History is a unique and powerful tool to help set current challenges in context and at a time when international political collaboration is under attack, its teaching and exploration couldn’t be more important. As Adrian Wooldridge points out in the Economist’s Bagehot column, members of the European community seem determined to repeat the mistakes of the thirties and forties. The UK demands its ‘sovereignty’ as a means of quitting the EU, whatever that means in a globalized economy. Trump demonises minorities and seems determined to isolate the US with his ‘America First’ policies. Recently he has reverted to the old anti-semitic trope of accusing US Jews who didn’t support him of having dual loyalties
This political and national divisiveness is growing even as it grows more apparent that the challenges we face demand global collective action, from the loss of Arctic ice, fires in the Amazon, plastics pollution and the impacts of climate change. Nowhere can we learn better lessons about the consequences of our actions than our history. Today the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia that ended Europe's Thirty Years' War is being hailed as a model that might address the religious, cultural and economic debacle stifling development in the Middle East.
What history shows us in most detail are the dangers of intolerance. Otherisation, the demonization of one group as ‘other’ as a means of ‘protecting’ a broader social and institutional context lies at the heart of intolerance and autocracy. Otherisation demands a failure in understanding and the inability to communicate with others or have empathy for their position. That empathy, that skill in mutual understanding and communication, above any other, is at the heart of the suite of tools that the younger generation are going to need to survive and thrive in a changing world.
This year at the Learn2Think Foundation we’re focusing on history as the central theme of Tolerance Day, where we mark the UN’s International Day for Tolerance with a range of free lesson plans, games, assemblies and workshops which focus on teaching that builds understanding, empathy, creative and critical thinking. This year we are using lessons from the past to learn more about each other and build bridges between different cultures and generations.
We explore Amy Bueller’s 1943 book, Darkness over Germany. It provides a fascinating insight into Nazi leaders and the radicalisation of young Germans in the late 1930s, which has significant resonance in current times. She believed that the best way to discuss difficult issues was for people to live and work together, to build relationships and better understand each other. The book covers her experiences in Germany encourages us to think critically about the threat and appeal of Nazism to young people. Most importantly, it highlights the need to maintain dialogue in times of change and discord, and provides a timely reminder of how a message of hate once fueled a nation to unite.
Join us this year in building that dialogue in how we bring the teaching of tolerance into our schools from the earliest age, using the curriculum to explore the lessons that we need to learn http://www.toleranceday.org/
This article first appeared in the September issue of Education Today.