ExecutionHaving been invited to read to a class of students for reading week, I looked for a chance to work with a group of older students who I have not taught in two years. The Y11 group I wanted to work with stuck in my mind because so many of the boys were obsessed with guns and violent video games. This seemed a perfect fit for one of the 12 Hard Lessons: guns are not glorious.

To approach this one I chose to read from a book of first hand accounts from World War I: Max Arthur’s Forgotten Voices of the Great War. This amazing book, which is part of a series, gives a history of the war as a collage of first hand accounts taken from the Imperial War Museum. I read two individual accounts, one by a German soldier who had bayoneted a French soldier, and another by a British soldier who participated in the execution of a deserter.

These two passages are very intense, and I was actually quite emotional reading them aloud in front of 20 students. I think the students picked up on this, and the room was perfectly still. As way of introduction I told students that whilst they may enjoy glorified violence, the truth is far from glorious, and I wanted them to understand and feel this. I think the result of this session was not a teacher preaching “guns are bad”, but a chance for students to really appreciate why guns are not glorious.

Credit: execution image by Underwood & Underwood via Wikimedia Commons, under PD.