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Motion Detector No. 11: Schoolbooks – Knowledge and Politics

Museum Europäischer Kulturen

In its "Motion Detector" the MEK displays objects from its collection that are relevant to current topics. For "Motion Detector" No. 11, we’ve chosen ongoing discussions about school neutrality as an opportunity to take a closer look at our extensive collection of textbooks from the last 150 years

The debate about school neutrality is currently more heated than it has been for a long time. Last year controversial internet platforms were created in several German federal states with the intention that parents and children should report “violations of political neutrality”. Similar discussions have also been taking place in other European countries. In Poland and Turkey, for instance, nationalist and religious content has increasingly been included in school curricula in recent years. Parents and teachers protested there, just as they did in Hungary when new history books were introduced in 2016.

Schoolbooks are never neutral: This is clearly illustrated by the MEK’s extensive collection. The books are always the result of negotiation processes. They incorporate the current state of knowledge, along with political convictions and ideologies, considerations about teaching practices, and topics typical of the times. If politics cannot be kept out of schools, how should the consequences be dealt with?

Specific principles have been in place for this purpose in Germany since the 1970s. Controversial political issues must be presented, analysed and discussed in a differentiated manner in the classroom. Pupils should be allowed to find and represent their own positions – and they may not be indoctrinated. However, there is no “principle of neutrality”. On the contrary: According to the German constitution and the federal states’ school laws, schools in this democracy should contribute to educating students to become politically active citizens in the spirit of human dignity, democracy and equal rights.