Textbooks accused of paranoia and prejudice

17th December 2004 at 00:00
Turkey's school textbooks are riddled with misrepresentations, misconceptions and statements that breach international human rights agreements, according to a wide-ranging study.

Textbooks contradicted each other. Often inconsistencies appeared in the same book, the study found. Tarih Vakfi, the history foundation in Istanbul, said though most textbooks that it examined were published after 2000, they were already out of date regarding changes in the Turkish constitution and legislation.

Recent reforms have tried to reduce the power of the military over government. The army has staged three military coups since 1960, and in 1997 forced an Islamic government out of office.

In the most thorough survey of its kind to date, the foundation examined 190 primary and secondary textbooks in all subjects during 2002-3, with the aid of EU funding.

"The problems regarding textbooks were more serious than we had predicted," said Bekir Agirdir, the foundation's general manager. "We found 4,000 specific points where statements went against human rights norms."

Fatma Goz, of Bogyazici university, Istanbul, who studied human rights textbooks for 13 and 14-year-olds, said stereotypes, prejudices and generalisations about other cultures are rife. "The idea that other nations are perpetuating violent actions against Turkey is repeatedly presented".

Human rights is a compulsory subject for young teenagers. Dr Goz said that pupils could not be educated for citizenship in a democracy using these textbooks.

Most alarming was the glorification of death, the emphasis on the inevitability of war, approval of violence, and patriotism described as "martyrdom" and "dying for the motherland".

Such concepts entirely dominate the current human rights text for 14-year-olds, which served to "impose and indoctrinate a militarist and nationalist ideology under the pretext of international threat, terror and animosity", said Dr Goz.

The textbook for 13-year-olds praised duty and responsibility where Europe prefers to talk of rights and freedoms, and most books suggested that individual rights were bestowed by the Turkish state.

"In such texts students are forced, sometimes by threats, to believe in fuzzy concepts, obey authority and accept demands without question," she said. "The sentence 'to limit personal freedom is basically the principal function of the state' is found in almost all the textbooks.

"Human rights are regarded not as an end but as a means for the state to gain respectability in international organisations," said Dr Goz. The foundation has been lobbying for texts to be rewritten after presenting its findings to the education department this year.

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