a colourful choise

handbook for international teaching materials

Auteurs: Ineke Mok & Peter Reinsch
©Parel, Utrecht 1999

The Characteristics of Intercultural School Textbooks

By Ineke Mok and Peter Reinsch

In this chapter Ineke Mok and Peter Reinsch describe the characteristics of intercultural school textbooks. They stress that the distinction between the 'Dutch' and 'ethnic minorities' or - as is regularly the case with pupils - between 'us; and 'them' is often lacking in subtleties and causes polarisation. Their second important point is that in school texts all people must be seen to be equal in spite of any differences.

The authors illustrate that the European lifestyle is often elevated to the position of norm by a one-sided choise of examples and facts, so that alternative perspectives or experiences remain undiscussed. This is usually at the expense of people from other parts of the world. The lesson material is geared to 'white' Dutch people to such an extent that pupils from ethnic minority groups are excluded.

Mok and Reinsch give some general advice for the evaluation of lesson-material for teachers working individually as well as those working as a team.


1.1 Recognisable and Accessible

Intercultural school textbooks assume that pupils command a diversity of referential frameworks. All pupils should be able to find their own cultural backgrounds and lifestyles reflected in the subject matter dealt with in class, in order that they can identify with the circumstances and characters presented. These possibilities for identification must be chosen so that they are attractive and challenging to pupils of all shapes and sizes.
This seems self-evident, but only a small proportion of classroom material complies. The number of school textbooks from the eighties and nineties that depict only Europeans, in words and images, is noteworthy. The average school textbook creates the impression that The Netherlands is predominantly inhabited by white people. Exciting and active roles are almost always reserved for white middle-class men and boys. A Eurocentric and gender-biased perspective not only excludes some pupils, it operates as a norm and can have a negative effect on pupils' results.


Make sure that the contents of classroom material - illustrations, stories and explanations - connects with the everyday knowledge and experiences of all pupils.

Us and Them
Giving people from different cultures a place in school textbooks is still not a guarantee of successful classroom material. Especially, the distinction between 'us' and 'them' can give rise to problems. As a mode of address 'us' is an obvious manner of including pupils in the lesson. Terms such as 'we' and 'us', however, can have a normative or exclusive effect. The following quote is a good example:

"In our society we come across people who are 'different'. They speak a different language, have a different religion, eat different food and sometimes wear clothes we would not feel comfortable in. Can you give an example of people in The Netherlands who do not share our culture in its entirety with us?" (1)

In this instance only a certain group of pupils are addressed as 'us', while other pupils are positioned outside 'our' culture.

Make sure that the form 'us' addresses all pupils or all inhabitants of The Netherlands, irrespective of origins, social position, customs and interests. This means that 'we' should not be used to indicate white Dutch people as opposed to the 'them' of ethnic minorities and other immigrants.



From:·F. Pingel, Georg-Eckert-Institut für Internationale Schulbuchfor/schung, Braunschweig, Germany

Source:·Politik und Gesellschaft, Band 1, Landesausgabe Brandenburg, Militzke Verlag 1993, Sekundarstufe 1, Klasse 7/8

The following excerpt is from "Ich und der Fremde", a chapter that aims to facilitate more understanding for the 'foreigner'. The term 'foreigner' illustrates the problem at the crux of the chapter. The lesson begins with a conversation between Laura and Michael. They are freely discussing their opinions, and the opinions of others, concerning Janek, a Polish boy. They are using their opinions to justify excluding him from the football team. The conversation is then subjected to a critical commentary from which is appears that Janek is no exception. His experience is one shared by many others.

"Sie alle sind uns meinstens fremd, wir kennen sie nicht, sie sind anders als wir: Sie ziehen sich vielleicht anders an, bevorzugen andere Speisen. Sie haben eine andere Frisur, sehen anders aus, sprechen eine andere Sprache und haben andere Freunde und Bekannte. Vielleicht gefällt ihnen eine andere Musik, vielleicht drücken sie für eine andere Fussballmannschaft die Daumen. Sie leben anders, benehmen sich anders und haben vielleicht zu vielen Sachen eine andere Meinung." (p.61)

Translation:·"Most of them are foreign to us, we dont't have any contact with them, they're different to us. Perhaps they dress differently, prefer different food. Their hair is different, they look different, speak a different language and have different friends and acquaintances. Maybe they like other kinds of music, or stick up for a different football team. They live differently, behave differently and maybe have different views on many subjects." (p.61)

This excerpt exhibits many similarities with the text from the Dutch school book cited above. In both, the difference between 'the foreigner' and 'ourselves' is foregrounded. Exercises follow. 'Foreigners' remain an object to be studied.

"Vielleicht fallen dir noch andere Beispiele ein? Wie gehst du und wie gehen deine Mitmenschen mit solchen fremd erscheinenden Leuten um? Beobachte doch mal." (p.61)

Translation:·"Perhaps you can think of a few examples? How do you and your fellow citizens deal with foreign looking individuals? Go out and observe." (p.61)

Eventually, the pupils are encouraged to go and talk to 'victims' to find out about their experiences and feelings. The manner in which the pupils in the class are addressed remains problematic in this chapter. The lesson fails to acknowledge the presence of 'foreigners' in the class and directs itself exclusively to the 'white' pupils. This exclusion of certain class members can only have a negative influence on the treatment of prejudice, a subject dealt with extensively in this chapter. Attempting to counteract prejudice from an 'us/them' dichotomy is no guarantee for positive results. On the contrary, it can lead to a reification of existing prejudices.

The quotes cited above have been introduced to pinpoint one of the most crucial shortcomings of intercultural textbooks for schools. All too often, intercultural education is perceived to be an education in understanding 'foreigners' for 'native-born' pupils. The class is addressed as a 'white' entity, rather than a multi-cultural group.



From:·M. Praia, Escola Superior de Educaçào do Instituto Politécnico do Porto, Porto, Portugal

Source:·Desenvolvimento pessoal e social, Ciclo 2, 5/6 anos. (Personal and social development) Lisboa: Plátano Editoria 1994
(authors: C.Tojo, I.Tavares, I.Abreu)

We find the same approach in the following quote from a Portuguese school textbook.

While the lesson "Who Am I? How Am I Growing Up?" begins with something amenable to the understanding of most pupils in the form of the poem, the lesson itself is concerned solely with 'others'.



- Se eu tivesse um carro
havia de conhecer
toda a terra.

Se eu tivesse um barco
havia de conhecer
todo o mar.

Se eu tivesse um avião
havia de conhecer
todo o céu.

-Tens duas pernas
e ainda não conheces
a gente da tua rua.

Luísa Ducla Soares


Às vezes, relacionamo-nos com os outros sem os conhecermos bem, temos sobre eles ideias que nos vãa sendo transmitidas e sobre as quais não pensamos - e daqui nascem os preconseitos.

Isto acontece, em particular, em relação aos "ciganos", aos "negros", aos de outras religiões, às chamadas "minorias".



Although we live close to other people, we often don't know anything about them or worst than this our opinion about them is based upon stereotype.
This normaly is more true when related tot the "gipsies", the "negroes", those from "different religions" and in a general way with all the others belonging to "minorities".
Vamos fazer-te um convite para que possas olhar para os que te rodeiam, e conhecê-los, "vê-los" tal como são na realidade.

Começa pela tua escola
Identifica os colegas que pertencem a diferentes comunidades geográficas, a diferentes grupos, a diferentes religiões, a diferentes etnias.
- Em seguida, procura saber, junto deles, alguns dos seus, costumes, hábitos alimentares, momentos de festa?, ou seja, procura saber o que eles sabem e fazem e que tu não sabes e não fazes.
- Caso não encontres colegas que possas incluir nalguma das categorias atrás identificadas, procura documentação sobre elas nos jornais e revistas, na biblioteca da tua escola ou da tua terra, ou pede ajuda a algum dos teus professores.

Projecta de turma
··Procurem organizar uma festa-convívio em que cada grupo possa mostrar alguma(s) da(s) sua(s) diferença(s) (canções, comida tradicional, falares, trajes, danças, rezas,?).
··Não se esqueçam de convidar os colegas que não pertencem à turma e seus familiares, assim como os vossos pais e amigos.
··Organizem uma exposição na qual poderão mostrar à escola tudo o que descobriram sobre as diferenças e curiosidades.
··Em vez da festa-convívio podem organizar semanas culturais destinadas a cada um dos grupos.

Let us try to get a different view of these people

First your school
Look at your colleagues.
-·Can you find any one "different" among them?
If so
-·Go and ask them to tell you about some of their cultural traditions.
If not
- Try to get information about "different" people. Ask your teacher for help. Pay more attention to the television. Look for some information
- postcards, books, for example.

··The organization of a party during which children from other cultures have time to present some particularities of their own traditions.
··The organization of an exhibition with the same above mentioned aims.
··Don't forget to invite friends to take part in your initiatives.


Many pupils experience some problems with the language used in textbooks. This applies to primary as well as secondary education. While most children from ethnic backgrounds speak Dutch, it remains for many a second language. This fact is insufficiently recognised, or is seen as a problem that should be solved in the context of language education.
The following aspects can influence the accessibility of material used in the classroom: the frequent use of jargon and of abstract or obscure words, the length of sentences or passages of text, the use of convoluted syntax or texts with a typically Dutch subject matter.
Clear and concrete language does not necessarily lead to simple and childlike Dutch. The point is to review linguistic usage in a way that will ultimately be to the advantage of all pupils. To many (multilingual) children in primary education, the following example of material intended as the subject for a lesson consists of too many new words and concepts:
Our county is a monarchy. It is governed by ministers. The members of the House of Commons discuss the ministers' work. Each new governmental year begins with the State Opening of Parliament. (2)

It requires some effort on the part of a teacher to transform this material in one lesson into something both comprehensible and cohesive. Generally speaking, material that is contained in a narrative text is preferable to material presented with a great deal of extra information. Questions and assignments can also present problems: a bias towards open-ended questions will naturally stimulate creativity and a critical attitude in pupils, but when assimilation of the material itself is being tested, closed questions are always more effective.
Language teachers, especially teachers of the native language, can function as a major source of advice for their colleagues. They obviously have an enhanced insight into the linguistic problems that can occur and the way these can be accommodated.

Make sure the linguistic usage is geared towards the capabilities and potential of the pupils.


The Dutch: A Mixed Bunch
An intercultural school textbook takes as its central supposition the fact that the population of The Netherlands consists of people from a wide variety of backgrounds, with differing customs, political preferences and religions, all of whom can differ as far as appearance is concerned. Such variety should not necessarily be attributed to ethnic minorities or be seen as 'different' or 'strange'. Most people working in education in The Netherlands take it for granted that not everyone is 'white'. It is important to create a picture that connects with the experiences of the pupils themselves.
Sometimes, the multicultural aspect of school textbooks is added on by the inclusion of a paragraph or chapter on 'immigrants' or 'Islam'. Merely by drawing this distinction, however, the perception of 'immigrants' and 'Muslims' as strange or unusual might be reinforced and rendered the object of exceptional attention. Inter-cultural education pre-supposes that all people, no matter how different, should be foregrounded as equals. It is a contradiction, therefore, to render 'other' ethnic groups problematical by sectioning them into separate paragraphs and pigeon holes.
In order to investigate the possibility of unnecessary isolation, one can, for example, ask the following questions. Are people with a different skin colour presented as both blue- and white-collar workers, as holiday-makers, participants in various activities and groups, people who care about the environment, people with plans for the future? In other words, are people with a different skin colour depicted as 'ordinary people'? Alternatively, are they presented as representatives of 'other' cultures?

The multicultural nature of Dutch society should be seen to be a given fact. Naturally, ethnic minority groups can be depicted as unique and exceptional, but, at the same time, we should not lose sight of the 'ordinary' person beneath the material in educational texts.


Source:·Guidelines for the evaluation and selection of toys and other resources for children. (The Working Group Against Racism in Children's Resources) London.

A mirror-image of society, the class or the neighbourhood can also be expressed through other material used in your school: What do your playthings, and your class, and your school look like? What type of pictures are hanging on the walls?

"This will help us select resources which will encourage children to learn about and value other cultures and question sexist or racist assumptions which they will inevitably face as they grow up.

Providing positive resources does not necessarily mean that you have to buy them;

·You can provide visual displays and learning materials by using photos of black heroes and heroines and role models, cut or photocopied from magazines etc.

·Use photographs of children to change traditional games or to create new ones.

·Explore your neighbourhood and create a poster with photographs of local black fire fighters, solicitors, shop keepers etc.

·Involve parents and other network and ask them to donate clothes, cooking utensils, artefacts etc.

Toys and books should fire children's imaginations, stimulate their curiosity about the world and extend their general knowledge and understanding. Most important, they should give them pleasure. Aim to provide resources with an emphasis on those which feature black characters in leading roles as well as a variety of black dolls and other items which reflect black children and their diverse communities. This will help counter the emphasis on the 'white world' which is still prevalent today. Good resources alone cannot halt the powerful influence of racism, but it is an important step in the right direction." (p.5)

White Faces Painted Black
One way of giving a school textbook the veneer of interculturality is by literally colouring in otherwise white people. The faces in illustrations are tinted while the book itself retains an otherwise monocultural perspective.

Comparable is a device whereby Dutch-sounding names are simply changed for non-Dutch-sounding names in, for example, accompanying stories. The differences between people -- and these are not contained merely in a name or a colour -- are negated or erased. It is unrealistic to pretend there are no differences between the various ethnic groups in The Netherlands. Socio-economic status is a prime example of this. Equality is not equatable with sameness.

Nonetheless, it would be refreshing if higher functionaries were not only represented as white men, but also women and men from ethnic minority groups. This stigmatises less and offers children suitable role models they can strive to emulate. Are we then not faced with a dilemma? Are we not drawing an over- idealised picture, in contradiction with reality?

The dilemma pertaining to the depiction of a reality or an ideal is central to one crucial question: should school textbooks emphasise that a society without racism and gender-bias is both desirable and attainable, or merely that our present society is characterized by these discriminatory processes. The answer, naturally, is both! In the following paragraphs the problems of equality and sameness will be the subject of further discussion.


Equality entails the discussion of cultural differences and social inequalities. Discrepancies and problems, potentialities and impossibilities in the multicultural society are recognized and explored in the classroom material.


1.2 The Multicultural Society

Cultures and Differences
In The Netherlands it is usual to use the term 'culture' to categorise certain activities. There is a 'women's culture', a 'sporting culture', a 'committee culture', a 'video culture', a 'rural culture' and so on. 'Culture' is a useful term of designation in the process of delineating patterns of social behaviour, but one should be alert to the dangers of generalisation. Beneath these designations, there are differences among the participants in a specific 'culture' as far as eating habits, dress, artistic preferences, political and religious convictions as well as income are concerned. Often, Dutch people seem to have the opportunity to belong to more than one of these different 'cultures', while members of ethnic minority groups belong to one culture, namely, 'the other'.

By dividing people into cultural groups the world might be rendered more readily comprehensible, but this is, at the same time, a simplification. The extent to which polarisation is the result of this tendency, can be gathered from the following example.


"Foreigners probably never feel entirely at home in The Netherlands. The differences between their own country and The Netherlands are vast. The religion is difference, the weather is different, the customs are different, classrooms are different, the language is different, fathers and mothers are different, sports are different. In brief: everything is different". (3)

It is exactly through this continued emphasis on the differences between foreigners and the Dutch that an eternal clash of cultures is made to seem inevitable. The fixation with difference can also lead to cultural background being seen as the cause of someone's place in society.


Throughout the world people maintain differing values and norms. The differences are not exclusively attached to the North or the South, to 'us' and 'them', to white and black. Avoid polarisation; cultural differences are never absolute.


There Is No Such Thing As [Thé] Dutch Culture
An intercultural school textbook can avoid the dichotomy between 'us' and 'others' by emphasising the differences among the Dutch themselves as well as those things shared in common with other peoples and cultures. Virtually everybody at some time makes fun of the characteristics and habits of 'the Dutch', but at the same time we know that these are caricatures: sober, pragmatic and expressing a proclivity for pea-soup, pancakes, clogs, lace curtains and tulips. Few Dutch people would recognise themselves in such a caricature. Likewise, few Surinamese, Turks, Arabs, Jews or Molukkans recognise themselves in the caricatures attributed to their respective cultures. It would be far better to stress the mobility and dynamic qualities of cultures. Cultures are not static. They are shaped and changed by people. Music can be used as an example. Perhaps there are experts who could point out those aspects of 'western' music that can be adjudged 'typical', but they also have the gigantic chore of unravelling all those musical forms that have influenced each other over the centuries. Anyone who would want to give a comparable description of 'the' Dutch culture has no simpler task.


Look to see if cultures appear to be dynamic. Cultures influence each other continuously. Show the similarities between cultures and the differences between the Dutch and other European cultures.

The Perspective
It is not so strange that many textbooks bear witness to a Eurocentric perspective. Viewing the world from the point of one's own values and norms (ethnocentrism) is, to a certain extent, innately human. Nonetheless, this perspective creates the impression -- in the writing of history, for example -- that only the world of the Europeans counts for anything.

School textbooks can extend that field of vision by choosing a multicultural perspective: the occurrences are seen from a variety of perspectives and points of view. By allowing 'others' to speak, not only is their way of life more comprehensible, but the pupils themselves are made aware of the relativity of the word 'us'.

To look at a map in which Australia is the central point, or to be acquainted with calendars not oriented from the birth of Christ, entails a process of enlightenment; as does the discovery of literature from other parts of the world, or African inventions, art and music from outside Europe and North America. These acquaintances stimulate the curiosity, but, moreover, they can indirectly lead to pupils experiencing the inadequacy of biased representations.

Special attention should be paid to children's literature. Until approximately 1980 heroic deeds in Dutch-language literature for the young were exclusively reserved for white men and boys. Women seemed to be especially docile, along with fictional characters from ethnic minority groups. A simple analysis of the division of roles can expose the partiality of the picture. Who speaks most frequently? Who finds the most explanations and solutions? And is this justified given the theme being dealt with?


Monitor the presentation of occurrences, situations and developments that refer to several people and cultures to ensure that the various perspectives of those involved are represented.


Neutral Language

The words by which people and groups of people are indicated, merit special attention when school textbooks are being assessed. Ostensibly neutral words such as 'natives' and 'negroes' imply a history of oppression. The pejorative connotations are frequently perceived when those terms are used by Dutch people. Then 'native' becomes more semantically charged than 'original inhabitant'. Pejorative connotations also stick to terms such as 'Eskimos', 'jungle-men', 'Mohammedans', and 'guest workers'. The following terms bear witness to a higher degree of recognition for identity: respectively, 'Inuit', 'Khoi San', 'Muslim' and 'migrant worker'.

The same applies to descriptions of lifestyles in various cultures. The use of certain terms, such as 'medicine men', living in 'huts', belonging to a 'tribe' or the influence of 'superstition' are condescending synonyms for 'doctors', 'houses', 'peoples' and 'beliefs'.

The correct manner of indicating people and groups of people is dependent on the context. For example, in language-teaching a word such as 'multilingual' should be in more common usage, as should 'migrant' in geography. The values inherent on the terminology change with the times, along with other aspects of language and culture.


Define peoples and their cultures in terms they use themselves without (implicit) comparisons that suggest a superior European or Western cultural manifestation.


It might seem obvious, but it is nonetheless necessary to emphasise that equality is the point of departure for a multicultural society. No essential differences exist in humankind that serve to render one person better or more valuable than another. School textbooks can employ this starting point by representing people as individuals who play an active role in the world around them, with varying motives, in spite of origins, wealth or poverty. People are moulded by history; but history is also moulded by people. The rich nuances that can be found in people and cultures have a surplus value that should be recognised in school textbooks. It is due to interactions that humanity and her cultures prosper, while school textbooks pay undue attention to the conflicts and tensions incumbent on life in a multicultural society. Too often a text gives the impression that in vast areas of the world the people are inferior.


It is best to represent people as unique personalities with a diversity of habits and interests who, irrespective of their origins, are actively engaged in building a worthy existence.


1.3 Confounding Racist Images

Black Problems and White Solutions
An open-minded excursion through an arbitrary collection of Dutch school textbooks generates a positive impression of Dutch society and its position in the world: we live in a democracy; due to technical ingenuity and a spirit of enterprise, we live in prosperity; the state cares for us from the cradle to the grave; commerce and creativity have produced highly-valued cultural manifestations; and due to modes of social intercourse, rooted in tolerance, we are even nice to each other. Our society is perhaps not quite ideal, but it seems in many respects to be superior, especially in comparison with circumstances in countries distant from our own.

What a wonderful picture this paints! Perhaps, for many it is correct. But when Dutch lifestyles are put increasingly in the spotlight, other cultures are thrown into deeper shadows. The way people live in the southern hemisphere seems especially to be an inexhaustible source of problems. The themes are already well known: the people are poor; we must help them to stand on their own feet; they must learn to look after themselves; they must listen to us better.

The presence of ethnic minority groups in The Netherlands and other European countries is represented equally stereotypically: they are here as 'guests' to earn money; now that there is not enough work to go round, they live on social benefits or from the fruits of crime; their lifestyles co-exist in a state of friction with Dutch lifestyles; they refuse to adapt. It is unlikely that such a string of prejudices would be found together in one school textbook, but in older textbooks they are to be found in abundance.


The inferiority of other lifestyles and societies is often implicit in an exclusively positive depiction of Dutch society. An ethnocentric manner of reasoning automatically associates 'other' people and cultures with problems; a multicultural perspective relates the solution to social problems with both 'black' and 'white' viewpoints and both 'black' and 'white' efforts.


Blaming the Victim
It is seldom possible to indicate unequivocal reasons for one group in a society prospering more than another. Social inequality is the result of a multitude of factors and processes. One should be on the alert for statements in which only a few factors are put forward by way of explanation. For example, to declare that poverty in the southern hemisphere could be alleviated if more people were to be educated is too simplistic. More education is no guarantee for more prosperity.

It is unrealistic to expect school textbooks to explain social inequality in all its complexity. One can expect that they should contradict statements that are overtly racist or incline in that direction. Implications of this sort have one thing in common. They suggest that social inequalities are the fault of the underprivileged group itself. The victim is given the blame. This sort of reasoning is also found in Dutch school textbooks. For example, in discussions of poverty in so-called developing countries, their relative underdevelopment is often treated as a result of a lack of initiative or knowledge, of the stubborn adherence to 'old traditions', or of an 'inability to listen to the advice of Western development workers'.

Comparable statements can be found in discussions of the circumstances of ethnic minority groups in The Netherlands. The relatively high unemployment among members of ethnic minority groups is mostly explained away with statements such as 'they are under-educated' or 'they do not want to learn to speak Dutch'. Suchlike prejudices should not be reinforced in school textbooks, and where this happens, it is the responsibility of teachers to oppose them. To refute these prejudices one need only look a the unemployment figures for members of ethnic minority groups with a higher level of education, as well as the waiting lists for entrance to courses in adult education, and at research into discrimination by employers.


Look to see if individuals or groups are not automatically put at fault for the social and economic problems they experience.


In this context we define stereotypes as simplifications and generalisations by means of which certain personal characteristics are attributed an entire group of people. Sometimes stereotypes occur in a direct, easily recognisable form: 'the Spanish are hospitable by nature'; 'laughter comes easily to Brazilians'; 'Jews are fond of music'; Greeks are naturally inclined to melancholy'.

Especially when these generalisations bear reference to an assumed common inner life, there is cause for suspicion. Happily, generalisations of this sort are seldom found in the more recent school textbooks.

The problem of simplification is succinctly pinpointed by Godfried Bomans in an (old) series of short stories for primary education. In one story, in which children's everyday experiences of racial discrimination are dealt with, the pupils are given the following instructions:

"Look out if you hear someone talking about how the Germans did this, the Jews that, the French something else and the Catholics whatever. The danger lies in the word 'the', because, you see, 'the German' is a figment of the imagination. There is always just one German. It is easy to stick a label on a person, to see them as representative of a group. It saves time too. Then you imagine someone who is like no-one else in the whole world, and there's only one copy available. Whoever speaks of the Jew is in fact an anti-semite, even when he is saying something nice. He should speak of a particular Jew. A person is first and foremost a human. Only then are you a member of a particular church, inhabitant of a country, or have a particular skin colour." (4)

Most stereotypes are more difficult to recognise. They belong to the seemingly self-evident images of our world which are served up to us daily, also by the media. People suffering from hunger represent the image of Africa; men kneeling in prayer depict Muslims. Often, these images are not easily dispelled, because the are partially drawn from fact. Relatively speaking, many Africans do suffer from hunger, and prayer is one of the daily activities of many Muslims. But these stereotypes are also Eurocentric. The 'average' African or Muslim would surely choose other illustrations to typify his daily activities. In the absence of more in-depth material, stereotypes become a further source of problems.


Avoid or dispel those stereotypes by means of which differences in lifestyles are directly or indirectly transformed into innate group characteristics.


There Are No Races
At the core of racist imagery is the opinion that differences between people have their origins in differences of race. In the present day one hardly expects to find explicitly racist statements concerning social differences between peoples in Dutch school textbooks. The emotionally charged term 'race', however, still appears.

There is an infinite number of ways to distinguish between people on the basis of their appearance. For a long time scientists sought for methods to classify people on the basis of correlations between physical appearance, personality traits and inclinations. Skull cavities were measured in order to prove a relationship between brain size and intelligence. The angle between the nose and the forehead was measured in an attempt to identify indications of inborn criminality. Eventually this research proved fruitless.

Nonetheless, the idea of 'race' started to live a life of its own. Eugenics -- the conviction that mental characteristics are determined by biology and are, therefore, unchanging in various types of people -- lies at the foundations of modern-day racism. A difference in skin colour is still associated with a difference in social position and capacity. Whenever people are seen to be different, they are also often treated differently.



Source:·De Sterck, Marita, Een Vijf met Negen Nullen: over gelijkenissen en verschillen tussen mensen. België: Lannoo, p.11

A map of the world illustrates that any division of the world into peoples and physical characteristics is untenable. The first map divides the population of the world into skin-colours. These range from black to white. The second map gives a division of peoples according to height, the third according to the shape of the eyes and, finally, the fourth distinguishes on the grounds of types of hair (ranging from tightly curled to straight). The result is four entirely disparate maps.



SourceZeiten und Menschen, Neue Ausgabe B, Band 4 "Zeitgeschichte: von der Oktoberrevolution bis zur Gegenwart", Paderborn: F. Schöningh/ Schroedel, 1983

Teaching material that manages to discredit the term 'race' is scarce. The following explanation, that accompanies the index in a somewhat older German history book, is an exception. Moreover, subsequent to the following description, the relationship between racism and anti-semitism is made clear.



"Rasse is ein Begriff der Zoologie. Er bezeichnet eine grössere Gruppe von Einzelwesen, die gemeinsame Erbmerkmale haben. Die Anwendung des Begriffs auf den Menschen wurde zuerst im 19.Jahrhundert versucht. Da aber für den Menschen in der Geschichte nicht biologische, sondern historisch gewordene Faktoren wesentlich sind, ist der Rassebegriff zur Erfassung historischer Erscheinungen ungeeignet. Die Geschichte wird von sozialen Gruppen (z.B. Völkern) bestimmt. Deren Zusammensetzung ist nacht zoologischen-rassischen Gesichtspunkten oft ein Rassengemisch und meist nicht genauer zu bestimmen." (p.227)


Translation:·Racial doctrine

"Race is a zoological term. It refers to a larger group of individuals who have common genetic features. Attempts to apply the term to humans were first made in the 19th century. But since it is not biological, but historical factors which are of importance to humans in history, the concept of race is not suitable for determining historical events. History is characterised by social groupings (e.g. peoples) From a zoological-racial viewpoint the make-up of these can often be characterised no more precisely than simply as a mix of races." (p.227)

In existing classroom material we still find people divided on the basis of race: Caucasian, Negroid or black, Mongoloid or yellow. Mental qualities are seldom directly linked to race. Yet these divisions easily lead to suchlike associations when specific themes are bound to appearances. The following is an example in which skin colour is implicitly associated with development in Africa:

"Central Africa is entirely different to the North. (...) The people living there belong to the black race. They work mainly in the fields. In the south it is once again different from the centre. (...) It is more highly developed than in the rest of Africa. Black people live there, but there are also whites who arrived a long time ago from Europe." (5)

From this extract many pupils would assume that the higher level of development in the south is due to the whites. In fact, it is only meaningful to introduce the term 'race' into classroom material as part of a critical discussion of racism.


There is no place in school textbooks for distinctions between races. If the term 'race' arises, it should only in the context of racism and discrimination.

Inequality is a Product of History
It is difficult to maintain the position that European civilisation at the end of the Middle Ages was materially any better off than many surrounding civilisations. There were many powerful dynasties: the Sudanese in Africa, the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, the Moguls in India, the Ming in China, the Shoguns in Japan, and the Aztecs and Incas in America. The expansion of their economic and military power pales largely into insignificance when compared to the way Europeans started at that point to 'discover' the world. With the colonisation of large portions of Africa, Asia and America, Europeans developed economic and cultural activities in many areas over the last five centuries that can justifiably be said, even up until the present day, to be one of the many explanations for the social inequalities between Europeans and other inhabitants of the planet.

The present economic inequality between peoples and countries is not an eternal given inherent in the 'nature' of the people, but, rather, a consequence of historical processes, power politics and colonialism. Racism also had a role to play in these processes.


The under-development of non-Western countries and the marginalisation of women and ethnic minority groups within Western countries is the result of historical processes and is, therefore, subject to change. Colonialism, Eurocentrism, gender-bias and racism are part of these processes. Make sure this is emphasised in classroom material.


1.4 Through a Critical Lens

The Argument
School textbooks can prepare pupils for life in a multicultural society: on the one hand, by taking an anti-racist position, and, on the other hand, by encouraging them to read, observe and appraise critically. It would be counter-productive to take the opportunity in every lesson to condemn discrimination as a pernicious phenomenon. Ignoring it entirely is, however, equally unhelpful.



Source:·Erdkunde (Diercke), 5, Gymnasien, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Braun-schweig: Westerman Schulbuchverlag GmbH, 1986

While West and East Berlin are still divided, the pupils are acquainted with the Kreuzeberg through the experiences of Elke and Jochem. They make a journey through Berlin. The description is as follows.

"Sie kommen am Schöneberger Rathaus vorbei, von dem aus Berlin (West) regiert wird. In Kreuzberg sehen die Kinder Geschäfte mit türkischen Aufschriften. Hier haben sich in den letzten Jahrzehnten so viele Türken niedergelassen, dass Berlin (West) zur grössten Türkenstadt ausserhalb der Türkei geworden ist. Die Berliner, die humorvoll alles mit Spitznamen belegen, nennen deshalb die Kreuzberger U-Bahn-Linie 'Orient-Express'." (p.68)

Translation:·"They pass by the Schoneberg town hall, from where (the west part of) Berlin is administered in Kreuzberg, the children see shops with Turkish names. In the last few decades, so many Turks have settled here that (the west part of) Berlin has become the largest Turkish city outside Turkey. The Berliners, who light-heartedly give nicknames to everything, have dubbed the metro line to Kreuzberg the 'Orient Express'." (p.68)

At this point the authors should have made some comments. However, they are content to make fun of the name given to the 'Orient Express'. Moreover, they create the impression that a definitive evaluation of the 'Turk' by the 'Berliner' only finds its expression in this coinage.

Racism and prejudices are everyday occurrences. It is seldom easy for pupils to recognise that they themselves are confronted with expressions of racist sentiments, or that they themselves both have and express prejudices. The classroom material can offer the necessary opening for those feelings to be dealt with in an indirect, non-threatening manner.



From:·K. Nejsum, Holbaek College of Education, Holbaek, Danmark

SourceSamfundsstudier Grundbog 1, Gyldendal 1995

Some books become exceptionally vague as soon as the word racism has been broached, as the following quotation illustrates. A piece of moralizing advice is deemed sufficient. This can lead to a discussion, but generally speaking pupils do need more information.

"I et multikulturelt samfund er det vigtigt, at de forskellige kulturer ikke bekaemper hinanden fra hver sin skyttegrav. I stedet for at råbe 'racister!' og 'perkere!' efter hinanden, skal man tale sammen."

Translation:·"In a multicultural society, it is important that the various cultural groups should not entrench themselves in conflicting positions. Instead of shouting 'racist', they should open up a dialogue."

Problems arise when school textbooks define racism or discrimination in ambiguous terms, such as: 'people from different cultures are often nasty to each other'; 'there are reservations concerning the Surinamese'; or 'some foreigners feel themselves to be the victims of discrimination'.

Sometimes, simply asking pupils how they would define discrimination and what they think of it might seem to suffice. Vagueness of this type denies both pupils and teachers adequate support. It is important, therefore, that school textbooks should not only recognise racism but also condemn it. Assignments, stories, reports of personal experiences can render the condemnation obvious. Such presentations can invite pupils to enter into an exchange of personal experiences in the class. Sometimes, assignments can guide the pupils in this direction. These are not the easiest assignments, especially if clear guidelines are not included in the instructions. These are emotionally charged subjects that can lead unintentionally to chilling silences or to polarising interrogations. As a rule of thumb one should adopt the following: never address a pupil too directly; insure that there is always a case-study or text to which one can return.

Discrimination can also be dealt with as something that affects everyone. If one broaches all manner of prejudices relevant to the group itself (those pertaining to boys, girls, affiliations delineated by dress-codes and preferences for particular musical styles), pupils can feel for themselves the effects of discrimination. One can also choose a historical approach. For example, the life of Anne Frank serves as an opportunity to discuss the prejudices of her period and those of today.

These approaches offer material which forms a concrete basis and are perhaps more effective than simply making an appeal to tolerance and honesty by referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. From a didactic perspective, dispelling prejudices is always complex. 'Facts Versus Prejudices', published by the Anne Frank Foundation, can offer support in correcting contemporary misconceptions. Ultimately, it is left to the teacher to judge which arguments would be most appropriate to the needs of each specific group and the degree to which they should be applied.


Ensure that the classroom material can generate a clear rejection of racism and other forms of oppression such as colonialism and gender-bias. Give pupils the means and the motives to recognise and condemn prejudices and stereotypes. The approach should be geared to meet the specific needs of each class.


Resistance to Oppression
Paying attention to resistance, especially the resistance offered by those people and peoples discriminated against, can offer a counterpoint to the seemingly self-evident nature of institutionalised forms of oppression. When an anti-racist attitude is the point of departure, drawing attention to resistance from the immediate victims can be motivating for pupils: change is possible. Moreover, pupils are introduced to alternative points of view. This approach requires more work on the part of the teacher. Generally speaking, school textbooks pay scant attention to the historical facts of resistance to racism, slavery and colonialism. By remaining silent on the subject of resistance or by depicting people merely as victims, they are denied the dignity due to them. For example, the silence surrounding the resistance of Jews both before and during World War II is corrosive. If pupils know nothing of the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto, of the resistance in Sobibor, or the Jewish underground resistance movement throughout Europe, then they will retain the image of people who meekly allowed themselves to be murdered. This is in glaring contrast to the attention paid to the resistance of non-Jewish Dutch people.


Resistance to anti-Semitism and other forms of institutionalised oppression, especially on the part of the oppressed themselves, can be dealt with in such a way that the dignity of those concerned is underscored.


Encouraging Pupils to Read and Observe Critically
If pupils were in a position to recognise independently those texts and images based on prejudices and biased viewpoints, then this would be a fine outcome of intercultural education. Teachers can indicate to pupils those dubious approaches and stereotypes that appear in classroom material, but also in images they see in newspapers and on television.


Ensure that classroom material actively encourages pupils to be critical of texts and images and to take different viewpoints into consideration.



Source:·Burgess-Macey, C. "Tackling Racism and Sexism in the Primary Classroom". In: Gill, D. & al. Racism and education: structures and strategies, 2nd ed. 1993, Sage/ The Open University, pp 269-283

Burgess-Macey also found that young children are already very capable of critical thought and observation.

"Primary age children have a strong moral sense and a sense at blatantly 'unfair' situations." (p.275)

"Some 6-year-olds in a different class took a book called Dressing Up from the 'Breakthrough to literacy' scheme. They analysed this book first by counting the numbers.

Me and Eleanor was looking at the Dressing Up book and we found out that there was twelve brown and thirty-nine white and it is not fair.

They made some more sophisticated observations. They noticed that white children were featured most prominently in the activities described and were actually shown doing the dressing up.

In all the pictures it is always the white person is always dressing up.
There can be brown firemen as well.

They also noticed that on several occasions black children were portrayed in a servicing role.

The black person is being kind of the servant in both the pictures. It wouldn't be fair if they just changed places, helping each other would be fair or do it yourself." (274-275)

In history lessons young pupils can investigate the role of black people, the "neglected history". Burgess-Macey describes how pupils gather information about Harriet Tubman, Mary Seacole and Kathleen Wrasama. In the case of Mary Seacole, they have to formulate an answer to the question of why Florence Nightingale is remembered while Mary Seacole is not. The children should eventually complete the investigation themselves.

1.5 Suggestions for The Staff

This chapter has contained a great deal of advice for the assessment of school textbooks. Perhaps it clarifies doubts about lesson-material and helps to gain insights into some of the problems experienced by teachers. For example, why do Morrocan pupils lose interest at a certain point in a lesson? What is missing in the context of a multicultural society? Why is this chapter about refugees so charged? The answers to these questions could convince the teacher to miss out certain texts or to review them critically together with the pupils. They can also be replaced or complemented. Every teacher can make these decisions independently. Naturally, the influence of individual teachers on the pupils attitudes is limited. They are equally influenced by the media, their parents and contemporaries; perhaps these influences are even stronger. In any event, a thorough evaluation of all the lesson-material requires an effort on the part of the entire teaching staff. Teachers should regularly allocate time for the evaluation of lesson-material together, as a full complement of staff, irrespective of pressure of work.

The following points can help to structure these sessions. They are not only concerned with the lesson-material itself, but also with the viewpoints incumbent on intercultural education. Ultimately, it is important that the various lesson-materials used in schools should be atuned.

Take a Look at the Team
Firstly, the teaching-staff should take a look at itself as a team. How is it composed, for example, with regards to gender, age and ethnicity? How much expertise in intercultural education can be drawn upon? Is there enough mutual trust for the staff to criticise each other? Do they know what material their colleagues are using? Are native-language (OET) teachers and pupil counsellors actively involved in the evaluations? Is it possible to get support from school supervisory services?

Take a Look at the Pupils
It is important for staff to look to see what type of pupils are in the school and in the classroom, what native-languages they speak and how they differ from each other in cultural and socio-economic background. On the basis of this you will know more about the languages and countries of origin that require more attention and what type of literature you can offer.

What are the expectations for the coming five years or thereabouts with regard to the intake and progression of multilingual pupils and those from ethnic minority backgrounds. Do these expectations require adjustment to the curriculm and the choice of lesson-material?

Test results can also influence the content of intercultural education. Compare, for example, the test results in urban and rural environments and with the national levels. Are there any noteworthy differences between pupils that can be related to their ethnic background. What policy does the school maintain with regard to pupils who are falling behind? Do they get extra lessons in a separate group?

If one takes a good look at the students, one can determine the atmosphere among them. Are there any particular tensions that could be connected with differences of culture? Are these, perhaps, limited to a specific group or do they cut across groups? To what extent does racism exist? Find out which members of the staff have had experiences with lessons about racism and discrimination and which methods proved effective.

Talking about Intercultural Education
Opinions on the objectives of intercultural education will vary considerably. While one person might believe that offering equal opportunities to pupils by helping them to overcome problems with the Dutch language is the prime objective, another might want to stress the importance of cultural differences and contact between a diversity of ethnic pupils. Opinions will vary in accordance with the numbers of ethnic-minority pupils in a school.

Among staff members working together, there will no doubt be differences of opinion concerning the significance of the multicultural society in The Netherlands, as well as the objectives and content of intercultural education. Compare these opinions and look at the consequences for the assessment of lesson-material would be a relevant exercise.

The Evaluation of Lesson-material
The questions above influence the manner in which lesson-material can be discussed in a staff-meeting. At the back of this book there is a checklist. The recommendations at the end of each chapter can also be used as pointers in the evaluation of lesson-material, because they draw attention to concrete problems. Moreover, they invite the staff to be critical with the material, to make adjustments or even look for complementary material.

One incidental advantage of having staff assess lesson-materials as a team is that they can, in the process, atune their materials to each other.


1.6 Noten

1 Vragen aan de Geschiedenis (Questions of History), exercise book 2. Groningen: Wolters Noordhoff, 1985. p.118.

2 Litjens P. en J. Jongerius, Schoolse Taalvaardigheden in de Zaakvakken (Linguistic Competence in Practical Subjects). Enschede: Instituut voor Leerplanontwikkeling (Institute for Curriculum Planning), 1990. p.104.

4 Pim, Frits en Ida, part 8. Zeist: Dijkstra's Uitgeverij, 24e dr. p.133.

5 De Geo Geordend (Organised Geography), part 2 LM. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff Educatief, 1988. p.52.


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