The World War Three ExperimentPosted: 24 January 2011
Of all of last week’s news reports, the one that struck me the most was the rather bizarre incident in which a headteacher of a school in Lancashire told his pupils that World War Three had broken out – at morning assembly.
Playing prime minister Neville Chamberlain’s original 1939 address and showing the children footage of the Blitz, he then told them that London was being bombed and then – here’s the cruncher – led them all into a cellar and set off a firework to simulate a bomb.
It all sounds very exciting, but then we discover that the school in question is a primary school and for any non-British readers, that means the children taking part in this ‘realism’ were no more than eleven years old; some (potentially) as young as four.
The special assembly was planned as part of the current curriculum, in which the children were studying World War Two. All British school children have to study the Second World War as part of their history lessons (quite rightly) and on the advice of colleagues at other schools, headteacher Mike Richards thought that this would be the perfect way of showing the children ‘what it was really like’.
Putting it basically, there are two ways you could respond to this story. Since most of the comments on reports of this story seem to be of the ‘idiotic teachers’ and ‘poor little kids being traumatised’ variety, I feel myself called to play devil’s advocate.
You could argue (and you would have a point) that these children were far too young and impressionable for an experience like this. However; these kids are deemed old enough to learn about World War Two. World War Two wasn’t nice. Sugar coat the topic, or turn it into a dry and boring history lesson, and you deny children the truth.
Attacks during the Blitz certainly didn’t discriminate based on age. Children as young as these were sent across the country to live with strangers, if they were lucky. If they weren’t, they lived this special kind of hell every day, and there was no home time, or a teacher telling them it wasn’t real. They might go home to discover they didn’t have one any more.
Yes, one or two of the children at St. Mary’s RC school in Bacup had nightmares that night. But nightmares are an important part of childhood. Experiencing the feeling of being scared is something you need to go through to learn about living in the real world. The tragedies of World War Two shouldn’t be forgotten; they deserve to be the stuff of nightmares.
What one memory do you think these children took home from school that day? Being terrified? Good. Because war is terrible. That’s a very important lesson to learn.