I used to have a romantic fancy for living in the 1940s. A time, I would fantasise, for Blitz-Spirit community and a shared sense of togetherness. From my vantage point of the modern world, I would look upon the gentle imaginings of vintage swing music and tea-dances and find comfort in my whimsical view of a bygone era.
Even my own deep-seated philosophies and values, ensconced in notions of integrity, leadership and collaboration could find heart in the Churchillian world of the pursuit of a common goal. Victorious glory against all odds. I liked the sound of that.
I confess to feeling somewhat foolish now. The global events of 2020, which wreak havoc on the normalcy of day-to-day life and unleash a sinister death toll the like of which is almost unthinkable, are the modern-day equivalent of the horror show that underlies the Dad’s Army take on World War II.
It’s a chilling wake-up call and gives “history” the sort of clarity that is so difficult to convey in the classroom.
A veteran of teaching the second world war, my classrooms have at times become shrines to British propaganda – “Keep Calm and Carry On” – and children’s attempts to replicate them in artwork. Journalistic recounts of the Battle of Britain and D-Day landings would fill tea-stained papers for pegging across the classroom in a criss-cross of time adverbials and sub-headings celebrating non-chronological report writing. All of which serves the implicit view of kindly and forgiving times – the true scale of human sacrifice, loss of life and daily challenge in the simple art of living are somewhat lost in that translation.
It’s been 100 years since the Spanish Flu global pandemic. In a world so changed in so many ways, we have been caught out and have little to show for our advancements. The battleplan in 1918 included staying at home and staying away from others. Sound familiar? Big events need to be taught big – the history of yesterday is so often the lesson for today.
We are currently living through a history lesson for the future. As humanity weaves a strand of positive legacy in the online world of support and novelty for the self-isolation and social distancing era in which we find ourselves, let us remember that we will be advocates for our times. Our responsibility in the noble profession of education will be to ensure that the scale of this pandemic, the seriousness and the cost – economic and so much more shockingly, human – must never be forgotten.