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Monday, 11 November 2013

Murder Cases in the Classroom

I first started teaching in 1977. The school was using some new Schools Council Project materials called "What is History?" It included the "Mystery of Mark Pullen". The lesson went really well until the end when the students were told that Mark Pullen was not a real person. They felt cheated that they had spent time investigating what they considered a murder case that was not true. My response to this was to create a lesson on a real mystery. I had recently read a book on the Mary Celeste. I therefore decided to create a lesson on a real-life mystery. The students loved it and a couple of years later the material became the first publication of Tressell, the teacher-run cooperative based in Brighton. For many years it was our best selling booklet. Children (and teachers) love mysteries. They especially love murder mysteries. Another best selling booklet was the "Assassination of John F. Kennedy".

One of the reasons that students are attracted to such issues is that it gives them a role in the learning process. Their opinion becomes important and they become active learners. It is also a marvellous exercise for inspecting the evidence. It gives them the chance to be a detective (or more importantly, an historian). The problem is finding enough time in the curriculum to spend on "mysteries". I recently came across a case which might indeed be worth spending a lesson on. 

The case involves the death of Hitler's young niece, Geli Raubal. Officially, Geli killed herself on 18th September, 1931. She was aged 23 and had been having a sexual relationship with her uncle for over two years. The anti-Nazi press published stories suggesting that Adolf Hitler was romantically involved with Geli and that he had murdered her because she was expecting a child by a Jewish music teacher. Hitler issued a statement denying any involvement in her death but the left-wing newspapers continued to carry these stories. Rudolf Hess claimed that Hitler became suicidal because of the rumours that he had shot Geli. "He was so fearfully vilified by this new campaign of lies that he wanted to make an end of everything. He could no longer look at a newspaper because this frightful filth was killing him. He wanted to give up politics and never again appear in public."

The rest of the article can be found here:

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