Silences in a climate of voicing: teachers’ perceptions of societal and self-silencing regarding sensitive historical issues

Geerte M. Savenije, Tsafrir Goldberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study explores the silencing and voicing of sensitive topics in history education from a cross-national and multilevel perspective. In this mixed-method study, we undertook a quantitative analysis of a ‘teaching sensitive issues’ questionnaire and qualitative analyses of history curricula and teachers’ verbal responses. The findings show that most respondents were aware of societal and self-silencing but were also committed to voicing and giving a voice to pupils. Focusing on the issues found to be most sensitive–immigration and Islam–in Germany, Austria, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Israel, the analysis of national curricula indicates a climate of ‘voicing’ rather than silencing. Analysis of teachers’ responses showed strong awareness of the relationship between the sensitivity of the history of immigration and that of Islam and the relationship between pupil diversity and self-silencing on these issues. It appears that, in some cases, apprehension of pupils’ voices led teachers to self-silence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-64
Number of pages26
JournalPedagogy, Culture and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2 Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The topic of Islam and of interreligious relations appears in the curricula of all of the researched countries except Italy. The main two periods in which it features in the curricula are the rise of Islam and the crusades (Ministère de l’Éducation Nationale 2015, November 26; Ministerium für Bildung, Jugend und Sport des Landes Brandenburg 2010; Ministry of Education 2014; Wilschut and van der Kaap 2013). Additionally, Islam is mentioned when presenting the rise of the Ottoman Empire or the evolution of global terrorism over the last two decades (Amtsblatt des Ministeriums für Kultus, Jugend und Sport Baden-Württemberg 2016). As an exception, the Italian history curriculum does not mention Islam explicitly and only prescribes the larger theme of ‘the rise and evolution of religious feelings and norms’ (Cerini et al. 2012). In all other countries, the founding of Islam and its expansion receives critical-historical coverage. The topic falls under teaching goals and competencies such as ‘Beliefs and respect for the religious’ focusing on ‘Forms of intercultural and interreligious dialogue’. For example, the Dutch primary education history curriculum touches upon the constitutional right to freedom of education (the freedom to fund schools based on a particular religion or belief) and the ‘Koran schools’ that pupils attend over the weekend (van Oostrom 2008). This curriculum also describes the increased building of mosques in Dutch cities from the 1950s onwards and the resistance to it. However, in all countries but the Netherlands and Italy, most of the teaching hours refer to the Muslim empires and the prolonged conflict between them and the European-Christian countries. The height of conflict is emphasised in the descriptions of the crusades and the Ottoman westward expansion.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, © 2019 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Islam
  • Sensitive historical issues
  • cross-national perspective
  • history teachers
  • immigration
  • self-censorship
  • silencing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Education


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