Teach Them Freedom

Education in the Netherlands has, since the days of what we refer to as the School Struggle in the early 20th Century, been a complicated affair. Public schools and schools on a religious basis get the same state funding and have to comply with the same regulations regarding curriculum. What seemed like a good idea then, with just Jews, Catholics and Protestants in the country, is becoming more of a problem now. One Christian lawmaker tried to get a debate on the merits of creationism off the ground, and some Islamic schools have found to be at odds with the regulations. Now it is revealed that on some unofficial (unsubsidized) ‘Sunday’ schools, connected to mosques, pupils are subjected to violent teachers and to anti-western teachings (link, in Dutch).

The Dutch Minister for Integration, Ella Vogelaar (PvdA / Dutch Labour), wants to resolve this problem by allowing lessons in Islam to be taught at public schools, in direct competition with the Sunday schools. It’s nothing new really – I had extracurricular lessons in religion on my public school as well. But it won’t work. Those Muslims interested in more fiery notions of Islam will simply not send their kids to lessons approved by the Dutch government, much like Jehovah’s Witnesses are sending their kids to public schools to avoid them hearing the ‘wrong’ teachings in Protestant schools.

Religion, according to me, is a private affair. You teach your kids about your almighty being of choice at home if you must. I fail to see why believers ask the state to help them indoctrinate their kids – the state is not supposed to have a religion or to forward religions at all. So let’s be done with all those Protestant schools which refuse to hire gays, those Catholic schools full of crucifixes and those Muslim schools which try so hard to insert Islam into every lesson. Public, state funded schools should be devoid of religion.

Furthermore I propose an emphasis on freethinking. Teach those kids about Galilei and the Inquisition, teach them that thinking outside the box is a good and admirable thing, and teach them how blindly obliging to some leader or other invariably leads to mayhem. History provides us with enough examples. Add some philosophy classes – Dutch schools hardly touch that subject and I would have loved to fill that gap in my knowledge. But by all means, teach them to challenge what they hear and read. Teach them freedom of thought.

I know – parents will object that that undercuts their freedom to raise their kids in accordance with their own tradition. They won’t say it of course, but they will claim the freedom to raise kids in a non-free manner. And they can, for all I care. In their spare time.

As for the Sunday schools with the violence and the rhetoric: there are laws for that. Investigate, prosecute, and be done with it. The incident-based policies of Vogelaar, emblematic of current Dutch politics, are not going to help anyone.


One Comment

  1. Oh, this is really an endearing piece. I’d like to frame it and hang it on the wall — if I weren’t such a wretched cynic. Because, Rob, this is really to naieve. Do yoiu really think that, e.g. the Dutch government is religiously neutral? Not true. In Holland all religions are equal, but some religions are more equal than others. There is a strong traditional tendency to prefer Protestant people for jobs and Protestant views — to give a simple example: in many instances God is invoked under official state circumstances. So called public schools in the originally nearly completely Catholic province of Limburg are in fact Catholic school in all that matters, including religion lessons and preparing for the First Communion. The only difference is that the bishopric doesn’t have any official jurisdiction in public schools, as it has in Catholic institutions.

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