Presenting a paper titled "Who is a good Turk?: The 'Ideal' student according to Textbooks" at the "International Human Rights Education and TextBook Research Symposium" held last weekend, Assistant Professor Ayse Gul Altinay from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Sabanci University, tackled this issue.
The symposium was organized as part of the "Human Rights in TextBooks" project by the Turkish Academy of Sciences, the History Foundation of Turkey and the Turkish Human Rights Foundation.
Altinay talked about the notion of being a Turk and being a citizen in textbooks, as well as the way of thinking that is expected from the students. She read excerpts in three different categories from a number of different textbooks.
"This is my very basic question: What kind of a person will a student, who takes these books and their point of view seriously, and who embraces these approaches, become? In other words, what kind of a person will an 'ideal student' become? How will he or she define him or herself? How will he or she think, and what kind of an approach will he or she have toward the world?"
* The first characteristic of this student will be that he or she will look at the world with a nationalist lens. As stated in the National Security Knowledge textbook, the Ataturk Nationalism is the "only way."
What kind of nationalism is this? In certain textbooks, this is an inclusive nationalism that takes "citizenship" as its basis. As such, it adheres to the definition of citizenship in the constitution: "Everyone, who is related to the Turkish State by citizenship, is a Turk."
But when we look at other expressions in the same textbooks, we find a different approach to nationalism; one that is based on ethnicity, and in some cases, "race." This interpretation of nationalism takes Turkish ethnicity and Islam as its norms and excludes "other" identities from the definition of Turkishness.
* Another important characteristic of the "ideal" Turkish student in textbooks is being a "soldier-student." By extension, this ideal student, or the first-class citizen is basically a man.
Here, military service is defined as a cultural given and students are told that they will not be of any good to themselves, their families or their nation if they do not serve in the military. Under this definition, military service is no longer a citizenship obligation for male citizens. It is taken out of the political/legal framework, and is used in a social and cultural framework, which defines a person's life, and his relations with his family and environment.
The discourse about Turks being a "military-nation" underlies this argument and it naturalizes dying, killing and thus, violence.
* Almost all excerpts reflect a homogenous nation that represents a "single race" and a single culture. Saying there are different "races" within one nation is defined as "separatism."
The general view in these textbooks is that, the Turkish nation is a homogenous nation with a single ethnicity. Thus the books ignore the diversity in Turkey and see every kind of diversity as an element of "threat."
So, being a Turk is defined in terms of ethnicity, instead of "belonging" or "citizenship." And this is in contradiction with the Constitution, which states: "'Everyone, who is related to the Turkish State by citizenship, is a Turk.' In this definition, those people, who are Muslims, but who do not define themselves as Turks in terms of ethnicity, are being ignored or are seen as threats. And those Turkish citizens, who are non-Muslims, are not even included in this definition of a "nation."
"A good Turkish student"
Having examined these different excerpts, Altinay defines a good Turkish student according to textbooks as follows:
* A good Turkish student has an essentialist view of "identity" and "culture"; is nationalist and a soldier even if he or she is civilian. In other words, the ideal student is expected to embrace nationalism and militarism, to be suspicious of every kind of difference, to ignore differences between their Muslim friends, and to see their non-Muslim friends as categorically different Moreover, the ideal student believes that Turkey is surrounded with enemies, and is "scared" of foreigners.
According to Altinay, the notion of "culture" as homogenous, static/unchangeable, and bounded has changed.
Similarly, the essentialist notion of "identity" has also been questioned: "Identities are not based on biology. To the contrary, they are constantly redefined historically and sociologically," said Altinay.
Altinay also mentioned the recent debates in the scholarship on nations and nationalisms. According to Altinay, the concept of "nation," as having existed for centuries, does not exist anymore.
"When thinking about the education reform and textbooks in Turkey, one should take advantage of the Human Rights Declaration, and the discussions about human rights since 1950s," said Altinay.
She added that it was necessary to "take advantage also of the new debates and findings that have been reshaped the social sciences in the last 20 years".
She added: "Without reconceptualizing key concepts such as identity, nation and culture, it will be very difficult for us to question and change the nationalist and militarist approach that dominates textbooks." (YS/BB/EA/AGA)