Thursday, October 18, 2012

Teaching the Kids to Hate

The economist has a longer piece this week on educational textbooks and the manner in which they are manipulated to match various political and social objectives (read bias). Separately, in the Daily Beast today several publishing executives called on Saudi Arabia to address their appalling record on educational content. First here is the economist's take:
Other people’s textbooks have long been a source of worry. After the first world war, the League of Nations sought to make them less nationalistic. Anxieties increased, though, after the attacks on America on September 11th 2001, when some in both America and Saudi Arabia, including officials, supposed that Saudi Arabia’s curriculum of intolerance was responsible, at least in part, for the emergence of al-Qaeda’s brutal brand of jihad. Buffeted by the criticism, Saudi rulers promised reform. From King Abdullah down, Saudis have insisted repeatedly that the intolerant bits of their teaching materials have been removed. But in a stubbornly autocratic country that adheres to a puritanical Wahhabism, there is a lot of intolerance to go round.

The Institute for Gulf Affairs (IGA), a think-tank and human-rights lobby in Washington, DC, reports that much of the material that provoked fury in the West after September 2001 is still used in Saudi classrooms today. Ali al-Ahmed, director of the IGA and author of a forthcoming work on Saudi textbooks, cites such examples as “The Jews and Christians are enemies of the believers”, and “The Jews occupied Palestine with the help of the crusaders’ malevolence towards Islam… But the Muslims will not remain silent”. The Saudi education minister says the books are being revised—but that it will take another three years. Mr Ahmed says change is not happening sooner “because the state would be putting its survival at risk. The purpose of education is to ensure social obedience to the ruler.”
From the Daily Beast:
Children who are indoctrinated with such hatred are susceptible to engage in bigotry and even violence. Hate speech is the precursor to genocide. First you get to hate and then you kill. This makes peaceful coexistence difficult, if not impossible.
Despite repeated promises to reform Saudi textbooks, the most recent books remain full of bigotry and intolerance. We call on Saudi Arabia to immediately stop distributing and printing children’s textbooks that incite hatred of others.
While Saudi Arabia maybe one of the most intolerant and dissembling, The Economist took a much wider look and noted well that Saudi Arabia is just one of most countries that attempt to manipulate what their children learn and they conclude rather dismally:
Fortunately, the spread of digital technology makes such revisions easier—even if it does nothing to resolve disagreements over what revisions should be made. The days when textbooks were covered with the scrawl of pupils in long-ago classrooms may be coming to an end. Digital books, which can be updated cheaply and often, will probably come to replace their paper counterparts. Some school systems are already embracing this. In September California’s governor, Jerry Brown, signed a bill to create a website where students can download popular college textbooks free of charge.

As long as textbooks in one form or another are used, says Ms Lässig, and as long as they are issued or approved by the state, they will remain a political issue. But as access to other texts is enjoyed more widely, some of the dominance they now enjoy will wane.

As indeed will the power of teachers—whose prejudices may often be just as ingrained as those found in textbooks, and rather harder to pin down. Henning Hues, a researcher at the Georg Eckert Institute, has studied South African textbooks and teaching. In one class he observed, a book issued since the rise to power of the African National Congress featured a picture of Nelson Mandela with, alongside it, a question about why the country’s first black president was a hero. The teacher, a white Afrikaans-speaker a few years away from retirement, ignored the task set and described Mr Mandela as an armed guerrilla and assassin.

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