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Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini walking in front of saluting military during Hitler's visit to Venice, Italy in 1934. // Image from Wikimedia Commons

Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini walking in front of saluting military during Hitler's visit to Venice, Italy in 1934. // Image from Wikimedia Commons

CBC: Holocaust survivors are right: Study history to counter the rise of fascism

January 22, 2019 — 

The following is an opinion piece published by the CBC from U of M alumnus and student Matt Henderson [BEd/08, MEd/16], currently a PhD candidate in Education: 

In the past few weeks, an important discussion has surfaced in our community, prompted by survivors of the Holocaust.

This conversation asks us to contemplate the significance of our memory of the shared human experience.

Regine Frankel, who hid from Nazis as a young girl in France and survived, has asked us all to think about the need to engage learners in the rise of fascism, the relative ease of the spread of hate, and the propensity of evil-doers to dispel the importance of history and the perpetual argument based on the shared human experience.

It seems appalling that young people today might simply be unaware of the atrocities of the 20th century, which witnessed the most grievous and disastrous genocides, culminating in the Holocaust, the Holodomor and the Armenian genocide. Historian Timothy Snyder documents the millions of Europeans who were systematically slaughtered by Hitler and Stalin only a century ago in his book Blood Lands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.

Winston Churchill provided advice to a student before the British prime minister departed from public life: “Study history, study history. In history lie all the secrets of statecraft.”

While this advice might indeed by true, history, and all the humanities, are also critical for cultivating a democratic society that is able to defend itself from short-sighted, undemocratic, bigoted and nefarious forces. 

Education is a public good. Its central purpose, as the philosopher Martha Nussbaum would argue, is the cultivation of humanity. An education system designed for more than just employment preparation is predicated on the notion that being educated “means learning how to be a human being capable of love and imagination,” while gaining an immense amount of knowledge of the world and being able to translate this knowledge into critical thought and action. 

Similarly, Henry Giroux, a philosopher at McMaster University, posits that “At the centre of resistance, politics, and hope is the power of educating people to a more promising reality, one that unmasks the falsehood and fear upon which racism depends.”  

Education is more than merely producing cosmopolitan citizens. It is a tool to defend ourselves against the spectre of fascism that rears its shadow in the likes of Trump, Erdogan, Duterte and Ader, to name just a few.

Read the full CBC article here. 

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