a colourful choise

handbook for international teaching materials

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

 Chapter 4

Geography and History

By Ineke Mok and Peter Reinsch


In this chapter Ineke Mok and Peter Reinsch put geography and history under the magnifying glass. On the basis of examples, some of which have been drawn from textbooks for social studies, they illustrate the problems clinging to a monocultural presentation of subjects such as immigration, housing, colonialism, economic development in the Third World and population growth.

Passages are quoted in order to exemplify and clarify problems and alternatives, not as a judgement on the quality of the method in its entirety. Some books are intercultural in certain aspects, but not in others, while most have intercultural potential as we will see. Several of these are relevant to social studies is schools.

Geography, history and social studies are subjects that deal explicitly with people, with their histories, their cultures and their relationships. Intercultural objectives can be developed for these subjects. Moreover, they are rendered more interesting by an intercultural approach.

In this chapter the distinction between the subjects has been diminished to a large extent, though there are some obvious didactic differences. In primary education, geography and history are brought together in 'orientation to the world'. In secondary education, various topics can fall within the domain of geography, history and social studies.


4.1 Recognisability


Like other subjects, teaching geography and history requires an attempt to connect with the pupils' own knowledge and experience. In primary schools this is usually concrete and close to home: a street, a village, the school, the neighbourhood adjacent to the school, a house, a bedroom. Slowly, the field of vision is extended, beyond the borders of The Netherlands, to other countries and parts of the world outside Europe. In the initial phase illustrations are very important. The pictures are often used as the basis for a classroom discussion. The teacher makes connections and places the material in a context.

The assessment of intercultural points of departure and the possibilities provided by a method begin with the illustrations. Are there children and people in the pictures with assorted appearances and a variety of customs? In other words, is the diversity of Dutch society represented, and can pupils really recognise something from their own surroundings. These questions arise from the fundamentals of intercultural education, or simply from good educational didactics.

A successful approach of this type can be found in part one of Geobas, a book intended for use by group 3 children. It contains illustrations of people in The Netherlands who belong to different ethnic groups, such as children on Koninginnedag (a holiday for the Queen's official birthday), a Hindu wedding, a group of West Frisian dancers. In the story, which concerns a group of children, there are also names such as Aricha and Samir. In the material dealing with 'professions' there are also photographs of people with skin colours other than white. In this way the diversity of our society is brought into the picture. That is not the case if children with another skin colour can only be seen as 'children from a far-away country'. (1)


Stories enliven the material or introduce a new theme and give pupils the opportunity for personal engagement with another country or period. The main character is usually the point of identification for the readers. One should be able to take it for granted that the girls and boys functioning as central characters could easily have names and backgrounds that are Turkish, Dutch, Surinamese or Chinese. And this should occur as a matter of course, not to put these characters and their backgrounds in a problematical context.

The following story is an introduction to the theme of migrant workers in a geography book for the first year of secondary education. We doubt whether many Turkish pupils want to identify with the characters and circumstances sketched:

'Sometimes they call out "Turkey, turkey", but most of the Dutch girls are friendly towards Ayse. She is allowed to go to a birthday party. In Turkey most children don't celebrate birthdays. A lot of people don't even know on which day they were born exactly. Often Ayse has to stay at home. But father doesn't mind her going to a party every now and again. She can't take a present with her. So Ayse asks if she can have a little pocket money in the future so that she can buy a small something or other. Father almost get's angry: "You don't need money. I look after you. Since you started mixing with Dutch children you've been learning some cheek."' (2)

If Ayse had really told her own story, it would probably have been less negative and stereotypical and her activities would not have been so deeply influenced by the behaviour of the Dutch girls and her father. Instead, she has become a strange and pathetic personage, compared to the Dutch girls.

The follow-up to the account offers little that is cheerful. In the description and the photograph Turkey is depicted solely as a poor country. It is therefore remarkable that Ayse says that later she wants to live in Turkey; a fairly implausible decision considering the context provided.

Stories open up opportunities for children to make an acquaintance with personal experiences and initiatives. The story above fails to make use of this opportunity; instead it reinforces stereotypes. No-one would want to identify with Ayse.
When making a choice of stories, it is not sufficient merely to check if there are girls and boys from diverse ethnic groups, but also to look at their role in the story. Does the story offer children opportunities for identification with a wide range of different people? This means that we must avoid the trap of distinguishing between what 'we' think about something and what 'they' think about it. Often that distinction is not necessary at all. Why should one assume in a theme such as 'food' that all the 'Dutch' eat pork and all Muslims do not? Or, why should a geography lesson about potatoes in 'Waarom Daar?' (Why There) open with:

'While people in Asia eat rice, here we eat potatoes.' (3)

Many people in The Netherlands avoid pork, and others eat rice as often as potatoes.

The examples given above are easily corrected in the classroom and can be complemented with other material.

Countries of Origin

Children and young people are easily engaged by situations outside their own street or town. Not only has their world been broadened by television, but many children know about life elsewhere from their own experiences of migration, or vacation, or from stories. Children who have recently come to live in The Netherlands are still very close to their land of origins. It is obvious that this country should be introduced into geography and history lessons. At present, the opportunity for the inclusion such countries exists in the curricula and learning-strategies formulated for secondary education. For example, books have been written recently that deal explicitly with Morocco, Turkey or Surinam, for example. For some children this will provide an enhanced opportunity for recognition. However, not all children would jump at the following request:

'Are there children in your class from another country? Perhaps they would like to tell us something about it?'(4)

This is an excellent example of an assignment that addresses only some of the pupils directly ('us'), while others ('them') are merely allowed to join in. Whether or not children from other countries are willing to take part in assignments of this nature is something that needs to be explored carefully. Some children have no inclination at all to stand in the spotlight in this way, while others would be happy to talk enthusiastically about what they know.


4.2 Migration

The Introduction

Migration entails the movements of people from one place to another and from pre-historic times up until the present day it is something that takes place wherever people are to be found. People come and go on foot, driven by war, oppression and economic necessity.

This theme deserves special attention in the classroom. There are opportunities for recognition in this material for many pupils, because either they themselves or their families live or have lived elsewhere. Alternatively, the subject of migration is often the cause of a great deal of misunderstanding and prejudice: 'streams of immigrants are crossing the boundaries of our hospitality'. It is crucial, therefore, that the information should be checked for its factuality and for those points in need of augmentation and refinement.

Immigration is often the starting point of a chapter on The Netherlands as a multi-ethnic society. Notice the different ways the subject is introduced in the following two school textbooks for primary education.

'Foreigners have been coming to The Netherlands for thousands of years: the beaker people, the Teutonic peoples, Romans, Jews, Gypsies, French refugees and German pedlars.' (5)

'In the past only Dutch people lived in The Netherlands. Now there are Chinese, Turks, Moroccans, Japanese, Surinamese and Greeks living here, to name but a few. These people are different to the Dutch in many ways.' (6)

While the first book puts immigration into the historical perspective of migration, the second suggests that The Netherlands is now faced with immigration as a unique phenomenon.

Moreover, it is directly linked to a problem: 'those' people are different to the Dutch. This quote is not only factually inaccurate, it requires of the teacher that s/he should give a positive twist to a negative beginning. The first quotation immediately opens options in a broad context.


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

Source:·Munkgård 2. del 1995

"Vi har ikke så meget overs for dem, der ikke er rigtig forfulgt. Hvis de mest kommer hertil med dr men om at skabe et liv under bedre vilkår. Så kalder vi danskere dem af og til for bekvemmelighedsflygtninge. Det er egentlig et lidt ondt ord. Som om det er noget nedvaerdigende at dromme om og håbe på et liv vaek fra sult og udsigtlos fattig." (Nejsum)

Translation: "We do not have a very high opinion of those refugees who are not really persecuted. If they come here dreaming of creating a life under better conditions, we Danes refer to them as 'refugees of convenience'. In fact, the term is rather pejorative, implying that it is degrading to dream about and hope for a life away from hunger and hopeless poverty."(Nejsum)

B y putting migration in a historical context, possibly citing statistics, a sense of continuity is clearly established. Extending the scope to other countries, including those beyond Europe, serves to refine the perspective still further. For example, it dispels the image of The Netherlands and the West as those places harbouring the largest numbers of refugees.

'Migration through the world has never been so extensive. The majority of migrants move around among the poorer countries. Only an occasional refugee manages to request asylum in one of the richer Western countries. The poorest countries are the most heavily burdened. Most people flee to a neighbouring country.' (7)

The Origins

Moluccans have a different background to the Surinamese, or to Germans and the backgrounds of ethnic Turks are different to those of Turkish Kurds.

Anyone who wants to throw the subtleties of migration into relief stumbles inevitably against colonialism, politics and economics.

Often, the impression is created that the newcomers reap the profits while the country of destination is continuously and generously spending. The following quotes make short shrift of this misconception:

'In the beginning it was mostly young, unmarried men from abroad who were taken on. Later, girls were also brought to The Netherlands to do the dirty work in hospitals and for cleaning companies.' (8)

The following piece of text was taken from a history book. It puts migration in a distinctly historical perspective and stresses the contributions made to Dutch society by those Dutch people whose ancestors were immigrants.

The Netherlands: A Land of Immigrants

Many Dutch people looking into their family tree will find ancestors who were immigrants. In the third cabinet of Mr Lubbers (1989-1993) there are a few examples: Ritzen (minister for education) has ancestors from the Alsace, Hirsh Ballan (Justice) had a Jewish father who sought refuge in The Netherlands in the thirties, and d'Ancona (Welfare, Health and Culture) had a Italian grandfather who was a shoemaker when he came to The Netherlands. Sometimes the surname gives no clear indication of foreign ancestry. Many German immigrants have changed their surname, for example, from Schmidt to Smit.

Immigrants have been coming for centuries and have found a place in Dutch society. At first they often belong to the lower social orders. They felt they were aliens ('allochtonen'): they came from another country. From the example of the three ministers you can see that there are children and grandchildren who have used the opportunities that exist in our country to climb the ladder. They integrated themselves into society and felt less like foreigners ('allochtone') and more like native-born Dutch people ('autochtonen'). (...) By bringing their customs with them, all immigrants have made a contribution to the Dutch multicultural society as it came into being in the seventies and eighties. (9)

When dealing with the subject of migration one can include the pupils' own personal histories. They could make inquiries about their parents' birthplace(s) as well as their (great)grandparents. And they could make an inventory of the professions practised by their parents and ancestors. On the basis of this information, they can look for the motives that precipitate movement, including internal migration. This is an assignment that addresses all the pupils.



Source: Erdkunde (Diercke) 8, Industriestaaten und Entwicklungsländer, Gymnasium, Nordrhein-Westfalen, 1986

The type of problems that could arise in an American city, Chicago, for example, are delineated.

"Mancherorts sind bereits erste Anzeichen eines beginnenden Verfalls zu spüren: Häuser verwahrlosen, rassische Minderheiten und ärmere Bevölkerungsschichten dringen in diese Wohnviertel ein." (p.47)

Translation:·In some places the first signs of decay can be seen: neglected housing, ethnic minorities and poorer sections of the population move into these residential areas." (p.47)

In the "Model of a North American city", it is shown that there are business centres, shopping malls and industrial centres, among others, to be found here. The inhabitants are divided in the following way:

"rassischer Minderheiten (Ghettos)

vorn Einwohnern mit
geringen Einkommen
mittlerem Einkommen
hohem Einkommen" (p.48)

"Ethnic minorities(ghettos)
of inhabitants with
small incomes
medium incomes
high incomes" (p.48)

In these examples one could also inquire as to why 'rassischer Minderheiten' (racial minorities) are singled out. What does this distinction mean? In the first quotation it is evident that 'Minderheiten' are unequivocally associated with problems



Adjustment as a Solution

Values, norms and customs change. When we speak of the integration of immigrants we referring to a process that includes native-born Dutch people ('autochtonen') as well as people from ethnic minority groups ('allochtonen'). This approach, however, is never found in school textbooks. Instead a vague political slogan, the notion of 'adjustment', is dished up as a solution.

'When people from another culture behave increasing like Dutch people, we speak of integration. As a result of this, the differences in Dutch society are reduced.' (10)

In the above, it is proposed that integration or adjustment is a one-sided process of assimilation. The diversity of cultures already present in the 'majority' is ignored. To whom do you adjust yourself?


4.3 Europe as the Centre of the World

The Crusades

Traditionally, history books start in the prehistoric age. Then, there follows the great empires of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans as a prelude to European civilisation. At primary school level in particular, history means the history of the fatherland. Pupils only make an acquaintance with other countries, peoples and continents in the course of European conquests, after which they vanish again.

The point is that the historical encounters and confrontations between cultures should be dealt with in such a way that the religious and economic drive of European men is viewed from varying perspectives. This is not simple considering the heritage of historical research that puts European interests first and, moreover, skirts around less noble actions and ideas, while foregrounding those same proclivities in 'others'. For example, the role played by the Dutch in the slave trade is skipped through hastily, and an emendation to the heroic image of the Dutch during World War II is only slowly being adopted.

Happily, there are some changes taking place. History is being loosened from its Eurocentric and monopolist connotations. It is becoming more critical and accords more room for 'other' voices. The school textbooks are reaping the benefits. The crusades are no longer presented purely as a brave battle for religious principles fought by pious Christians against aggressive Moslems.9 The image of European men on a sacred mission has been dropped, even if in the following quote the Moslems seen to be more aggressive.

'During the first crusade the Christians were exceptionally cruel to the Moslems, who in their own turn tried to slaughter the Christians.' (11)

A respect for the scientific and cultural wealth of the Arab world can already be found in somewhat older books.

 The crusades entailed a strengthening of the exchange between Europe and the Arabic world. This is also emphasised in the quote above. The crusades are a good opportunity to introduce the theme of cultural exchange and to make it clear that Europe was and still is dependent for its development on inventions and insights from other cultures and continents.


 From:·J. van Dooren, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Interfacultair Departement Lerarenopleiding (Interfaculty Department of Teacher-Training).

Source:·Martens J. en J. Steenssens, Fundamenten 3B. Middeleeuwen. Leuven: Wolters, 1991 (third-year general secondary education for 15-year old pupils)

Arabic cultures can be dealt with in another context as can be seen from the following example from a Belgian history book.

According to Van Dooren:

"The author includes a chapter on 'Arabic-Spain As the Stimulus for a Cultural Renaissance in Western Europe'. In so doing, he does justice to the extent of 'Moorish' influence in Western Europe. A few examples:

"...In agriculture, the Moors, as the Spanish called the Arabs, achieved remarkable results. The massive irrigation system recreated Al Andalus as a blossoming garden. They introduced new crops such as sugar cane, apricots, peaches and date palms. They used paper instead of parchment and invented reading-glasses. While, to the north of the Pyrenees only a small minority of the population of Europe lived in towns, Cordoba alone had half a million inhabitants,....Their own Christian culture, the Mozarabic, flourished and was greatly influenced by Arabic culture. Craftsmen such as silk weavers and gold- and silversmiths expanded on an hitherto unprecedented scale...Without Andalus the progress made by Medieval Europe would have been unthinkable...The entire knowledge of the Arabic world was brought to Al Andalus by the Moors: the numerous writings of Avincenna (908-1037), the genius from distant Uzbekistan; the works of the Greeks, Aristotle and Ptolomy, with commentaries made by their own scholars, often correcting mistakes made by the ancients..." (pp. 120-121)

Van Dooren:

"Pupils who work with this material are certainly not going to be given the impression that Muslim culture was foreign, threatening, hostile and intolerant, backwards and limited. On the contrary, they will understand the success of the Moors advancement and value the influence Moorish culture brought to bear on our own. Even more!"



'Columbus thought that he had discovered India and called the inhabitants of America "Indians". Some Indian peoples were highly-developed. They already had large cities. (...) Actually, America was discovered by the Vikings.' (12)

The assertion that Columbus was the first man to discover the western hemisphere is perhaps the textbook example of Eurocentrism. This quote makes a modest correction: the Vikings were first (on behalf of Europe). Usually more refinement is necessary even if only to avoid the impression that the Europeans set out to cultivate a Garden of Eden and that the peoples already living there were merely obstacles. That is the case in the following passage describing the voyage of Houtman and Keyser in which their opponents are referred to condescendingly as nameless 'natives'. (13)

'At the end of June they reached Java and sailed into the port of Bantam. They had achieved their goal. The journey had lasted 14 months altogether. But then misfortune followed misfortune. The natives attacked the Dutch ships. Many men were killed or wounded. On 22 February 1597 the ships set sail again for The Netherlands.'

A disproportionate relationship comes into existence between Europe and other parts of the world when Africa, America, Australia and Asia are predominantly represented through their connections to European travellers, traders and conquerors. European norms are used to measure development, as is the case with the observation that Indians already had large cities.

Mostly, current classroom material is quite critical as far as the voyage of discovery are concerned and are more inclined to refer to them as voyages of conquest. The outrages committed in the name of Christendom and progress are no longer ignored. Disproportionately scant is the attention paid to the experiences and perspectives of those who were subordinated. In paying some attention to these experiences and perspectives a counterbalance is offered to the represented assumption that it is perfectly natural to conquer territories overseas. This is equally valid for the slavery enforced on Indians and Africans, which is no longer presented as a necessary phenomenon.




From:·L. Cajani, Università degli studi di Roma "La sapienza", dipartimento di studi storico

Source:·Cremonese, A. Conoscere e conservare il paesaggio europeo, Mursia, Milano, 1990, p.5

Cajani:·"Il discorso sul colonialisme non si esaurisce però con un "mea culpa" da parte degli europei. C'è un altro aspetto, sovente ricordato in passato dalla propaganda colonialista e la cui eco non si è ancora spenta, e cioè benefici che comunque il colonialismo può aver portat a popolazioni arretrate. Qualche autore mostra delle incetezze nel fare una valutazione complessiva del colonialismo. Alberto Cremonese, ad esempio, nel suo manuale di geografia si unisce dapprima alla condanna della violenza che ha caratterizzato l'espansione europea, scrivendo:

 "lanciati alla conquista della Terra alcuni popoli del Vecchio Continente non esitarono a calpestare i diritti di altre popolazioni o ad annientare intere civiltà: basta pensare ai Maya, agli Aztechi e agl'Incas dell'America centromeridionale, alle civiltà negre dell'Africa, sulle quali si abbatté per lunghi secoli anch il flagello dell 'tratta degli schiavi', ai Samoiedi e agli Eschimesi della Siberia asiatica, ai Pellerossa del Nordamerica."

 Poi però osserva che questa espansione non è stata del tutto negativa, dal momento che ha portato la civiltá europea al resto del mondo, tanto da riscattare la violenza con cui è stata compiuta. Egli scrive infatti:

 "Se è vero...che l'espansione europea ha spesso recato gravissimidanni alle terre ove si è insediata e ad alcune popoluzioni con cui è giunta a contatto, è anche vero che ha portato grandi benefici nella maggior parte del mondo, introducendovi i prodotti migliori della propria civiltà."


"All the same, the discussion on colonialism does not end with a mere 'mea culpa' on the part of the Europeans. There is another aspect, which has often been reffered to in the past in the colonial propaganda and which still can be heard every now and then: the benefits that colonialism has brought to underdeveloped peoples, in spite of all the negative effects. Some authors are hesitant to make a comprehensive analysis of colonialism. Alberto Cremonese for instance, in his manual of geography, at first joins those who criticize the violence that has characterized the European expansion. He says:

 "Some peoples of the Ancient Continent threw themselves into the conquest of the earth and while doing so they did not hesitate to trample on the rights of other peoples or even to annihilate entire civilizations: just think of the Maya, the Aztecs, the Inca of the southern part of Central America and the black civilizations of Africa. The latter also suffered from the curse of slave traffic. Furthermore, we can think of the Samoyeds and of the Eskimo's living in Asian Siberia and of the North-American Indians."

 Subsequently however, Cremonese states that his expansion was not altogether negative, in view of the fact that colonialism brought the European civilization to the rest of the world, to such an extent that it compensates for the violence that took place during colonization. That is to say, he says:

 "On the one hand it may be true... that European expansion often caused tremendous damage to the territories that were colonized and to the peoples the Europeans came into contact with, but on the other hand it is also true that European expansion brought huge benefits to the majority of the world, by introducing the best aspects of European civilization.


Any description of colonialism should have a multicultural instead of a Eurocentric approach. The perspective chosen is made obvious through the use of names and words, as 'the primitive negro civilisation'. An example of a better approach:

'This racism was expressed in countless ways everywhere that Europeans and Africans were found together. It could vary from giving European names to black domestic servants, because the African names were considered too complicated, to whipping or foot traps whenever their efforts were insufficient to satisfy European tastes.' (14)

Even when it is stated in so many words that the European powers had the express intention of wringing as much profit as possible from the colonies, there are still countless ways to justify these practices.

Some authors let us peep shamelessly over the shoulders of the colonisers. Colonisation and de-colonisation processes taking place in Indonesia should be described from the perspective of the Indonesians themselves. Quotations from the works of the Indonesian writer Pramoedja Ananta Toer, for example, offer such a perspective and encourage pupils to delve deeper into the Indonesian side of history. (15)



From:·J. van Dooren, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Interfacultair departement lerarenopleiding.

 The examples above from Dutch school textbooks illustrate the difficulties experienced, even in the present day, in dealing with our 'own' colonial historyinclear terms. All of these texts seek to distort and conceal. In many countries school textbooks seem to have difficulty putting the darker side of their national history into words.

Van Dooren:·"How do Flemish school textbooks depict the ill-treatment of the Congolese in our own colonial era?

It is well-known that Leopold II's colonial exploitation of 'his' 'Free State of the Congo' was accompanied by appalling crimes. How do Flemish textbooks depict these appalling facts a hundred years later? In particular, we must ask ourselves what unsupervised pupils glean from these texts. Are the conclusions clear; the facts and circumstances concrete? After reading and studying such a book, can a student imagine the reality, or is this concealed by language and unrevealed facts? The following quotations from three existing school textbooks, constitute the only references to the ill-treatment and abuses in the former Belgian Congo. In the first example there is a paucity of information. What do pupils imagine 'scandalous treatment' to be? The other books offer more concrete information."

Source 1·"In the meantime the Congolese were treated scandalously in the course of economic exploitation, of which both Leopold II and the large companies were guilty."

Laitem, L.E.M. Tijdspiegel 5. Van Verlichting tot wereldoorlog. Kapellen: De Nederlandsche Boekhandel/Uitgeverij Pelckmans, 1993, p.135 (secondary education for 17-year old pupils).

Source 2·"Nonetheless, criticism of Leopold II's politics in the Congo came from all sides of the international community, in particular from the British. Cruelty, extortion and inhumane conditions came to light. Moreover, financial problems would ensure that in his will Leopold would leave the Congo to the Belgian State."

subscript:·"Victims of the colonial regime: inhabitants showing amputated hands of Congolese punished for producing too little rubber. Colonisation was centred on rubber production. The methods used to harvest the rubber were often very cruel. The British Consul, Casement, produced a report in 1903 (The Casement Report) that challenged certain abuses. Corporeal punishments, mutilation (amputation of hands and ears) and plundering all took place as part of colonialism in the Congo."

Smedts, P., R. Van den Eynden and W. Van Damme., Van tijd tot tijd 4B. Deurne: Uitgeverij Novum, 1994, p.130.

Source 3"The country and the population were terrorized in a pitiless fashion and bled dry; a few made fortunes. That was eventually the downfall of Leopold II. Debts and, in particular, the severe criticism of his policies and inhumane conditions forced Leopold II to hand the Congo over to the Belgian State in 1908".

subscript:·"Children without hands in the Free State of the Congo. Left: Hands bound too tightly turned gangrenous and fell off. Right: this girl was beaten to death after her village had been punished for producing too little rubber. Her hand was then cut off."

Martens J., J. Neutelaers, e.a. Fundamenten 5. De wording van de moderne samenleving 1750-1918. (Fundamentals 5. The Development of Modern Society 1750-1918. Leuven: Wolters, 1993, pp. 281-282. (Secondary School, 17 years)

Van Dooren:·"The second and third textbooks depict the appalling facts quite literally. Perhaps, in both cases, the text in the book could be a bit more concrete, especially in the third example. The caption creates confusion. A critical pupil would still be left with a number of unanswered questions. Why had the boy's hands been bound together? Who were the culprits? How was the girl's village punished? Why was her hand chopped off after she had been beaten to death? Are both the children from the same village? It is never made clear that these crimes were in no way exceptional, nor that they came about as a result of a fundamental rejection of equality between black and white. Nor are these points made clear in the other textbooks. There will have to be a great deal more clarity before the racist history of 'our own people' become a natural part of our historical awareness. Some textbooks are moving in the right direction, so there is some hope."


According to western notions, the manner by which mankind has developed methods of food production is indicative of the evolutionary process: hunter-gathering, simple agriculture using a stock or hoe, or a nomadic lifestyle. Evolution has been a progression from the Iron Age, via the Bronze Age, to the present day, the era of modern man. Accordingly, pantheistic religions precede a progression through polytheism to monotheism. Barter as the basis of an economy is followed by trade based on money. This notion of linear development often serves as a mean to record European history.

Problems arise as soon as this developmental line is rendered a universal norm. When applied to non-western cultures, it is often open to the interpretation that 'others' are not as far advanced. They are relegated to the position of representatives of an earlier era.

 'The people of the Bronze and Iron Ages lived together in villages. They lived on the produce of the land, and from their cattle. They also gathered food and went hunting. (...) This way of living still exists, for example, among the Wayana-Indians in South America.' (16)

 Naturally, one should ask oneself if the idea of a graphically charted upwards progression is such a bad one. Are we not much more advanced than the beaker peoples and have we not learnt from our own history? Leaving a definition of 'we' aside, less generalisation is necessary if non-western cultures are to be brought into the picture. The division of history into developmental phases is somewhat arbitrary if one sees how some cultures have by-passed various phases once contact is made with that which is 'Western'.

The concept of development as a linear progression is one that is widespread. This on its own is sufficient to necessitate a critical perspective. To augment European history with the cultural highlights of other areas outside Europe calls the centrality of Europe as initiator of change into question. This, however, is not enough. Intercultural respect results from absorbing the views of other peoples and cultures and putting emphasis on cultural exchange and benefits instead of unilateral influences and disadvantages.

4.4 Rich and Poor, North and South

"We live on the third world from

the sun. Number three. Nobody

tells us what to do."

(Homi K. Bhabha)" (10)


The problems incumbent on the North/South divide are the problems incumbent on inequality in economic and political hegemony: the North is rich in comparison with the South. The knack is to discuss this inequality in such a way that both poor and rich are dealt with in a respectful manner. If the western model of progress remains the point of departure, then it is unavoidable that some countries are depicted as needy, lacking in knowledge and requiring help and advice. In this way already existing prejudices are reinforced.

'Sixty years ago The Netherlands was less developed than now. Here are a few examples: a plough was pulled by a horse; the baker made his rounds with a barrow; (...) cars were scarce and motorways non-existent. Now there are tractors, delivery vans, bathrooms with showers, washing machines, six-carriage highways complete with traffic jams etc. All these things are examples of modern development. All these things make The Netherlands a developed country. But even in these modern times there are countries without modern things. Well, not entirely, but they are less well developed. It would be more correct to say that they are still developing. That is why we call them developing countries.'(17)

This description is almost a caricature of ethnocentrism: a developing country is a negative image of our own country. People who live there lack the things we have here. Pupils are asked to look at photographs from this perspective. They take on the role of traveller and regard the shortcomings they encounter elsewhere from a somewhat superior position. The flip-side of the material prosperity outlined here is never discussed. Enthusiasm for personal acquisitions is wearing thin now that the price in environmental problems is becoming apparent. If all the attention is focused on developmental issues, then poverty will be at the forefront and negative depictions will dominate.


Education in Developmental Issues

Education in issues related to development is confronted with the difficult task of dealing with poverty and inequality without reinforcing or even evoking stereotypes. School textbooks can form a counterbalance to the crudely drawn depictions to which pupils will find themselves subjected elsewhere.

Firstly, there should be a clear distinction between countries. From a western perspective, there are more poor countries than rich countries. Poor countries differ from each other in their historical, economic and cultural background, and in the nature of their problems. The solutions, therefore, are not all the same.

Moreover, it is advisable to reduce the absolute differences suggested between North and South, for example, by drawing attention to poverty in the North and wealth in the South.

One can take it a step further still by putting the familiar and distorted representations onto the agenda, as is the case in the following piece of text, which refers to a photograph of an African farmer spraying his fields.

"Africa. 'A lost continent'?

You seldom see a representation like the one in figure 12 on TV. Reportage of events in Africa often have a negative bias. Is there then nothing good that is newsworthy? Of course. But, when it comes to collecting for charity, more money comes in if the misery is clearly visible. But there are positive developments. For example, in the Sahel there has been some improvement with regard to food shortages; the exhausted soil is being rendered fertile once again; and fewer young people are migrating from rural areas into the towns." (18)


Cause and Effect

Political and economic relations, both past and present, should always be an essential element of any explanation of under-development. The following quote cites an important cause of poverty in developing countries and of wealth in the North.

 'A colony had to sell their raw materials to the mother country playing the boss for very low prices. Because a country was forced to become a colony, it lost its independence and could not develop any further. However, Western European countries developed themselves extremely well, especially due to the cheap raw materials they got from the colonies, which consequently remained poor or grew even poorer. As the colonies could not develop themselves, even after they gained independent they were still obliged to sell their raw materials for low prices. It is hardly surprising that most of the developing countries are former colonies.' (19)

Colonialism cannot provide an answer to everything (some countries were never or only briefly colonised), but a great deal can be explained from this perspective. The above-mentioned quotation contains an historical explanation clearly proposing that poverty and wealth are not intrinsic to either the South or the North. Moreover, this explanation provides insights into present-day neo-colonial relations, national debts, and trade barriers that form obstacles to more balanced economic relations. In this sense the North is partially responsible for improvement.


4.5 Racism and Discrimination

The Division into Races

The division of people into different races (for example, yellow, black or white) does not belong in education. Pseudo-scientific attempts to link external and internal qualities with each other have been proven to be insupportable.

People differ from each other in an infinite number of ways. Skin colour is only one of them. 'Race' was a experiment and an erroneous notion even without all the half-baked racist notions that appeared as a result. Consequently, it is even more painful to see that some school textbooks approach the subject uncritically.

'Imagine what it would be like if all the people on the planet always stayed in the place where they were born. They would never travel. There would be no ethnic minority groups, only indigenous peoples. A map on which the races were coloured in would look very simple. You can see a map of this type in illustration 3.7.' (19)

In what follows, the mingling of races is explained as a consequence of migration. It is as if races exist and originally had their own unique characteristics. Moreover, the text suggests that the world would be much simpler without ethnic minority groups. 'Ethnic minority' is given a negative connotation. A member of an ethnic minority group ('allochtone') is someone who belongs elsewhere.

Before one is aware of it happening, the distinction between a native-born person ('autochtone') and a non-native born person (allochtone') is a question of race. Such a shift in meaning occurs frequently:

 "In our country there are also Chinese people, Italians, Greeks and other groups. It is clear that because of this The Netherlands has become a multi-racial and multicultural society." (20)

 In the above, 'race' is linked unequivocally to culture. In the following example the link with ethnicity is laid.

What do you notice especially about this picture? (...) Do these children belong to another race of people, yes or no? If they do, they belong to the so-called ethnic minorities.' (21)

'Race' is used to determine the norm: white is normal, non-white is 'other'. Furthermore, concepts of race, tribe, peoples and ethnic minority status are lumped together.

A division of peoples into races has no relevance in an educational situation. The example given above make it clear that every discussion generates another set of problems and that it is so easy to unwittingly reaffirm racist associations. They are in opposition to the objectives of intercultural education.

In reality there is a connection between skin colour and social position, but it is racism that is at the root of this phenomenon and not skin colour itself. This should form the basis of an approach to the material in geography and history lessons. It is evident that the following statement should not be presented in lesson-material.

'Judaism, Religion and race are closely linked in Judaism.' (22)

One can always decide to skip over any survey of races one might come across in a school textbook. Such a survey could also be used to deal with the history of racism.



 From:·O. Bombardelli, Università di Trento, Facoltà di Lettere e filosofia, Italy

 Source:·Bacchi, Gabriele, Corso di Storia: popoli, cultura, modi di vita. Bologna: Calderini 1992


"This Amazon indian is a primitive man. That is why we think he has nothing to teach us. This is not true: he knows more about many natural phenomena that we do."

Perhaps this is well-intentioned. A positive perspective has been chosen, but ultimately the caption is denigrating. The subtext is actually saying that we know an great deal and he actually knows something too. But the word 'primitive' is never discussed.

In the past the term 'primitive' meant that a people were likely to be extinct soon, and that they were definitely not our contemporaries. This association seems to be present in the passage. On the same page there is a drawing of a dodo.


 Cultural Arrogance

One weapon in the battle against racism is the reference to a tradition of Dutch tolerance: 'our' tolerance!

 'In comparison with other countries in the 17th century, we were a tolerant people. The Jews were not persecuted for their beliefs or their way of living. Over the years we have become very proud of this tolerance. We have come to see ourselves as the most tolerant people on the planet.' (23)

 It has become a precept of Dutch culture that one should not discriminate against people on the grounds of beliefs or other lifestyles. The cultural arrogance that is discernable in the last sentence of the quotation above is responsible for a denial of the very existence of racism and discrimination in The Netherlands. The following quotation presents the issue of tolerance in a more refined manner.

 'For centuries The Netherlands has had a reputation for tolerance. Tens of thousands of foreigners came here because they would be free to practise their religion here while they where persecuted elsewhere. This tolerance was not only a result of philanthropy, but political and commercial considerations also carried weight. As a result of the tradition of tolerance, it is more noticeable when intolerance and racism manifest themselves in The Netherlands. Racism and discrimination appeared to be problems that only affected other countries, then suddenly they are close to home. But were racism and discrimination really problems that only affected other countries?' (24)

 Subsequently, the text refers to World War II and the fact that in comparison with surrounding countries the highest percentage of Jews was transported to the camps from The Netherlands. Moreover, relatively speaking, there were more collaborators among the Dutch than among occupied populations elsewhere and at present The Netherlands admits fewer refugees than other countries in Western Europe. The text rounds off with the following:

 'But, of course, there are also many people in The Netherlands who are tolerant and even actively involved in combatting racism and discrimination. They go on demonstrations and refuse to accept that people should be distinguished from one another on the basis of colour, belief, temperament or whatever.' (25)

 One could combine this with an assignment that requires pupils to approach organisations in their own province that are active on behalf of ethnic minorities or are involved in anti-discrimination activities.


4.6 Notes

1 Verken je wereld, (Get to Know Your World) Groningen: Jacob Dijkstra Educatieve Uitgeverij, 1986.
2 Wereldwijs( Worldly Wise), 1MHV. Den Bosch: Malmberg, 1993. p.53.
3 Waarom Daar? (Why There?), part 2. Den Bosch: Malmberg, 1985. p.63.
4 Verken je wereld (Get to Know Your World), part 6. Groningen: Jacob Dijkstra Educatieve Uitgeverij, 1989. p.70.
5 Geobas (Basic Geography), part 2. Groningen: Jacob Dijkstra Educatieve Uitgeverij, 1990. p.102.
6 Een wereld van verschil (A World of Difference), part 2. Den Bosch: Malmberg, 1990. p.11.
7 Radar, Maatschappijleer voor bovenbouw HAVO/VWO (Radar: Social Studies for GCSE ans 'A' Level). Groningen: Wolters Noordhoff, 1994. p.145.
8 Wereld-in-delen (The World in Pieces), tekstboek part 2M. Haarlem: Gottmer Educatief, 1983. p.124.
9 Sporen (Tracks), part 3. Groningen: Wolters Noordhoff, 1993. p. 172-173.
10 Route aardrijkskunde (Roads Through Geography), part 3. Groningen: Wolters Noordhoff, 1984. p.27.
11 Kijk op de Tijd (Look at the Time), part 1 MHV. Den Bosch: Malmberg, 3e dr. 1984. p.128.
12 De Geo Geordend (Organised Geography), part 2 LM. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff Educatief, 1988. p.57-58.
13 De tijd zal het leren (Time Will Tell), part 3. Zeist: Dijkstra, 1985. p.63.
14 Sprekend Verleden (Speaking of the Past), part 3 II. Rijswijk: Nijgh & Van Ditmar Educatief, 1987. p.124.
15 Sporen (Tracks), part 3. Groningen: Wolters Noordhoff, 1993. p.251.
16 Bij de tijd (With the Times), part 2. Den Bosch: Malmberg, 1986. p.64.
17 De Geo Geordend (Organised Geography), part 2. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff Educatief, 1988. p.28.
18 Formule Bos (Standard Woods), part 2. Groningen: Wolters Noordhoff, 1994. p.63.
19 Driesprong (The Three-Forked Road), part 2. Educaboek BV, 1985. p.91.
20 Wereldbeeld (A View of the World), part 1. Leiden: Educatief Uitgeverij, 1994. p.15.
21 Verleden Tijd? (Past Tense?), part 3. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff Educatief, 1987. p.179.
22 Wereldwijs (Worldly Wise), exercise book 2. Den Bosch: Malmberg, 1994. p. 79.
23 Maatschappijleer als opdracht voor het MDGO (Social Studies as aAssignment Secondaru Vocational Education). Leiden: Spruyt, Van Mantgem & De Does, 1990, p.24.
24 Vragen aan de Geschiedenis (Questions of History), textbook part 3. Groningen: Wolters Noordhoff, 1986. p.218.

25 De multiculturele samenleving; Waar sta jij? (The Multicultural Society: What's your opinion?), (Kernthema's Maatschappijleer) (Central Themes For Social Studies). Amsterdam: Meulenhoff Educatief, 1996.

top of page