History, Education and Conflict

EDITORIAL, 27 Nov 2017

#510 | Alberto Andrés Aguirre – TRANSCEND Media Service

I collaborate with Professor Galtung at the Alfadeltapi International Conflict Resolution Center in Alfaz del Pi (Alicante, Spain). My contribution starts today from my position as a teacher of History in a Secondary School. I am not going to analyze now, at least not directly, any of the current conflicts; although no one can deny that what I am going to set out has quite a lot to do with all of them. My sphere of activity is the high school and every day I deal with microconflicts in school, which is the best way to prepare oneself to be able to face them on a larger scale. It is of real importance to pay attention to Education for Peace. If the men or women who govern us had had an appropriate education in this area then surely the world would be a better place today.

As a History teacher who is almost at the end of his professional career, I have discovered with regret that much of my work has not advanced the goal of a more peaceful world. I have certainly devoted time to teaching my students about conflicts, their development and their factors -although I did not realise this until recently- but almost always about the violent ways in which they end , very little of it involves deep analysis and even less  possible solutions. I do not mean by this that my professional work has not left a mark – I hope it has- on the adolescents who have learned about History with me, insofar as I have tried to help them to better understand  the world in which we live and to perceive areas of injustice.

For 30 years I have been working with the processes of change, the multifactorial explanations, the permanence of structures, their analysis and the differences between these and the conjunctural situations. In that sense, History may have encouraged my students to reflect, to think more deeply, perhaps to be more aware and I hope to be better people. The selection of content was always more focused on political and military developments and, directly or indirectly, students often perceive that the only way out is war. We must not hide that sad reality but denounce it and observe its terrible consequences; and furthermore, we must also be able to deprive war of its aura of prestige, of the attraction it holds. But the history of humanity is more than the succession of empires and struggles, it is the history of social processes, and yet we spend much more time on battles than on the scientific or economic advances that have made life better today for so many people..

The History of Europe offers an example with which I usually explain to my students the concepts of TRANSCEND’s analysis: Franco-German relations of the last two centuries. With regard to the five ways out of conflicts,

  • 1 (Germany wins) the German victory in Sedan (without going back further ), provoked the French reaction that was one of the triggers of the First World War.
  • 2 (France wins ) the Treaty of Versailles humiliated Germany and created the conditions for the rise of Nazism
  • 1 (Germany wins). After the “guerre du drole”, the occupation of Paris.
  • 3 (both lose). France devastated by war and Germany defeated at last
  • 4 (everyone wins and loses something), the 1945 peace treaties were less severe than in 1919 but they meant the break up of Germany.
  • 5 (everyone wins) The process of rebuilding Europe was the intelligent way to lay the foundations for a relationship based on cooperation rather than revenge.

To get off the diagonal of war that is fueled by revenge, sometimes you have to hit bottom, but in addition, it requires huge shows of responsibility and generosity.

As for the positive and the negative, in the past and in the future (sorting mat of SABONA),

Past Future
Positive 3 1
Negative 2 4
  1. Positive future: increasing cooperation under the progressive formulas of trade agreements, confederation, monetary union, federation … the European Union.
  2. Negative past: centuries of confrontations and border disputes
  3. Past positive: a glorious common past in the Roman Holy Roman Empire, with Charlemagne as the main reference
  4. Negative future: a resurgence of nationalism if the European Union process fails or strong identities are threatened.

And with regard to defining the ABC triangle of the conflict, I invite my students to analyze the list of historical incidents, find out what the justification both countries gave for each confrontation and find out what the real objectives were and whether or not they were compatible. We usually conclude that the most important contradiction is the clash between different national concepts: more cultural in Germany and more geographical in France, and that is why the German-speaking regions of Alsace and Lorraine, integrated within France have come out worse in this process .

In the case of Spain, we have a long history of conflict: this is a complex country that has suffered many invasions and fratricidal wars, but it has also been a country of mestizaje [racial mixing], cultural exchange, and great artistic creation. And its everyday history is full of little survival stories. The official curriculum content focuses more on political and military conflicts (civil wars, coups d’etat, revolutions more or less frustrated) than on the determined attempts at collective social advance, like the enlightened program of Carlos III, despite its shadowy side and its limitations, the short but productive episodes of the Cortes of Cadiz, the Glorious Revolution, the reformist phase of the Second Republic, or the now-reviled post-Franco transition. A total of no more than 30 over the last 250 years. It is no good saying that we must seek dialogue and non-violent solutions when throughout their schooling our students study fundamentally, as far as history is concerned, that, even if it is not true, conflicts have been resolved or resolved mostly and traditionally through war. In “Las Bicicletas son para el Verano” by the prolific Fernando Fernán Gómez, a father and son are reflecting on the end of the war:

“– Dad, peace has come.”
“– No son, victory has arrived.”

Wars are not the solution, because victory in them is not peace.

But it is not just a matter of selecting the essential events or periods. The educational objectives we intend are very important. The subject of History can be a mere instrument of indoctrination with a patriotic or political purpose (as historical research itself) or can have more universal educational purposes: to understand how the world works, what are the conflicts that affect the peaceful coexistence of societies over time, what are the models to follow …

It is really powerful to apply TRANSCEND’s methods of analysis to historical conflicts: to look for structural contradictions beyond positions and justifications and, of course, beyond mere events (the ABC triangle); identifying the outcomes, exploring especially the win-win (five outputs); describing parts(?), goals and means (conflict mapping) and discussing the legitimacy of actions and conclusions.

But even if the selection of content and how to approach it is very important, it may not even be essential.  Innumerable pedagogical studies deduce that one learns more from form than from content. The way of encouraging classes to be more open, more full of questions than answers, forcing students to reason, question, explain, argue, promote dialogue and debate to analyze different situations make the Social Sciences  excellent subjects to train the students in the art of citizenship which we so strive for, at least that is the goal of the educational laws (although not so much in practice )

On the other hand, I have always thought that the school is an excellent field of experimentation for the theory of the resolution of conflicts: the microconflicts that we face in the school community are sometimes as complex as the macro or mega conflicts and the procedures for solving them are very similar. It is much more difficult and less manageable to try out at the state or supranational level, but experience drawn from small-scale conflicts should not be neglected.

As I have said, we learn more from form than from content; and it is not good enough to carefully select the contents and perspectives from which to analyze the positive moments of history if then, in the human relationships that the teacher establishes with his or her students and the social relations that are promoted within the classroom are in conflict with those objectives of Education for Peace, Coexistence and Citizenship that they seek to promote…

We must make our actions as teachers in the classroom coherent, addressing the small conflicts of everyday life in the most effective and least violent manner possible , and as teachers of History, selecting the content, emphasizing moments of creation, understanding, social progress more than wars, confrontation and destruction, and on the other hand to work with this content using methodologies that promote essential personal skills for peaceful citizenship through dialogue, critical analysis, the contrasting of views, freedom of expression, creativity, imagination. In this way a teacher of History becomes a builder of peace.


Alberto Andrés Aguirre is a member of TRANSCEND International, Dr. in Philosophy and Letters (University of Alicante). Secondary teacher at the IES Catalina de Lancaster of Santa María la Real de Nieva (Segovia, Spain) and Coordinator of the International Center for Conflict Solution Alfadeltapi, Alfàs del Pi (Alicante, Spain). albandres@gmail.com

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 27 Nov 2017.

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