Launching straight into Year 10 GCSE with the ‘Creation of the Weimar Government’ can be problematic. It is like thanking students for choosing History and then tipping a bucket of concepts and vocabulary on their heads.
“Before hitler was elected the weimar government had been in power, this was a communist run party with right wing beliefs.”
So began a student with an A* target the other day. Apart from the fact that the Weimar government wasn’t a singular political party, the Communists never formed a government and Communists are left wing, I think I have conveyed the issues clearly. Although I acknowledge a slight problem with capital letters.
I might be doing it wrong. After several attempts to unravel the Weimar constitution by explaining Proportional Representation vis a vis the First Past the Post system (with pictures and diagrams) , constituencies, the Reichstag, coalition governments, presidents and chancellors, a third of the students will have dead eyes. They think it has no connection with their world. I probably need to think up an X Factor analogy. In the meantime students extract their own meaning;
“in 1932 hindenburg was still the president he was a weak leader because he had to ask all of the people what to do because he couldn’t decide for himself”
Ergo ‘Democracy is the terrible consequence of weak presidents who can’t decide for themselves?’ (And punctuation is something which needs to be ditched at the first opportunity.)
Anyway, when someone asks, ‘What’s proportional representation again?’ I have been known to say, ‘Just remember it means lots of different parties who can never agree, so nothing gets done.’ An adequate response to vacuum up some GCSE marks on this topic perhaps but not very fair if the Lib Dems want to attract young voters in the future.
Unfortunately there are several opportunities to oversimplify in this course as students canter over the boggy sands of content to be ready for an exam. Appeasement was clearly a mistake (crazy pacifists) the League of Nations were weak because they didn’t use an army (nothing can be achieved without an army) the Treaty of Versailles was too vengeful (typical French over reaction) I can’t bear to let these one dimensional notions go unchallenged but students often cling onto them like buoys in the rough sea of complex ideas.
So I am resolved to scour popular culture for anything which might help me open the door into their minds. And I will endeavour not to release them into the world holding skewed notions of politics, democracy and international relations. After all, they will be in charge of the world when I am too old to go on a protest march.
I love my Year 10 group, they are so keen to please. They just blinked a little in disappointment when I set them revision over the Christmas period so I told them to revise Hitler’s rise to power by making a board game. I’ve done this with younger groups but it felt like a bit too much fun for GCSE. They came up trumps (not literally- but certainly snakes) Not only did they do really well in their assessment but when I let them play the board games afterwards there was a huge variety and they were really engaged. I’ve included pictures of some of them. Games included:
A version of Lotto with a Hindenburg piece who can land on any of the pieces and ask difficult questions as they travel round the board
Who Am I? with images to tuck into headband. Victims have to ask others who they are with ‘Yes/No’ questions
Various board games with Chance Cards
Snakes and Ladders.
When they played them competitiveness drew out an enthusiasm for facts, exact dates and vocabulary which had eluded some more laid-back students until now. I wonder if there is a market for these games…
It might see a bit vain but when I obliged a year 10 class to learn my rhyming poem about the Munich Putsch the results were impressive. I tried to scribe the poem ( which is stretching the genre a bit, to be fair) so that key words rhymed, therefore enabling students to learn facts and vocabulary. I was also setting them up to learn things by heart which many have not been used to, since they got their times tables out of the way in primary school. The government steer on education, for better or worse, seems to be rote learning a lot of facts before the real thinking and application can be instigated.
The important thing is students had to come up with the last two verses themselves which made them think about key information. The outcome was a range of largely excruciating, arhythmic, and dubiously rhymed verses. In short we had a great time reading them out.
Here is an example of one verse of the poem so you get an idea
The Nazi thugs were talking,
They said, “We’ve lost our soul!”
They said “The French are walking in
And taking all our coal!
The Treaty has been vengeful,
Just Germany must pay,
And those Weimar men do nothing
So it’s time to have our say!”
And so it goes on. I won’t win any prizes for literature..
As I groaned under the weight of Turkey and potatoes anchoring my stomach I suddenly felt inspired for an active way to teach the Enabling Law. It has nothing to do with turkey. Perhaps I finally felt relaxed after a long term followed by frantic Christmas preparations for a new idea to seep through.
It involves students acting out a range of roles. The key thing with this legislation is to convey the import of voting it all in. The consequences were catastrophic and students must go beyond just thinking ‘They were scared.’ They need to consider individual responsibility to society and the interplay of a complex number of reasons that went through the minds of the Weimar politicians when they handed over power to a brutal extremist. Students need to see the human face of this decision and recognise the temptation to feel helpless and hand over power to others in contemporary political systems.
I will make a series of cards reflecting the views of a range of politicians and also throw in a lot of SA bullies. They will need to mingle and have snatched conversations trying to decide what to do and then try to vote honestly. However the vote turns out will lead to an interesting discussion.
Watch this space for what I come up with.