I recently returned from a two week mini “Grand Tour” of Europe. The last stop on our itinerary was the Bavarian capital, Munich. As a World History teacher, I had to sign up for the Third Reich walking tour of the city. Along the two hour walk, we saw many significant sites like the Nazi Headquarters, Dodger’s Alley, and Hofbrauhaus. However, the most remarkable moment for me was actually the very end of the tour.

As we stood in Marienplatz, the last stop on our journey, our guide asked if we had any questions. The ten of us looked around at each other and remained silent, except for one man who asked, “How is Nazi history taught in German schools?” Our tour guide explained that when he was in high school in the 1980s, he learned about Nazi history for about two weeks. After a tumultuous year, teaching online during the pandemic, I only had about two weeks to teach most units which spanned hundreds of years, rather than a few decades. He added that his children who are currently in school spend about two months learning about the Nazi period. Additionally, every student in Bavaria is required to visit Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp in Germany.

I was in awe listening to how the German education system teaches the darkest period in the country’s history. I thought about how I learned about slavery in the US when I was a student. I grew up in Northern Virginia, an area rich in Civil War sites and mansions owned by slaveholders. However, our field trip to Mount Vernon in 1st grade and trip to a Civil War era mansion in 4th grade completely ignored the lives of the enslaved people who lived and worked on the grounds. Then I considered how controversial teaching accurate history in the US has become, especially the last few years. I reflected on how I taught. I try to provide students with a more detailed understanding of often oversimplified topics like slavery, colonialism, and imperialism but was I doing enough? What perspectives was I missing?

Germany’s commitment to providing a thorough and accurate understanding of one the most inhumane and difficult topics to teach motivated me to improve upon my instruction for the upcoming school year. I hope to reframe many units to highlight the experience of the oppressed and those who tried to enact change, rather than focusing on the elite who fought to maintain control.

– Natalie Glees (teacher)