Dealing with the dead: Identity and community - Monuments, memorials and local history

Primary History article

By Peter Vass, published 11th February 2009

Please note: this article pre-dates the 2014 National Curriculum and some content may be outdated.

Death is one of the most sensitive and controversial issues that teachers encounter, linked inextricably as it is to identity. I think it sometimes escapes our attention that, as teachers of history, we constantly deal with the dead. They are the source of our studies and the substance of much of our research with children. Yet, we invariably keep our charges distanced from the actuality of death partly, I believe, because we feel too close a contact is inappropriate. I think we delude ourselves.

For 21st century children the world is filled with images of death - they meet them on a day-to-day basis through video games, TV dramas and even on news programmes. In fact it can be argued that their generation ‘know death' better than any previous one. But what do they know? Is what they know real? When a video game shows Lara Croft zapping bad guys are children gaining an impression of what it means to die? And do we, as teachers of history, have a role to play here?

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