I’m covering American involvement in the First World War with my Year 10s. Thursday I was showing a map of Europe in 1914 to demonstrate the changes in boundaries after the War (particularly as they relate to Wilson’s 14 Points) when I drifted over to the Ottoman Empire. I explained how all the countries in Middle East – Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and what would eventually become Israel – were all created out of the break up of the Ottoman Empire after the war.
Then, speaking of the Ottoman Turks, I mentioned the Armenian Genocide. At that point I reached a crossroads: I could either get back to the lesson plan, the scheme of work, and the exam syllabus, or I could give substantive time to the horrors of 1915. Modern pedagogy said to stick to the syllabus. If it’s not on the exam, they don’t need to know it. Teach the exam. Obviously, I went the other way. Two hours the other way.
None of my students will remember the 14 Points in five years time. Don’t get me wrong – they are still going to learn them and about the Lodge Reservations and how it all relates to Isolationism of the 1920s. But they won’t remember. However, if they learn about the Genocide – if they see the pictures and read about the atrocities – they may remember it.
But more importantly, they may leave school with an understanding of the sort of place the world is. They may appreciate the place they have found themselves in time and space and what a valuable thing it is to live in a peaceful corner of the world. Later they will learn about the Jewish Holocaust – you can’t get out of school without learning about that – but now they will understand that this isn’t just a thing that happened to Jews during the Second World War. It happens to Christians and it continues to this day in both the Genocide denial of the Turks and the systematic obliteration of the Armenian past in eastern Anatolia.
I may not have time or opportunity to cover the Ukrainian Holodomor of 1932-33 or Cambodia or Bosnia or Rwanda, but I can a least do my part to see that the Armenians are not forgotten. If I can inspire one student to aspire to see that others are not forgotten, I will have done something worthwhile.