I am really keen that my students are able to have the time and space to think and discuss issues that are not part of our national curriculum. The weekly Politics and International Relations Society that I run offers such an opportunity. This week we discussed the issue of controversial statues - what are the? Why are they controversial? What are the solutions and consequences of the damage carried out against the statues? What should happen next?
In recent years the issue of historic monuments that by their very existence appear to be glorifying controversial eras of imperialism, colonialism and slave trading, has become a political hot potato.
Students were encouraged to access some materials ahead of the discussion session, which included the following prompts:
The latest Rasmussen Reports (June 2020) national telephone and online survey finds that 75% of Likely U.S. Voters do not believe that Mount Rushmore should be closed or changed because two of the four presidents it honors – George Washington and Thomas Jefferson - were slave owners. Seventeen percent (17%) believe the iconic memorial in South Dakota should be closed or changed.
But this compares to 90% who opposed closing or changing Mount Rushmore when Rasmussen Reports first asked this question three years ago.
Trump warned in June 2020 that anyone caught damaging historic monuments in the US would face severe consequences.
Boris Johnson expressed opposition to removing a statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oxford University. Speaking to the Evening Standard in June 2020, the prime minister said he did not agree with the decision of Oriel College to take down its statue of the Victorian imperialist, as he was “in favour of people understanding our past with all its imperfections”.
Johnson said: “I want to build people up, not tear people down. If we go around trying to Bowdlerise or edit our history in this way, it’s like some politician sneakily trying to change his Wikipedia entry.”
In June 2020, the now infamous statue of the 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston (pictured above) loomed over the centre of Bristol, as it had for 125 years. Today Colston lies flat on his back across a bed of wooden pallets on the concrete floor of a council lock-up. His fall to earth, and his rough journey across the asphalt to Bristol harbour, into which he was thrown, have left their marks. Colston is now covered in scrapes and scratches (see image above). There’s a hole in his left buttock and his walking stick is missing. The Black Lives Matter protesters who toppled Colston also spray-painted his hands and face bright red, signifying the blood of his victims.
Take a look at this discussion about this issue and read the articles about controversial statues attached to this post above.
You may be interested in this short video about controversy surrounding the equestrian statue of Theodore Roosevelt.
In order to keep the discussion on track and give everyone an opportunity to contribute, I used the following discussion prompts to get the group started:
Controversial Statues Discussion Prompts
· Is this a war on history?
· Boris Johnson stated “I want to build people up, not tear people down. If we go around trying to Bowdlerise or edit our history in this way, it’s like some politician sneakily trying to change his Wikipedia entry.” What are your views on the PM’s statement?
· Does it matter that ‘Rule Britannia’ was going to be performed at The Proms without lyrics because of the song’s perceived links to imperialism? Some of the lyrics deemed controversial in the songs include the Rule, Britannia! lines: “Britons never, never, never shall be slaves”, and: “The nations, not so blest as thee / Must, in their turns, to tyrants fall / While thou shalt flourish great and free: The dread and envy of them all.” Boris Johnson waded into the debate declaring "I think it's time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history”.
· Some commentators have declared the damaging and removal of statues as mob rule. Are there are other examples of mob rule where statues or symbolic structures have been damaged or removed?
· Some commentators have condemned such actions as criminal. Are they crimes? Can such crimes ever be justified?
· What should happen to these statues?
· Should taxpayers’ money be used to protect statues like Churchill?
· Is it difficult for people to learn new and perhaps damaging information about historical figures that they may have previously hailed as heroes?
· What do you think will happen next?
· Can we/should we ‘erase’ embarrassing or unacceptable (historically and/or in the present day) aspects of our history? If so, what should be ‘erased’? What should be praised and commemorated in statue-form?
· Do people only notice statues when they get angry?
· What could some of these statues of slave traders/leaders/thinkers be replaced with, if anything?
· “The eradication of a nation’s historical artefacts usually follows revolution or war”. Is this accurate?
I then asked my students to consider their own questions - they were also encouraged to cast predictions and consider consequences and implications. I used a favoured technique from 'Essential Questions' by McTighe and Wiggens to help me structure this part of the session:
Your turn….write your own question following the guidelines and prompts below:
What is a good question? A good question…. 1. Is open-ended. 2. Is thought-provoking & intellectually engaging, often sparking discussion & debate. 3. Calls for higher-order thinking, such as analysis, inference, evaluation, prediction. It cannot be effectively answered by recall alone. 4. Points toward important, transferable ideas within (and sometimes across) disciplines. 5. Raises additional questions & sparks further inquiry. 6. Requires support and justification, not just an answer. 7. Recurs over time; that is, the question can & should be revisited again & again.
· How would it be different if....?
· What are the reasons....?
· Suppose that....?
· What if....?
· What if we knew....?
· What is the purpose of....?
· What would change if....?
· Had…..would…..have occurred?
· How influential was……in……?
· How does…..relate to…..?
· How might……help us to understand…..?
· What does…..reveal about…..?
· Could……have happened without…..?
· Does…..matter when trying to understand the reasons for….?
You can download all of the prompts above from the pdf below: