Are heroes important to you? If they are, you are not alone. I suspect that most of us look up to role models of some sort.

How should schools respond to the natural desire of children to seek the certainty that heroic role models appear to offer? Mostly, these days, traditional heroes are either debunked or ignored in the classroom. Politically correct versions have taken their place – Mary Seacole (West Indian) for Florence Nightingale, Chief Lobengula (African) for Cecil Rhodes, Josephine Butler (Victorian feminist) for Nelson.

Even Churchill has had his role during World War 2 much diminished. A Department for Education video on the war, 34 minutes in length, was sent to every school in the country some years ago as the rot in our education system really set in. He was allocated just 14 seconds coverage and only to inform children that he lost the 1945 general election.

Matters, today, are even worse. In the new National Curriculum for History there is no longer a statutory requirement for schools to teach any specific personality from British or European history, let alone a heroic one, such as Churchill.

This is a great pity because, as role models, heroes really do matter to children. They do not all have to be British, of course, but, if we wish pupils to develop a sense of national identity and belonging, the British component should have a central place. If, however, an important part of education and of growing up is to be inspired by heroic behaviour, we should be prepared to cast the net wide. It is heroism and moral example that matter most when putting role models before children.

As head teacher, one of the most uplifting stories of such behaviour I ever placed before my pupils in assembly was that of a German girl, Sophie Scholl, and her brother, Hans, during the winter of 1942-43 in Germany. A teenage member of the Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls) Sophie’s enthusiasm for Nazism waned. She had become completely disillusioned with it by the time she entered the University of Munich in 1942.

Her interest had turned to the ideas of the English Catholic convert, John Henry Newman. She was particularly absorbed by his theology of ‘conscience’ and gave a copy of Newman’s sermons to her boyfriend Fritz Hartnagel, who was a soldier on the eastern front.

Appalled by Hartnagel’s reports of German atrocities and the evidence of her own eyes regarding Nazi wickedness, she supported her brother and a few other students who had set up the “White Rose” resistance group in Munich. Central to their activities was the distribution of anti-Nazi resistance leaflets in and around the university calling for passive resistance to the war.

Arrested after the sixth pamphlet drop in February 1943, Sophie and Hans Scholl along with a friend, Christoph Probst, were beheaded for high treason. Before her conviction Sophie told the Nazi court:

“Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.”

As a tsunami of ‘liberal-fascism’ and intolerant political correctness sweeps through our schools and universities, stories such as this one need to be passed on to young people. American writer Lillian Garrett-Groag described the White Rose “as possibly the most spectacular moment of resistance that I can think of in the twentieth century… The fact that five little kids, in the mouth of the wolf, where it really counted, had the tremendous courage to do what they did, is spectacular to me. I know that the world is better for them having been there…”.

The story of the Scholls is one of both heroism and of hope. Children need such stories as much as we all do. Christmas – a festival of hope – is a good time to tell it. The Germans, at least, no longer forget the Christmas of 1942 in Munich. In a nationwide poll to ascertain who were the greatest Germans, they voted Sophie and Hans into 4th position.

Readers of The Conservative Woman who are interested in a narrative of the story of the White Rose can watch the award-winning 2005 cinema version online. It is based on interviews with survivors and on transcripts that became available in 1990 following the collapse of East Germany.

(Image: Morgan Davies)

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