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LESSONS FOR PRESENT, LESSONS FOR FUTURE

Indifference

Introduction

The third successive topic of “Lessons for present, lessons for future” is none other than that of indifference. After the heroic and glorious resistance, the despicable and faint-hearted collaboration, the issue of indifference appears to be weak at first glance. Having neither a positive or negative impact, it seems inappropriate for educational purposes to provide either an example to emulate or an example to avoid. Nevertheless, a more careful approach to the meaning of indifference brings to light some of its aspects that are not visible at first sight. First of all, it’s clear that, if resistance is about a few people that dare to risk their life and collaboration is about a few people that take advantage of the regime for their personal benefit selling out their morality, then indifference concerns the silent majority of the population. This mute and weak-willed group of the population is the one that more often than not plays a decisive role because of its numerical superiority. It comes as no surprise that Solon, founder of the Athenian democracy, condemned more the ones that remained uninvolved and neutral than the ones that chose the wrong side in political debates.

Moreover, the concept of indifference is “not the lack of action, but an attitude which implies activity, action and, therefore, responsibility”. There is action without actions or activity without visible results (mental activity, psychological activity). We should consider indifference as the battlefield of a battle of consciousness. Therefore, the reasons that lead to indifference are of great interest as well. Fear is the major factor but not the only one. We have to take into account the political, economical and social context in which people find themselves. History is being written and understood through the actions and decisions of people in relation to their surroundings. It is important to keep in mind that indifference includes a good deal of disapproval together with positive attitudes towards the regime.

The lesson plans that are presented in this unit try to cast light upon the subject of indifference from multiple points of view.

“Indifference vs responsibility: Freedom is just participating.” The Italian lesson plan’s starting point is the monument of Shoah that has been recently constructed at the central train station of Milan and its title is “indifference”. The monument, as indicated by its title, is about the indifference of the city’s residents that allowed the transport and extermination of their fellow Jewish compatriots. This lesson plan also makes good use of literary texts that are about indifference (Sophocles’ Antigone, Brecht’s Antigone and Dante’s Divine Comedy). It also employs verses of an Italian songwriter as well as a testimony from a saved Jewish woman of the area. These texts are the ones that spark conversation among the students on the indifference topic.

The Polish lesson plan, “Indifference”, also uses literature as a base to understanding the meaning of indifference. Both a prose text and a poem are selected. The text is very strong and draws its content from real facts, while the poem comes from the Nobel Prize awarded Czeslaw Milosz. Educational drama techniques are recommended (freeze frame technique and thought tracking) in order to approach both of the literature pieces. They help develop empathy especially in emotionally charged texts that make it difficult for young students to handle.

The Finnish lesson plan, “We don’t want them here – Three types of Indifference”, is based on true historic events and examines three independent cases of indifference:

  • The Finnish authorities banning steamboat Ariadne to debark Jewish refugees from Austria.
  • Sweden’s denial to accept another Jewish group.
  • The way that the Finns were indifferent to their compatriots’ fate who got driven off Karelia, when these areas passed on the Soviet Union’s jurisdiction.

Every case, which gets approached by relative clippings of the period, can be a starting point of discussion on the topic of indifference.

The Spanish lesson plan, “Antonia Mecha: a life cut short by injustice and Indifference”, is also based upon real historic events, events that concern the Spanish civil war and Francoism. More specifically, this lesson plan revolves about indifference towards repression that teachers suffered in Spain during Francoism. As education was and still is the most efficient mechanism of imposing a regime, this lesson plan is of great interest. The topic is examined on both historical and philosophical/moral perspective. The latter offers us the chance to transfer our speculation to modern times and relative events such as the massive migration from Syria towards which we can be either indifferent or active.

The Slovakian lesson plan, “Indifference”, focuses on another mechanism that authoritarian regimes use since ancient times in order to impose themselves and gain political support: the people’s disorientation through “bread and circuses”. The lesson plan examines the way that this policy was applied both during WWII and the Communist regime (1945-1989). Their goal was pretty obvious, to cultivate an indifferent stance towards politics and develop tolerance towards oppression. The lesson plan also examines the role that a social and spiritual elite can have so as to prevent or strengthen such a situation.

Finally, the Greek lesson plan, “Indifference in Histopia”, tries to analyse fully the complex meaning of indifference. In addition, a detailed list is included that contains the social, political and psychological reasons that make one adopt an indifferent stance towards a totalitarian regime. The students take the role of a historical researcher and their task is to study some cases of people who were indifferent and explain their choice using selected evidence of the time.

The concept of indifference is hard to define and it is even harder to use in educational practice. However, it appears to be the most important notion, especially in current times, when individualism and consumerism rule and compose an environment in which it’s hard for the students to engage in politics. We hope that through the lesson plans presented, the teacher will find the tools that will not only help him/her convey his/her knowledge to students but also motivate them to develop political awareness and active citizenship.

Theodora Glaraki

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