The ministry of education in the Czech Republic recently issued guidelines on how to teach children about the country’s totalitarian past. Not everyone is pleased, reports Lubomír Sedlák.
With neo-Nazis getting ever more vocal in the Czech Republic and the Communist party making its presence felt in parliament, the ministry of education under the current caretaker government recently decided that history teaching in both primary and secondary schools should focus more on modern history, in particular the periods 1939-45 and 1948-89, when the country was ruled by totalitarian regimes. Consequently, the ministry has produced a guide on how political extremism should be explained to students studying history. The guide urges teachers not to lecture to children but to discuss extremism with them and let them ask questions, to take students to museums and galleries and to teach them how to read and understand propaganda texts. But teachers’ reactions to the publication have been mixed: ‘Everything in the guide is either already wellknown to us, including a précis of the work by British author Robert Stradling which appeared here in the Czech Republic five years ago, or is just pure theory,’ says Helena Mandelová, until recently chair of the country’s Teachers of History Association. ‘Instead of telling us that we should be taking children to museums ... the ministry should give us more hours in the national curriculum to teach the subject. At present this is at its lowest since 1918.’
Tomás Bouska, a spokesman for the education ministry, disagrees: ‘Representatives of the [Teachers of History] association were consulted on the guidebook before we published it,’ he claims. ‘And as to the number of hours history was taught in 1918 compared with now, the figures for grammar schools alone are higher.’