Teaching Difficult Histories: Rwanda’s Post-Genocide Experience

EDUCATION

Educators and politicians are debating what some call the “official narrative” of the past, a broadly accepted account that roots the causes of the genocide in the colonial period. Some allege that this historical account downplays certain realities, including the murder of many thousands of Hutu, and favors what some describe as a “univocal narrative” that is managed by the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front. (National Geographic News)

Use our resources for guidance in teaching difficult and contested histories.

A Hutu boy, orphaned by the war in Rwanda, draws pictures of Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front soldiers shooting small stick figures who represent Hutus. Many Rwandan Hutus think their role in the Rwandan civil war is being re-written in an "official narrative" school curriculum. Photograph by Michael Nichols, National Geographic

A Hutu boy, orphaned by the war in Rwanda, draws pictures of Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front soldiers shooting small stick figures who represent Hutus. Many Rwandan Hutus think their role in the Rwandan civil war is being re-written in an “official narrative” school curriculum.
Photograph by Michael Nichols, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas
The curriculum developers at Facing History have developed relevant materials about genocide and the teaching of history. They have found that “establishing and nurturing classroom norms of respect and open-mindedness is one way to help students have productive, safe conversations about sensitive issues such as prejudice and discrimination.” They then discuss three “Levels of Questions” to help students approach difficult texts: Factual Questions, Inferential Questions, and Universal Questions.

  • Factual questions (level one) can be answered explicitly by facts contained in the text. A factual discussion question suggested by the Nat Geo News article might be: What are the main ethnic groups in Rwanda, as discussed in the article?
    • Hutu and Tutsi

 

  • Inferential questions (level two) can be answered through analysis and interpretation of specific parts of the text. An inferential discussion question suggested by the Nat Geo News article might be: What groups or institutions mentioned or alluded to in the article contribute to Rwanda’s curriculum about the genocide?
    • Political groups, such as the RPF; curriculum developers, such as the Rwanda Education Board; influential individuals, such as Paul Rusesabagina and Charles Kabwete Mulinda; and parents, teachers, celebrities, and other survivors all contribute to the “participatory process” of creating the curriculum.

 

  • Universal questions (level three) are open-ended questions that are raised by ideas in the text. They are intended to provoke a discussion of an abstract idea or issue. Some universal discussion questions suggested by the Nat Geo News article might be: What is genocide? (The article relies on a solid, if complex, international legal definition.) According to the article, who is determining national identity—”Rwandanness”? How do other nations teach about genocide and other “contested events” in their own history?

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