Students must study literature, not just facts and figures, to understand that the war was fought by people just like them, according to a teenage blogger.
Writing on a teen book club site, alannahbee states that she only had a few lessons on the First World War during the ‘dark days’ of year nine, but that she and her fellow pupils managed to extract ‘sparse and juiceless facts’.
Classroom discussions were based on facts and figures, but what she missed was what the curriculum failed to include: “…the fear a boy of 16 might have felt, ascending into no man’s land, when he should have been playing cricket on the village green back home; the unparalleled grief that mothers and wives and sisters would face from the few words borne in a letter; that a man they knew and loved was dead; how the innocence and youth of an entire generation was stolen in the dead of night. Here lies human emotion, amongst political negotiation and military strategy.”
Alannah wants the curriculum to open up and let in the “glow of human experience” through fiction, real-life accounts and diaries. “If we want to understand the big stuff, we have to think small: look at the individual stories, so insignificant at first glance,” she writes. She would like pupils to study a range of literature, from contemporary works like Valentine Joe by Rebecca Stevens and Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne to the poems of war poets Wilfrid Owens and Siegfried Sassoon.
She recognises that although WW1 is no longer a living memory, it is “woven into the culture of our modern world”, and writes that literature is vital to understand its magnitude. But studying the war is important for a less obvious reason: “Reading about human experience, from ambulance drivers to conscientious objectors, gives us a great deal of empathy, too. And we must have empathy, if we have nothing else left.”
Do you agree with Alannahbee’s claim that facts and figures aren’t enough, and that pupils need literature to truly understand WW1?