Jan 262017
 

By , 99GetSmart

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Turkey has once again updated its national education curriculum, downgrading philosophy, cutting classes on single-party rule in the 1940s and adding the latest coup attempt under philosophy and the social sciences.

On 16 January, the Ministry of National Education announced the new education curricula for secondary and high schools in Turkey.

The national curriculum has been a recurring topic of debate in Turkey for decades. It has always been controversial, given that all governments and political bodies have wanted to reinvent the educational system in the ideological image of the ruling party.

Less philosophy, more religion and values

The number of chapters in the philosophy course books has been generally reduced, while keeping political philosophy and philosophy of science. According to the new curriculum, class hours will remain the same at 72 hours per term, while the expected learning outcome for philosophy has been slashed from 58 to 20 points on Turkey’s assessment scale.

This major reduction of philosophy’s significance in the curriculum echoes the debate from a few years ago on the possibility of studying philosophy in the modern Turkish language. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the prime minister at the time, said that this was inadequate, insisting that one needs to use the Ottoman Turkish, which borrows the alphabet and most of its vocabulary from Arabic and Persian, or English in order to study philosophy.

“If we were to teach philosophy for 20 years, it would be a different country”

Istanbul-born philosopher and President of Philosophical Society of Turkey, Ioanna Kuçuradi, said “We make philosophy but he does not recognise us as philosophers.” In an interview with Sözcü in March 2016, Kuçuradi claimed that ignorance is at root of Turkey’s current social and moral crises and that they could be overcome through proper philosophical education: “If we were to teach philosophy for 20 years, it would be a different country.”

A pro-government conservative education union, Eğitim Bir-Sen, recently proposed the removal of ‘Ataturkism’, the official ideology describing the founding principles of modern Turkey, from the social sciences curriculum, and starting religious education at first grade.

While Eğitim Bir-Sen’s proposal on compulsory religion classes for first grade students was not introduced, Ataturkism has indeed been scrapped, and the principle of encouraging the observance of religious holidays adopted.
In line with the spirit of Eğitim Bir-Sen’s proposal, ‘Darwin & Evolution Theory’ was also purged from the school syllabus. It had been a controversial matter in Turkey for some time, especially since the Turkish Science Institute’s prohibition of publications about evolution.

The new approach will now rely on ‘values education’, e.g. the notions of ‘national unity & solidarity’ as well as ‘national, moral and universal values’. The new curriculum refers to values education as having a cultural impact, claiming that it is significant in turning these values into new norms and daily behaviours for society in the future.
As part of the new elective course for secondary schools ‘Basic Religious Teachings’, ‘jihad’ will be taught as part of religious values. Positivism and secularism will be categorised under the ‘Problems of Faith’ chapter, dedicated to the “promotion of individualism and the separation of state and religion”. Also under the problems of faith heading, students will be taught about deism, agnosticism, atheism, nihilism, satanism, reincarnation and false prophets.

Shifts in historical education with a special focus on the 15 July coup attempt

The coup attempt on 15 July 2016, which had a major impact on social and educational life in Turkey, has also been brought into the curriculum. Students will start learning about the coup attempt starting at sixth grade as a part of social science and philosophy classes. However, it is not certain whether previous coups will be referred to in the same classes.

At high school level, the students will now be asked to write essays on “Social Resistance against the Anti-Democratic 15 July Coup Attempt” within the framework of national-will, rule of law, and democratic understanding. “National Will” is a common reference in AKP (the ruling Justice and Development Party) campaigns, referring to the strong support behind the party in elections.

Contemporary Turkish and World History classes that focus on World War II will no longer refer to the anti-war efforts of Ismet Inonu, the president of the republic at the time and leader of the single-party CHP (Republican People’s Party) regime. Nor will it refer to his contributions to Turkey’s political and economic activities in the 1940s. Inonu was a general during Turkey’s War of Independence, a friend of the founder of republic and was declared “National Chief” during World War II, while keeping Turkey out of the war at all costs. As Inonu’s efforts at neutrality are being erased from history books, the transition to a multi-party system and the history of the Democrat Party is put under the spotlight.

The class on contemporary history, which has a chapter on the ‘Cold War Period’, will now include topics on ‘Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Developments in Turkey during the Time of the Democrat Party’. This in itself was a controversial period, with the start of a multi-party system that brought about the grasp of power by the Adnan Menderes government, starting in 1946. The new topic will focus on the election systems that were initiated in this period, which was heavily criticised for authoritarian tendencies and gerrymandering, due to the Democrat Party’s post-election downgrading of urban entities that did not predominantly vote for the ruling party.

Honouring Turkish success

The revised educational curriculum will honour Turkish citizens that have had international success. High school chemistry books will now have a topic on Prof. Dr. Aziz Sancar in the chapter on ‘Relations between Inter Chemical Species’ with his Nobel Prize-winning study on DNA-repair. Contemporary History will include Galatasaray’s winning of the UEFA Cup in 2000, as well as the national football team’s finishing third in the World Cup.

Students will be informed about scientific and technological developments in Turkey, about its satellite programme and communications technologies.

While the new curriculum is being championed by some media outlets in Turkey as the new system that will generate geniuses and inventors, many critical eyes see the decreasing presence of philosophy in the curriculum and hostile approach to secularism and positivism as a problem.

Even though the AKP’s efforts to erase ideological traces from national education may appear to modernise the education system through a more results-oriented approach, rewriting the history books from a centre-right political perspective only replaces the existing problems with new ones.

 

About the author

102.thumbnailGürkan Özturan is a graduate of Bosphorus University in Istanbul and he obtained his MA degrees from CIFE and Istanbul Bilgi University on European Studies and International Relations. His main areas of research include Far Right, Populism, Radicalism and Digital Media & Politics. Currently he works as a project curator and coordinator, writer, translator. He is a board member for Turkey Europe Foundation, as well as taking part in general coordination meetings of several other NGOs

Dec 152016
 

By 99GetSmart

Emek Movie Theatre (Photo: Nazım Serhat Fırat)

Emek Movie Theatre (Photo: Nazım Serhat Fırat)

The 8th edition of Istanbul’s Which Human Rights Film Festival (WHRFF) was launched on December 9th, on the eve of the International Human Rights Day. The opening ceremony was a tribute to the city’s iconic Emek Movie Theatre, demolished in 2013 to make place for a shopping mall.

Three years after the unsuccessful attempt to defend the heart of the city’s cinema scene, which also paved the way to the Gezi resistance movement, hundreds of viewers gathered at Şişli Urban Cultural Centre for the premiere of the documentary Audience Emancipated: The Struggle for the Emek Movie Theater.

The premiere coincided with the opening of a cinema multiplex under the name of “Emek Hall” at the Grand Pera shopping mall that was constructed on the original site. 

The Cinema

The original Emek Movie Theatre was as old as Turkish cinema itself. Located in the historical building of Cercle d’Orient (built 1884) the cinema opened its doors to public in 1924. It was originally called Melek Sineması or Angel Cinema as a reference to the Art Nouveau angel sculptures at the entrance of the former structure, and was the oldest cinema hall in Republican Turkey. 

The building was originally constructed for purposes other than film screenings. Among others, it used to serve as a theatre hall and as the gathering place for Istanbul’s cultural life. Its giant hall and the lounge, which could welcome hundreds, was ultimately found suitable for film festivals. 

Located on Istiklal, one of the most crowded avenues in Europe, the hall had been the home of Istanbul Film Festival for decades and the most popular cinema hall in the country for almost a century. It had left a deep mark in the social memory of the city.

Emek Movie Theatre (Photo: Nazım Serhat Fırat)

Emek Movie Theatre (Photo: Nazım Serhat Fırat)

Writing about a cinema-goer, Yusuf Atılgan, an early republican Turkish novelist, argues of the importance of being able to walk out into the city after watching a film and to be part of the society in order to digest what she or he had just watched.

Yeşilçam (Green Pine) Street, at which Emek’s entrance was located, gave the name to Turkish Cinematosphere. For Turkey, Green Pine is what Hollywood is for the US.

Emek cinema was not just any other movie theatre screening expensive international productions with profit-oriented mentality but a social space, which allowed young directors and independent films to find a screen and flourish.

The Film

At the opening of the WHRFF, the Cultural Center was filled with activists, architects, directors, researchers, students, labourers, former managers of Emek and many other people. They arrived well ahead of the screening to be united around the memory of the lost movie theatre and the ongoing struggles for presence in the city. 

The famous banner of Emek was placed in the hall, reading “Emek is Ours, Istanbul is Ours”. Many old friends met once again under this banner, the excitement was palpable.

“Emek is ours, Istanbul is ours” (Photo: Gürkan Özturan)

“Emek is ours, Istanbul is ours” (Photo: Gürkan Özturan)

Audience Emancipated captures the activism for the right to the city in Istanbul, such as the Emek is Ours Platform and their years-long struggle against demolition or neglect of cultural spaces, low-income residential neighbourhoods and parks. 

The 48-minute-long documentary summarizes the stages of demolition and resistance against it, stating the significance of this building for the cultural life of the city and the lure of profits for the investors, despite the court decisions marking the structure for preservation and other court decisions dictating a halt on demolition/construction works. 

However, experts, architects, the judiciary and even internationally renowned directors, such as Costa Gavras, stated opinions against demolition of the structure. And even though there were given many official decisions by courts to stop demolition, none of these were heard by the government, municipality, investors and construction companies went ahead with their plans. 

Now, a shopping mall enchants the luxurious consumers of Istanbul in the increasingly de-cultured and profiteering atmosphere of Istiklal Avenue. 

In the film, the mayor and construction company experts explain to the media how the Emek Hall will be preserved, not at the street level on ground floor but, thanks to the “modern preservation technique called ‘moving’, it will be dragged to the eight floor of the new shopping mall, exactly as it is.” This statement caused an uproar of laughter during the screening. 

After the screening, there was a period of discussion, quite emotional moments as the two former operators of Emek cinema came up on the stage. They had avoided the construction site in order not to see the demolition three years ago; and they had seen it for the first time, on screen. Their hands were shaking as they held onto the microphone and spoke about the times when they thought they’d be running Emek for their whole lives.

Photo: Nazım Serhat Fırat

Photo: Nazım Serhat Fırat

Right after them, Master Architect Mucella Yapıcı, the general secretary of the Turkish Union of Architecture and Engineering Chambers, Istanbul Metropolitan Branch, took the stage and emphasized the significance of reclaiming the city and social memory. She drew attention to the destructive populism wave of demolishing urban spaces and living areas for humans and animals, as well as trees in the city. As a final remark she reiterated the importance of not giving in and losing morality in the face of this expanding threat. “We must continue putting things on top of each other, building up culture and future,” she added. 

In the discussion after the screening, there was a consensus to boycott the shopping malls and unsocial profit spaces that destroy and demolish the memory of the city without even asking the people suffering the consequences or living there. 

The trailer of Audience Emancipated: