Remembrance in Schools: Ritual, Power and Peace

This is the abstract for a symposium session I will be participating in at BERA Conference 2018.

Each November, commemoration of the First World War (and subsequent military conflicts) is almost ubiquitous in schools. The significance of Remembrance is widely contested in the broader public sphere during the period of marking the centenary of the events of 1914 to 1918. Yet – as a seemingly one-off event outside the regular curriculum – Armistice Day in schools has been subjected to surprisingly little scrutiny. The four papers in this symposium bring together empirical, historical, anthropological and philosophical perspectives on Armistice commemoration in English schools.

Remembrance in schools: Connecting Past and Present (Dr Annie Haight, Oxford Brookes University)

The Remembrance in Schools project (2013-2019) investigates armistice commemoration in primary and secondary schools in three counties. We have explored teachers’ perspectives through two online surveys (2013 and 2016) and interviews (2017), and observed remembrance events in November 2017. This presentation focuses on teachers’ accounts of the ways in which the two world wars, and especially the First World War, are remembered, presented and discussed, through their schools’ remembrance events. Behind almost ubiquitous practices (the silence) and symbols (the poppy), lie nuanced variations in teachers’ views of the knowledge and values that children gain from armistice commemoration in schools, which are inflected by individual schools’ histories, local community contexts, and pupil demographic, and teachers’ own histories and ideals.

War and Peace: Armistice Commemoration in Schools in late 1930s Britain (Dr Susannah Wright, Oxford Brookes University)

Acts of collective remembrance were performed each November in interwar years Britain, with participation very much expected and, to an extent, policed. This paper will focus on armistice commemoration in schools. Schools as sites for acts of collective remembrance have not yet received sustained attention. I focus on 1937, a time of rearmament and gas-mask fitting 19 years after the end of that conflict, when increasing numbers had not personally experienced the First World War. A uniquely rich historical resource, moreover, survives for that year, in accounts of armistice commemoration written by teachers (27) and pupils (9) for Mass Observation, the newly founded British social research organisation. Though not representative of the teacher or pupil body, these provide a snapshot of what went on in different types of schools, and authors’ own perspectives. Armistice commemoration in schools, these accounts show, often followed patterns which connected to rituals and forms in the wider civic sphere. Yet these patterns were also inflected by the spaces, timings, age of pupils and teachers, and power relations of the school institution. Teachers and pupils, as political actors, engaged in common rituals but found outlets for their different attitudes to armistice commemoration, and ideas about war and peace.

Rituals of Remembrance: Armistice Commemoration in English Schools (Dr Patrick Alexander, Oxford Brookes University)

Ritual remains a profound context for the reinforcement, reproduction, and contestation of moral values. Beginning with Durkheim, there exists a long tradition of scholarship in the sociology of education that has explored the ways in which ritual can be mobilised in order to maintain or challenge notions of social and moral order. In this paper I explore these themes in relation to rituals of remembrance carried out in ten English Primary and Secondary schools during November 2017. Drawing on the work of Van Gennep, Turner, and more recently Wulf, I explore structure, symbolism and discursive content of ritualised remembrance activities in these schools. I focus specifically on the contemporary politics of remembrance, the nature of ritual performance and its relationship to affect, and the need to engage critically with the oft-unrecognised but ever- present legacy of colonialism.

A Canon for Peace? (Dr David Aldridge, Brunel University London)

This paper develops the philosophical approach to remembrance in schools begun in David Aldridge’s ‘Impact’ publication for the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain. It acknowledges that only part of the issue has been considered there, because much moral education has more to do with the cultivation of moral sensitivity than appeals to reason; in most cases there is thus no clear application of an ‘epistemic criterion’ (such as might be derived from the work of Michael Hand). An educator in the arts or appreciative reading cannot escape a consideration of the moral intention behind selecting or presenting particular material. This connects with the literary question of whether art can be ‘put to use’ in service of moral ends (and, if so, what transformations it would undergo), and also the educational question of when to teach with the explicit intention of guiding the affect/ emotions and when to let the ambiguity of the text lead inquiry. These questions will be considered in relation to ‘canons’ of war poetry.

Respondent: Dr Richard Davies, University of Central Lancashire

You can download my open access Philosophy of Education Society ‘Impact’ publication, How Ought War To Be Remembered in Schools?

Turkey Skin In The Game. On vegetarianism and argument in the holiday period.

Why do things get so uncomfortable when people notice you’re not eating meat? You haven’t started an argument. You haven’t made any moral judgements of your companions.

If you’re asked about your vegetarianism this Christmas, remember that you don’t need reasons not to eat meat. The burden of the argument is on the people who do.

Psychology is at play here. It is reasonably easy for vegetarians to refuse meat without thereby intending censure or blame of meat-eaters. If they are mistaken, then they have inconvenienced themselves only by passing up something yummy and eating something slightly less yummy instead. No moral risk there. If the meat-eaters’ reasons are faulty, on the other hand, they risk immoral action. The meat-eaters feel this moral imbalance and are enraged by it. They would like nothing more than to eat the vegetarian and be done with the challenge altogether. But they can’t, so they must make do with sophistry.

Not needing to give reasons isn’t the same as not having them. But there is rarely much to be gained from giving reasons around Christmas dinner. Things are not balanced. Because meat eaters are normally putting meat in their mouths while they make the argument*. This presents quite an obstacle to their unbiased consideration of those reasons.

Vegetarians don’t struggle with meat eating. The vegetarianism conversation is normally raised by meat-eaters because of the perceived moral challenge of someone who refuses meat. But this is their struggle, not the vegetarians’, because whatever the rights and wrongs of eating meat, it’s always okay to gratefully and politely refuse food.

*Okay, the meat goes in the mouth during pauses in the argument. They aren’t animals, after all.