'Sir, what did David Cameron actually do with that pig?'

This history teacher loves it when his pupils bring up contemporary events in class. But some news stories will never be appropriate discussion topics...

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Has anyone else been asked the question above over the past couple of days? I’m surprised that it took as long as it did, but not surprised that the question came up. Children, as much as adults, love the salacious, especially when it involves a public figure. Was it that they felt they could ask me because they were trying to work me out? Was it because there’s this link between history and politics? Was it because their boundaries aren’t yet quite so well defined? 

Whatever. I was asked about the pig. 

‘I have no idea and we’re moving on.’

Cue whispers: "What happened?", "He did what?", "Ew, that’s gross!"

I’m sure, perhaps especially in humanities subjects, that we all have these questions thrown into a lesson from time to time with seemingly little reason. And I’m also sure that most, if not all, of us have been ensnared by the trappings of a juicy topic. How could I not change plans and talk about the Ukrainian revolution in 2014 when Year 11 were smack in the middle of studying the Cold War? There were statues of Lenin being pulled over: it was gold dust!

The trick is to be able to use what’s in the news to our advantage – to get there first and wrap something dangerous in the safety of our domain if at all possible. The question that I reckon most history teachers are asked approximately 287 times a day is, "Do you think there will ever be a Third World War?" This is inevitably followed by, "Who between?", "Who do you think will win?" and "Would you fight?", whatever your response to the initial question.

(For the record my responses are: yes; me and you; me; you bet.)

The Jimmy Saville affair is one I’m sure many RE teachers had, and still have, to deal with. How many were caught off guard? Better to be ready and expect the worst – and in that case the worst was potentially very serious indeed.

Many history and RE teachers in particular will have had the subject of Islamic State (or insert your own nomenclature here) take over classroom discussion and, depending on their experience, the school’s ethnic make-up and the local socio-economic climate, they will have had to make some very quick decisions. Again, better to be ready.

A culture of inquisitiveness is, I think, fantastic. I want to be asked about current affairs, if only to allow those stidemts who won’t ever read a newspaper or see the news at home to have some chance of being part of the wider world. Sometimes those lessons where we let other events plan the conversation for us are brilliant. Sometimes I’ve felt as if more has been achieved by discussing a topic utterly alien to the constitution of Weimar Germany.

But sometimes – and thank you once again, Daily Mail – we just move on.

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