There are many questions and queries that the celebration of empire day arises to historians today, due to the lack of primary sources, the effect of Empire Day on, children, teachers and parents are limited. The use of images in i. e. ‘race -thinking’ are extremely profound as they symbolize how children were taught to think about different races, “a black persons teeth are usually white, so are the whites in his eyes” (4), the fact that this is an extract taken from 1939 by a twelve year old boy shows that even at this stage in time, children were still unaware or ignorant and uneducated about different races, different races were alien to them.
This however may not be the case for all children; it may just be to a particular school or even child. The two extracts displayed in There’s no place like home, Education of History 28, pg 237 are extracts taken from children in 1939 and were part of a ‘school survey collected by Mass-Observation for an anti-Semitic project. Mass-observation believed that childhood was a critical stage in the formation of attitudes toward minority groups (4).
I am unable to say that such race thinking as these were formed specifically under the influence of the school, or that these ideas were specifically shaped by the curriculum, however there are many documents that enable me to believe that the schooling of children influenced and encouraged children to be proud of their national identity, and influenced the children to view other nations in a naive and almost aggressive nature. Joanna Bourke, wrote about how schooling taught children that “Frenchmen were a lot of frogs and were a little sissy as they had a great pull with the opposite sex’…. that Germans had square heads, crew cuts, and fancy braces, and were totally without initiative… the violence of Chin Chin Chinamen” was fearsome. (6)
The type of the text books used at schools can convey to us the type of i. e. history and geography that children were taught according to W. E. Marsden “The assertion that history and geography text books have exercised a negative influence on attitudes towards other countries is of long standing. It manifestly drives from conceptions of nationhood, national character and national identity, which have in turn spilled over into aggressive forms of nationalism, and have injected their ‘poison’ into social and political attitudes , and thence into the educational system. ” (1)
However many queries that are raised by historians about the influences of the textbook, include questions about the effectively of the textbooks, the number of school, classrooms, or even pupils that had access to such books. The format of the lesson and the way in which the books were used? Etc The features of national identity are clearly defined by A. D. Smith as national identity is seen as a concept that affects the political community, ‘a single code of rights and duties, and a social space and territory’ (7)
This perhaps explains why the approaching years leading to the First World War “saw a flood of nursery tales, recitation materials, and children’s books, juvenile literature ands historic novels, which faltered the British and stereotyped the world’s non-white populations. (8) The approaching war affected the schooling of children during that epoch to such an extent that “In the boy’s pubic schools, where it was presumed that many pupils would be considering the armed forces as a career, military and political history was granted some priority”(9)
The link between national identity in schooling, and war, was seen as so important that some of the more popular newspapers of the day argued schools should wholly integrate the education about war beyond specific subjects and “that the topic of war, on the successful conclusion of which the future of the race depended, should be approached through the whole curriculum, and not through individual subjects. “(10) The use of stereotype to identify national characteristics is clearly evident in this piece of “Orwell’s celebrated essay on boys weeklies published in 1939.
They are as follows: FRENCHMAN: Excitable. Wears beards, gesticulates wildly. SPINIARD, MEXICAN etc. : Sinister and treacherous. ARAB, AFGAN etc. : Sinister and treacherous. CHINESE: treacherous. Wears pigtail. ITALIAN: Grinds barrel-organ or carries stiletto. SWEDE, DANE etc. : Kind hearted Stupid. NEGRO: Comic, very faithful. (11) The use of such stereotypical views of the characteristics of the people due to their place of origin, is so profoundly blatantly in compliance with the writings of F. L. Hagendoorn and H. Linssen “widespread and irresistible inclination to attribute personality traits to certain nationalities”(12)
Religious, political and social bias in text books contributed to the implementation of a national identity within schooling, as the link between wider social and political change and the school curricula. Governments were extremely aware of the importance of schooling to the social stability of Britain in the future. They were constantly reminded of the civil unrest in countries dominated by the influx of unsatisfied citizens who wanted to change the way that the authorities governed society, and thus revolution were the results, and the fear of War lingered. British authorities constantly feared a revolution, and constantly saw the dissatisfaction of i. e. the poor
laws, the conflict over the price of bread and corn and the industrial revolution and it’s consequences on society and the law brought about via demonstrations, campaigns, attacks on factories and machines, attacks on legislations and Acts introduced by the government. Thus the education in schools, which were constantly being dictated to by the governments via the national curriculum and legislations was taken extremely seriously, this can be shown by the financial administration of schools by the government, and the introduction of mass compulsory schooling and legislations brought forward by the government.
Schools are seen as places of functionalism, they have a purpose to help society to operate, and it is inevitable not to say that they are places of influence, where ideologies and political beliefs are constantly in the air. But whose ideologies do the children pick up, who are they influenced by, and to what extent do school children they accept the ‘national identity’ that they learn about in i. e. history and geography lessons?
The clear cut definition of what is it to be a good citizen is so entirely embedded with the ideologies of firm patriotism and pride in the empire, and thus it is thought that the purpose of education is to shape children into good citizens. However how effective is it to believe in this, according to Paul Goalen ” there is little evidence beyond the assertion of some politicians and administrators that the history curriculum is capable of turning children into ‘better citizens'” (13) Marxism histories would argue that national identity is a form of social control, created to keep the social and economical order of society.
Perhaps if school children in Britain were integrated with their fellow ‘rivals’ then perhaps they would see that indeed ‘it is not the differences between people that is the difficulty but the indifferences’. Education has been romanticized as a heroic force with the ability of “saving the world, in the cyclically repeated expectation that this can realistically be achieved by educational means” (1) However The relationship between national identity and schooling, and the critical way in which it has been used quite clearly as a weapon for and nationalism to such an extent as racism during that epoch, has encouraged me to believe that the studying of national identity in a bias manner in schools can easily become dangerous and provocative.