Teaching the Great War Through Peace

Contributed by Troy Paddock, Southern Connecticut State University

In November 2011,Troy Paddock and Catherine Shortell, academic staff at Southern Connecticut State University published an article exploring ways to teach a particular episode of the First World War to American High School students. Paddock acknowledges that the Great War is much more ‘present’ in Britain compared to American society and culture. However, the article may be of interest to UK teachers.

ABSTRACT: With all of the time constraints and institutional pressures that teachers face, it may seem odd to suggest using an anomalous event such as the Christmas Truce to study the First World War. However, the uniqueness of this event helps to grab the attention of students and, as demonstrate in our article, can be used both to illustrate the common meta-narrative of the war (and its limits) and to meet major curriculum standards. Middle and high school teachers (in the US) are familiar with the thematic strands in the curriculum for social studies: I: “Culture,” II: ‘Time, Continuity, and Change,” III: “People, Places and Environments,” IV: “Individual Development and Identity,” V: “Individuals, Groups and Institutions,” VI: “Power, Authority, and Governance,” VII: “Production, Distribution, and Consumption,” VIII: “Science, Technology and Society,” IX: “Global Connections,” and X: “Civic Ideals and Practices.” The article does not claim to complete the discussion. What it does is offer a way to think about the war in a manner that meets curriculum requirements, engaging students with an event that is now almost a century in the past and (in their view) unrelated to the current world.