Roelof Bouwman: Spare young children fashionable talk about slavery

The history teachers’ union wants children to be taught about slavery from the age of seven. An ostentatious attempt to win favor with politically correct politicians in The Hague, writes Roelof Bouwman.

Roelof Bouwman (1965) is a historian and journalist. He writes weekly about politics, history and the media.

When the mammoth law was introduced in 1968, history disappeared as a compulsory exam subject from secondary education – it became an elective subject. Since then, large groups of students arrive at colleges and universities each year without any significant historical baggage. Historical ignorance has become very common in the Netherlands. So normal that we can often just laugh at it.

It happened, for example, in 1996 then Historical Newspaper submitted a national history test to members of the House of Representatives. The parliamentarians got an average score of 4+. PvdA MP Marjet van Zuylen’s answer to the question ‘When, where and by whom was Willem van Oranje murdered?’ became legendary: ‘In 1600, so much at Dokkum.’

Dramatic history knowledge in youth education and vocational education

How dramatic the situation is was also shown when the HAN University of Applied Sciences in Arnhem and Nijmegen asked secondary and secondary vocational education students about their knowledge of the Second World War in 2018. Multiple choice questions with pictures of Winston Churchill, Arthur Seyss-Inquart and Hannie Schaft (‘Who is the person in the picture?’) was answered correctly by less than 30 percent of the young people. Concepts such as ‘resistance’ and ‘national socialism’ also seemed to be known only to a small minority. Almost no one knew what a ‘kraut whore’ was or what exactly the February strike entailed.

You would expect the Association of Teachers in History and Government in the Netherlands (VGN) to work fanatically to stop the vilification of its own profession. But what is practice?

In 2019, VGN chairman Ton van der Schans caused a furor with a plea to ‘internationalise’ history teaching in primary schools. For almost twenty percent of the students, Van der Schans reasoned, the Netherlands is not ‘their own country’, so primary school children must not only learn who William of Orange was: ‘It is at least as important that they learn that Atatürk was the founder is from Turkey.’

A curious speech. As if Atatürk’s historical importance depends on the number of students with Turkish background. Furthermore: ‘own country’ in Dutch schools is of course always the Netherlands, even when the parents or grandparents of some students were born elsewhere.

VGN: more and earlier attention to the ‘legacy from slavery’

VGN has now got a new chairman in the form of Marjan de Groot-Reuvekamp. She wants schools to pay more and earlier attention to the ‘legacy of slavery,’ she reported The telegraph recently. Primary school children should learn about the colonial past from the age of seven. ‘Awareness is growing that slavery is also our own history. And also the realization that descendants suffer from it to this day.’

It is the current-alarmist view of the past that has become very fashionable, along with the accompanying moral reflex. It has little to do with bona fide history teaching. “We then judge the past based on the feelings it arouses in us,” warned the renowned historian A.Th. van Deursen in 2000. »But history is not about ourselves, it is about other people. So they should be the benchmark. Whether it gives us cause for suffering or joy is immaterial.’

A trade union of history teachers trying to win over politically correct politicians in The Hague with fashionable talk and ridiculous multicultural knee-jerk reactions: it hurts the eyes. Far beyond Dokkum – and this is the worst – not a single Dutch student gets anything out of it.

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