Teaching children about war

Update 9 June 2015: Simpson Prize and Audacity

The Simpson Prize question for 2016 continues the welcome recent trend to ask proper history questions of Year 9 and 10 students but the nomination of the war-sanitising Audacity for a Children’s Book Council Award raises some interesting questions about selection criteria. Both stories are here (Update 9 June then scroll down a bit).

Update 18 April 2015: Gen Y looks back at an Anzac education

Journalist Kate Aubusson, aged 27, remembers how she learnt about Anzac as a child, how she wondered whether there was more to it all than ‘cardboard heroes’, and what she thinks now.

Update 22 March 2015: bland book review

Children’s book expert, Stephanie Owen Reeder, reviews (also in Canberra Times) six war books for children, including Anzac Ted (see below Update 8 March 2015) stating that ‘[o]ne of the best ways to introduce children to the realities of war is through picture books that present personal experiences’. (Is there some evidence for this?)

There is far more in the review about whether the books work as picture books than on how they ‘introduce children to the realities of war’. There is no consideration at all, for example, of whether books offering bland introductions to war set children up to maintain a distorted view of war later in life. A century ago the introductions were more ‘Boys’ Own Paper’ but the effect was the same. Brian Lewis recalled his childhood at the time of Gallipoli. Inspired by the dispatches of Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, boys of the time day-dreamed of ‘lines of men charging forward with fixed bayonets with astonishing heroism’. The image ‘was fixed in our minds and was never replaced when the real facts filtered back’.

There is no consideration either of why it is necessary to introduce children to the realities of war. Why should they have to ‘understand’ or ’empathise’? Can they ever really do either? Finally, there is a rather odd paragraph in the review that deserves repeating in full:

The insights of Mick’s life in the trenches are both telling and moving, and it is the little details that resonate most: a man being hit by shrapnel, but saved from harm by the Rising Sun badge on his collar; soldiers not having time to wash or even take off their boots in their first 10 days at Gallipoli; men sleeping standing up in the trenches; and rifles getting so hot from the constant firing that the woodwork catches fire. (emphasis added)

Little details!

David Stephens

Update 9 March 2015: children and Anzac just after the Great War

Provoked by our review of Anzac Ted (below) Dodgy Perth blog looks at the battle in Perth in 1925 about how to teach children about Anzac.

Update 8 March 2015: deconstructing Anzac Ted

Peter Stanley reviews Anzac Ted, a children’s war book whose motivations are clearer than the age of its market.

Update 3 March 2015: Lockheed Martin education wing

We got $500,000 from Lockheed Martin, which is enabling us to run a whole lot of educational programs.’ Australian War Memorial Director, Dr Brendan Nelson, at Senate Additional Estimates, 25 February. Lockheed Martin is the world’s largest arms manufacturer by value of sales.

(Update later on 3 March 2015: The Memorial has advised further that Lockheed Martin’s assistance is for education and public programs. The funding has been allocated to some centenary programs, as well as public events, film screenings, gallery talks and presentations.)

Update 3 February 2015: Carolyn Holbrook speech to ADFA Summer School for History Teachers

This speech on 21 January 2015 touches on issues relevant to how children learn about war.

Update 21 January 2015: presentation to ADFA Summer School on teaching children about war

This presentation from David Stephens is here.

Material from 2014


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