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25 April 2019

English textbooks present the EU critically compared to German counterparts

New research by our Head of School, Beatrice Szczepek Reed, asks whether German and English schools are promoting established political views

Library bookshelves
Library bookshelves

New research by our Head of School, Beatrice Szczepek Reed, asks whether German and English schools are promoting established political views. We also speak to Beatrice to find out where her other research interests lie...

The research

Analysing a sample of school social studies and politics textbooks, the researchers found that English textbooks focus less on Europe and take a more critical approach compared to German textbooks.

In the English textbooks, Europe is seen almost exclusively in political terms – with strong emphasis on the EU being a controversial issue. In one book for example, most of the limited space given to Europe is about the European Union – and about “different viewpoints on EU membership”.

In the German books there is a very different approach: Europe is seen more expansively and positively with an integrated approach to politics and identity. The German textbooks also have references to Europe being “our historical, cultural and intellectual home” and, a place where “enemies became friends”.

During the 2017 general election campaign in Germany, nearly one third of Germans backed politician Martin Schulz’s idea for a “United States of Europe” by 2025. The corresponding figure for Britain was just 10%. Considering this difference, and the recent Brexit vote in the UK, we must ask – are schools essentially engaged with promoting established views?

We spoke to Beatrice to find out more about the project, her research interests and what the future holds for the School of Education, Communication and Society at King’s College London.

An interview with Beatrice Szczepek Reed

Beatrice, the research project was informed by a previous piece of work – interviewing 2,000 young people across 29 European countries about their political identities. What did you discover about attitudes towards impending Brexit?

The interviews were part of the European Commission’s Eurobarometer studies of public opinion on the European Union; these were collected before the referendum. They found that young people in both England and Germany had a very similar level of attachment to the EU, but that there were differences in young people’s sense of identity as national and/or European, with English respondents identifying less often as European than German respondents.

I’m excited that we currently have a project in our School that investigates young people’s perceptions of Brexit. It is being conducted by Dr Imogen Feld, who is a visiting postdoctoral researcher and who is working with Professor Chris Winch and myself. The project is funded by the German Research Council (DFG).

What impact are you anticipating this research project will have?

Our piece in The Conversation  has attracted commentary from across the political spectrum, which is encouraging. If we can engage people in a debate about Europe by presenting previously under-reported aspects that’s a good achievement.

What are your main research interests and what project are you most proud of?

I’ve always been fascinated by human social interaction, especially at the very local level of individual conversations. My main interest is the prosody of everyday talk, that is, the musical aspects of interaction: how speakers use their voice in conversation, for example, or how language learners can be ‘tuned into’ a conversation rhythmically even if their pronunciation and word choice are not always correct. I’m also keen to understand how educational interactions work, especially in music teaching.

Finally, I’m interested in how heritage languages are learned and maintained in the UK, especially Arabic; and how the Arabic language underpins a sense of identity in Arab communities. This last interest lead to a collaboration with colleagues in the area of citizenship education, which prompted the project on Europe in school textbooks. 

The higher education landscape is changing all the time. What do you think will be some of the most pressing issues over the next ten years?

Universities will have to become more and more outward facing, and we can do this with great confidence in what we contribute to society. I wonder if research will be organised differently in 10 year’s time, and whether we will see smaller institutions that are highly focused on research, and others that continue to pursue both research and education.

What are you currently reading?

I’m reading Anna Burns’ Milkman, which is fascinating but a little demanding. It deals with very painful experiences of a young girl in Northern Ireland, but rhetorically it keeps the reader at arm’s length at all times. I’m also reading The Lies That Bind by Kwame Anthony Appiah, which explores the various myths behind our concepts of identity. 

The research, ‘Constructing Europe and the European Union via Education: Contrasts and Congruence Within and Between Germany and England’ was co-authored by academics at King’s College London, London Metropolitan University and the University of York. It will be published in the journal Educational Media, Memory and Society.

This article is partly republished from The Conversation  under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

In this story

Beatrice  Szczepek Reed

Professor of Linguistics