Sunday, May 30, 2004

A depressing, but predictable, survey of British elementary and secondary schoolchildren finds them appallingly ignorant about D-Day.
A survey of 1,309 pupils aged between 10 and 14 and from 24 different schools found alarming levels of ignorance about the invasion of Normandy 60 years ago.

Only 28 per cent of primary and secondary pupils who sat the quiz last week were able to say that D-Day, involving the largest invasion force ever mounted, was the start of the Allied liberation of occupied western Europe.

Many of them could only say that it was something to do with the Second World War - though 26 per cent were flummoxed by even that fact. Some thought it took place in the First World War, or was the day war broke out, the Blitz and even Remembrance Sunday.

"It's a day when everyone remembers the dead who fought," said a 14-year-old girl at a north Devon secondary school. Only 16 per cent of 918 participating primary school children had the answer right.

One 10-year-old in a Northamptonshire school thought it was the day the "Americans came to rescue the English". Another thought D-Day involved "the invasion of Portsmouth". Various dates for the assault were 1066, 1776, 1899 and 1948.

Children also had great difficulty in naming Britain's war-time prime minister. Less than half of the overall sample and only 39 per cent of primary school children correctly identified him as Winston Churchill; a significant number opted for Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair.

Seventeen per cent of the sample and only 38 per cent of secondary school children identified Franklin D Roosevelt as the then President of the United States. Other candidates offered by both age groups were Denzel Washington (the Oscar-winning actor), George Washington, John F Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln and George W Bush. Some said simply: "George Bush's dad."

Ignorance about the Allied leaders, however, contrasted sharply with knowledge about Adolf Hitler. Overall, 71 per cent of the sample and 64 per cent of primary school children were able correctly to name the Nazi leader. Only one in three could identify the broad location of D-Day, with a number saying that it happened in New Zealand, Skegness or Germany.

Thirteen per cent could name two of the beaches involved, and only 10 per cent of the sample knew that Dwight D Eisenhower was the Supreme Allied Commander. Others thought that the invasion was led by Anne Frank, Private Ryan (the eponymous hero of the Steven Spielberg D-Day epic), or Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, Eisenhower's deputy.
I would bet those kids are very up on every example of British villainy and the evils of British imperialism just as American children are taught more about Harriet Tubman than they are about George Washington.

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