Turkey Rolls Back Secular Education for ‘Pious Generation’

Police use water cannons to disperse protesters. Source: Dozens detained around Turkey in school boycott

This is from the New York Times, so keep that in mind while reading it:

Turkey has long enshrined the secular ideals of founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, particularly in an education system that until recently banned Islamic headscarves in schools and made schoolchildren begin the day reciting an oath of allegiance to Ataturk’s legacy. Now proponents of Turkey’s secular traditions claim President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is taking a new path, building a more Islam-focused education system to realize his stated goal of raising “pious generations.”

The ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party insists it is simply heeding the demands of a conservative and pious majority. It says the education measures aim to undo restrictions on religious education that were imposed following Turkey’s so-called “soft military coup” of 1997, when the then-powerful military — which saw itself as the guardian of Ataturk’s secular principles — pressured an Islamic-led government out of power and moved to close down vocational religious middle schools.

“Education is an ideological tool,” said Sakine Esen Yilmaz, secretary-general of the left-leaning Education and Science Laborer’s Union. “It is (now) being used to raise an obedient generation that will serve the government.”

The government’s moves have included loosening the headscarf ban; dramatically increasing the number of religious schools; and ending the school ritual in which students pledged allegiance to secular principles. While it has cited student freedoms in allowing headscarves, it has at the same time banned tattoos, body piercing and dyed hair in schools.

As an indication of possible steps to come, the country’s national education advisory council, dominated by a pro-government teacher’s union, recommended a series of other controversial measures that included increasing the number of compulsory religious classes from one to two hours per week; lowering the starting age of these classes to 6 from 9; teaching religious values at pre-schools; and removing a class on the preparation of cocktails from vocational tourism schools’ curriculum.

One proposal that received particularly strong backing from Erdogan was the introduction of mandatory Ottoman language classes at high schools, although the recommendation was later limited to religious schools. An older version of Turkish written in Arabic script, the Ottoman language all but passed into oblivion after Ataturk introduced the Latin alphabet in 1928 in his quest to anchor Turkey closer to the West. An iconic black-and-white picture shows Ataturk teaching the new Roman script at a school after introducing the reform.

Last week, thousands of people demonstrated in Istanbul to demand that the secular principles of education be upheld. They urged the government to halt a perceived campaign to impose the Sunni faith and to respect the rights of students from the Alevi Shiite sect that constitutes Turkey’s largest religious minority. Thousands of pro-secular and Alevi students and teachers were expected to boycott schools on Friday in protest of the government…

…The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the mandatory religion classes are an affront to Alevi students’ religious freedoms. The government insists that the course teaches general knowledge about all faiths — a claim dismissed by critics who say that Sunni teachings still dominate the syllabus.

unnamedPolice use tear gas to disperse scores of protesters boycotting schools over the growing influence of religion in the classroom in Ankara February 13, 2015. Source.