils, a Government-backed study has revealed. It found some teachers are reluctant to cover the atrocity for fear of upsetting students whose beliefs include Holocaust denial.

There is also resistance to tackling the 11th century Crusades – where Christians fought Muslim armies for control of Jerusalem – because lessons often contradict what is taught in local mosques. The findings have prompted claims that some schools are using history ‘as a vehicle for promoting political correctness’.

Yes, it’s our old friend the Daily Hate-Mail, putting its own spin on a “Government-backed study”. More on that in a moment. In passing, it’s worth noting that the Hate‘s story even misrepresents itself; there are no claims that some schools are using history ‘as a vehicle for promoting political correctness’. Here’s the quoted phrase in context, from further down the same page:

Chris McGovern, history education adviser to the former Tory government, said: “History is not a vehicle for promoting political correctness. Children must have access to knowledge of these controversial subjects, whether palatable or unpalatable.”

McGovern must have seemed like a soft touch for a why-oh-why anti-multiculti quote – he’s the director of “the traditionalist History Curriculum Association” and complained recently that kids these days aren’t taught about the positive consequences of imperial rule. But what he actually said doesn’t include any claims about what ‘some schools’ are doing. In fact it’s rather embarrassingly adrift from the story, which is about Holocaust denial rather than political correctness. The Hate‘s distortion of McGovern’s words turns them into a thin, tendentious link between the two, insinuating that accommodating pupils with denialist views is political correctness – and, in the process, suggesting that these Holocaust-avoiding schools are acting with the approval of the local education authority (or central government, or the teaching unions, or the Labour Party, or the Guardian, or, well, somebody).

So, what does it actually say in this “Government-backed study”? See for yourself: Teaching Emotive and Controversial History 3-19 can be downloaded from this page. And Ellis’s instincts were right: the report doesn’t associate Holocaust denial with ‘political correctness’ and it certainly doesn’t approve of it. The line of the report is very much that schoolkids should have access to “knowledge of these controversial subjects, whether palatable or unpalatable”. Nor, in actual fact, does it say “schools are dropping the Holocaust from history lessons”; for that matter, it doesn’t say that there is generalised resistance to teaching the Crusades in ways that often contradict what is taught in local mosques. Here’s what it says, in a section headed Constraints to the teaching of emotive and controversial history, sub-heading “Teacher avoidance of emotive and controversial history”:

Teachers and schools avoid emotive and controversial history for a variety of reasons, some of which are well-intentioned. Some feel that certain issues are inappropriate for particular age groups or decide in advance that pupils lack the maturity to grasp them. Where teachers lack confidence in their subject knowledge or subject-specific pedagogy, this can also be a reason for avoiding certain content. Staff may wish to avoid causing offence or appearing insensitive to individuals or groups in their classes. In particular settings, teachers of history are unwilling to challenge highly contentious or charged versions of history in which pupils are steeped at home, in their community or in a place of worship. Some teachers also feel that the issues are best avoided in history, believing them to be taught elsewhere in the curriculum such as in citizenship or religious education.

For example, a history department in a northern city recently avoided selecting the Holocaust as a topic for GCSE coursework for fear of confronting anti-Semitic sentiment and Holocaust denial among some Muslim pupils. In another department, teachers were strongly challenged by some Christian parents for their treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the history of the state of Israel that did not accord with the teachings of their denomination. In another history department, the Holocaust was taught despite anti-Semitic sentiment among some pupils, but the same department deliberately avoided teaching the Crusades at Key Stage 3 because their balanced treatment of the topic would have directly challenged what was taught in some local mosques.

Where teachers model the processes of critical enquiry that characterise the adult discipline of the subject, history teaching may well clash with a narrow and highly partisan version of family or communal history in which some pupils have been reared.

One History department avoided selecting the Holocaust. Another department (singular) did teach the Holocaust but avoided teaching the Crusades. And a Government-backed study held up the pair of them as an example to avoid, encouraged other schools to do better, and offered twenty pages of recommendations and examples of best practice to help them. In short, there’s no sign here of creeping Islamization, and no evidence of a ‘politically-correct’ campaign to avoid offending Muslims even at the expense of historical truth. There is, apparently, a small minority of kids out there who are being brought up Holocaust deniers, which is disturbing. But it sounds as if most schools are dealing with that minority appropriately – and a Government-backed study has encouraged those which aren’t doing so to get their act together.

In 1943, commenting on the Tory press’s new-found fondness for anti-Nazi atrocity stories, George Orwell reminded us that some things are true even if the Daily Telegraph says they are. I don’t think he was ever that generous to the Mail.

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9 Comments

  1. Posted 27 May 2007 at 13:07 | Permalink | Reply

    :-O Gawd!

    I had linked to that “no crusades or holocaust in schools” Mail article when it came out to show how ridiculous it sounds.

    1) I think that teaching that the Holocaust happened is compulsory on the Religious Studies curriculum (itself a compulsory subject at that stage). I certainly never got taught about it in History, anyway.

    2) The Daily Hate-Mail has also published a few articles criticising the amount which history is ‘sexed-up’ by focussing on Hitler and Stalin, and one which criticised the history curriculum for focussing on Europe to the detriment of domestic history. It’s just populist hypocrisy to turn around now and complain that the Crusades and Holocaust are not being taught often enough.

    Grr!

  2. Phil
    Posted 27 May 2007 at 16:53 | Permalink | Reply

    By way of a footnote: I don’t think Orwell ever actually said “some things are true even if the Daily Telegraph says they are” (or “…even if they are printed in the Daily Telegraph“). The essay linked in the post, Looking back on the Spanish war, looks like being the source of the misquote. The actual words are:

    The truth, it is felt, becomes untruth when your enemy utters it. Recently I noticed that the very people who swallowed any and every horror story about the Japanese in Nanking in 1937 refused to believe exactly the same stories about Hong Kong in 1942. There was even a tendency to feel that the Nanking atrocities had become, as it were, retrospectively untrue because the British Government now drew attention to them.
    But unfortunately the truth about atrocities is far worse than that they are lied about and made into propaganda. The truth is that they happen. The fact often adduced as a reason for scepticism – that the same horror stories come up in war after war – merely makes it rather more likely that these stories are true. Evidently they are widespread fantasies, and war provides an opportunity of putting them into practice. Also, although it has ceased to be fashionable to say so, there is little question that what one may roughly call the ‘whites’ commit far more and worse atrocities than the ‘reds’. There is not the slightest doubt, for instance, about the behaviour of the Japanese in China. Nor is there much doubt about the long tale of Fascist outrages during the last ten years in Europe. The volume of testimony is enormous, and a respectable proportion of it comes from the German press and radio. These things really happened, that is the thing to keep one’s eye on. They happened even though Lord Halifax said they happened. The raping and butchering in Chinese cities, the tortures in the cellars of the Gestapo, the elderly Jewish professors flung into cesspools, the machine-gunning of refugees along the Spanish roads – they all happened, and they did not happen any the less because the Daily Telegraph has suddenly found out about them when it is five years too late.

  3. Posted 27 May 2007 at 19:05 | Permalink | Reply

    Now that would be interesting – I’ve been using that quote for years! Is it really such a misquote as that?

    Not all Orwell’s writings are online and I suppose it’s possible it may come from one of his letters. Either way it would do the world of letters some service if it could be definitively established whether or not the quotation is incorrect.

    Incidentally I prefer the designation “Daily Vile”.

  4. Phil
    Posted 27 May 2007 at 19:41 | Permalink | Reply

    ejh – what I did was trawl the indexes of the four volumes of the Penguin Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters for references to the Telegraph (and references to the Mail, just in case he had ever said anything nice about it). The Spanish War quote was the closest thing to the famous line that came up. It’s not conclusive – a lot of Orwell’s journalism didn’t make it into the CEJL, and I haven’t looked at Homage to Catalonia – but it is suggestive.

  5. Posted 28 May 2007 at 09:27 | Permalink | Reply

    Yes, the Halifax line might very well be the origin, mightn’t it? It’d be interesting to know when the misquote (if misquote it be) first appeared. (Of course now that there are databanks of famous quotations all over the net, all copying each other’s material, misquotations are all over the shop. I’ve noticed innocent misquotations from Shakespeare on both Hitchens Watch and Between The Hammer And The Anvil in the last few weeks.)

    Funnily enough I’ve been trying to get hold of DJ Taylor for a couple of weeks. If I actually succeed, which would require somebody at Chatto and Windus to undertake a simple task and may therefore be too much to ask, perhaps I’ll draw it to his attention.

  6. Posted 28 May 2007 at 19:38 | Permalink | Reply

    It is also worth noting that at leats one of the examples quoted byu the report was anti-semitism by a Christian sect. Certainly some holocaust deniers are Christians, and so even if a school misguidedly dropped this subject it would not be evidence of ismlamisation. Nor is the age group of the children mentionsed, perhaps the school decided that given teir age and immaturity it would be better to confront their anti-semitoic prejudice when they were a bit older.

  7. danhardie
    Posted 29 May 2007 at 14:07 | Permalink | Reply

    Phil, the National Curriculum does actually specify that the Second World War must be taught to Years 8 and 9 (ie the last two years before they get the chance to drop History when they make their GCSE choices) and it specifies that the Holocaust and the use of atomic weapons against Japan must be taught; the only two historical events which are specified. Now I think this is open to all sorts of objections (why the American bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but not the RAF’s bombing of Dresden, or the Luftwaffe’s bombing of many other targets? Why the massacre of the Jews but not of other Nazi hate groups? Why not the Bengal famine? Why not let teachers make their own minds up what to teach?- and so on). But as things stand, teachers don’t actually have the legal option of not teaching the Holocaust to those year groups.

    I’d also say that I’ve never heard of teachers having any problem with Holocaust denial- even kids who mucked around the whole time don’t think joking about this was funny. If there is a serious problem in the classroom with Holocaust denial- and that’s a big if, since my regard for Podhoretz’s honesty is as high as your own- then something very nasty has happened. Either racist BNP-style ideas have become fashionable with some ‘white’ kids, or holocaust denial is big among some Muslim children, or both. But I wouldn’t say that either is occurring until I’ve been told by teachers that this is indeed happening, or until I’ve read a well-researched piece of journalism quoting teachers by name to that effect. I have to say that I have heard some pretty vile anti-Semitic stuff from Muslim acquaintances and even friends of mine, but I’ve also heard non-Muslims come up with the ‘pawn of the Jews’ bit about the Bush administration.

  8. Posted 29 May 2007 at 14:20 | Permalink | Reply

    Dan – thanks for the reminder about the National Curriculum. But I think you’ve misread the post slightly. The point isn’t that Podhoretz (or the Mail) actually made up the bit about a school not teaching the Holocaust; when I did some digging I found there was actually a quote from a DFES-funded History Association report at the back of it all (viz. a history department in a northern city recently avoided selecting the Holocaust as a topic for GCSE coursework for fear of confronting anti-Semitic sentiment and Holocaust denial among some Muslim pupils).

    But, now I look at it, that quote itself may not say what the Mail (and Podders) think it does – particularly if the Holocaust is a mandatory topic below GCSE level. It could be that the school avoided selecting the Holocaust as a topic for GCSE coursework, although the topic had been taught in the previous two years. It could even be that the school avoided selecting the Holocaust as a topic for GCSE coursework – i.e. separately-assessed extended project work – even though it was part of the GCSE syllabus. The point, obviously, being that no pupil attending that school would actually not be taught about the Holocaust, contra the Mail.

    Curiouser and curiouser. I feel an inquiry to the History Association coming on…

  9. danhardie
    Posted 29 May 2007 at 14:53 | Permalink | Reply

    Yes, Phil, I agree with everything you say in yr comment: that’s the point I was trying to make, and clearly didn’t make clearly enough.

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