How is the war in Ukraine interfering with history classes in middle and high school?

The Russo-Ukrainian war has been ubiquitous in the media and social media since the February 24 invasion began. L’Etudiant interviewed teachers to find out how they integrate conflict into history and geography lessons.

Should we bring up the topic of the war in Ukraine at school? Teachers have been asking themselves this question since the beginning of the conflict, even as Russian offensives gain momentum by the day. A ubiquitous topic in the national media and in social networks and therefore difficult to get around for teachers of history and geography.

Moreover, information is accumulating, not always true. “We are fed news that is not filtered at all. This complicates things,” said Jean-Luc Le Cozes, professor of history and geography at Eugène Noël College in Montville (76).

The teacher also states that deciphering this conflict requires a certain level of knowledge. “We are not equipped for this. It would be necessary to study history in a very specific area. Personally, my research has been very general, and even if we address some things in our course, it is far from what is happening today.” conflict in Ukraine, says the professor.

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Answer questions from middle and high school students

Kimberly Rhys Girton, teacher at Saint-Herember High School in Saint-Germain-en-Laye (78), nevertheless notes many inquiries from teenagers regarding recent events. “At the beginning of the school year, my students bombarded me with questions.” This sudden interest only increased his desire to tackle the issue. “I would talk about it myself, because as a teacher of history and geography, you cannot avoid this question,” she says.

In the meantime, Jean-Luc Le Coz noticed unrest among his younger students. “What is rather paradoxical is that those who felt the need for information were not fourth graders or third graders, but fifth graders. They were stunned and had never heard of the Cold War. They just want answers, not to explain what’s going to happen, but to know what people are talking about.

Christine Guimonnet, general secretary of the APHG (Association of Teachers of History and Geography) and assistant professor at the Camille Pissarro High School in Pontoise (95), evaluates her students’ reactions. “Just because students don’t ask questions doesn’t mean they aren’t interested.”

According to the professor, the further away an event is from us, the less attention it will attract. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as the “law of the dead mile”. “Thanks to the modernization and massification of the media, several generations survived the war at a distance, through television, and now through social networks. Conflicts retain some of the unreality as long as they do not affect your territory. she explains.

Conflict in Ukraine is absent from exams

The integration of the conflict into the history-geography curriculum or into the patent and bachelor’s examinations is currently not an actual problem. “Exam topics do not refer to immediate news, but to scientifically stabilized topics or chapters. The current war can be explained in class, but it cannot be the subject of an exam because we cannot ask teenagers to analyze immediate news,” Christine Guimonnet explains.

The platform of the Ministry of National Education Educscol hosts resources to resolve the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian conflict. The platform is regularly updated and combines different sources to better understand the stakes of war.

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