Friday, November 06, 2009

Theme Park Auschwitz - Or Children's Views Misrepresented?

An interesting survey reported in The Telegraph suggests that one in six 9-15 year olds think that Auschwitz is a WWII theme park and that Adolf Hitler was a German football coach.

Now on first sight, and to anyone of my generation who will have studied WWII in school history lessons, this looks dreadful.

But hang on a minute - dig a little deeper and it becomes clear that our children's views have been at best badly reported and at worst misrepresented.

The full results of the survey are here - and what is obvious is that children were offered multiple choice questions.

This suggests to me that quite a lot of the children simply guessed at answers they didn't know and a proportion of them guessed wrongly.

That DOES NOT MEAN that one in six 9-15 year olds believe Auschwitz is a WWII Theme Park - but that 30% didn't know the right answer and randomly picked the wrong answer.

And given that Auschwitz is now set up as a Visitor Centre where thousands of people, including parties of UK school children, find out about WWII, is it such a bad guess anyway?

I knew about WWII from a young age because it had been a major event in my Grandparents' lives and in my Dad's formative years. I spent a lot of my younger years in the company of my Gran who talked at length about the war, and in my younger years still had an air raid shelter at the bottom of her garden. I then learnt more about the war at secondary school in history lessons.

However the average nine or ten year old nowadays will not necessarily have any living relatives who remember WWII, and even if they do it isn't talked about nearly as often as it was thirty years ago.

A large proportion of those 9-15 year olds surveyed probably haven't got to that part of their history course yet. My 11 year old happens to have just read a book about Hitler as part of his half term homework for a book review, but he has not studied WWII as part of the curriculum yet.

So it is perhaps not surprising that a proportion of 9-15 year olds don't know much detail about a conflict that ended 50-55 years before they were born.

In fact many of the answers are surprisingly good.

For example more than half the children surveyed knew the start and end years of the First World War which started 89-95 years before they were born. This is the equivalent of me knowing the dates of the Boer Wars, the Tauranga Campaign or the Bhutan War, which I didn't until I looked them up on Google for the purposes of this blog!

A massive 90% got the years of WWII right, 60% correctly identified Harry Patch as the oldest veteran of the trenches, 80% knew that the poppy is the symbol of Remembrance Day and 86% that the Blitz was the bombing of London.

For a group of children, many of whom won't have studied the subject in History yet, I don't think this is bad at all.

That is not to say that there is anything wrong about people doing more to educate children about WWII, Remembrance Day or more recent and more relevant conflicts.

But a survey like this should not be used as yet another criticism of children's knowledge or of 'modern teaching standards', particularly when the survey has been deliberately structured to produce whacky answers.


Hywel said...

That was my thought on seeing the story.

I also hate surveys which take a sample of 9-15 year olds and present the result as a homogenous whole.

My knowledge of WWII and the holocaust was vastly different at 9 and 15.

neil craig said...
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Rodrigo said...

it is also interesting that if you google Auschwitz and theme, you actually get some moronic website called unencyclopaedia which (mockingly) says that Auschwitz is a theme park. here:

it is infuriating to read such a bunch of stupid remarks, but how can a 9 year old who stumbles upon this website can know this is not true. Of course this is probably unlikely, but nonetheless it is there. And its is impressively high in the results of the search criteria I suggested, being the number 2 result!

Anyway, I just think its also some anti-jew paranoia to explain the results that way... at least the way the jewish newspapers are reporting it. Sure there are bad sentiments stil alive against the jews, but this is like going out and look for them. said...
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