This Will Surprise You

Monday, May 30, 2005

This Will Surprise You

Say "Holland" and most Americans will think "liberal" if not "looney." But, as I've tried to point out a few times before, the reality is a lot more complicated. Take this controversy, for example, and consider red-state America, where creationism is out of the classroom in the vast majority of schools.

Dutch MPs are moving to scrap the teaching of Creationism in high school biology lessons.

Presently, it is compulsory to teach the theory God created the universe alongside the Theory of Evolution to biology students....

Education specialists with the Liberal VVD [center-right], Labour PvdA [center-left], green-left GroenLinks and Socialist SP believe that creationist theory should only be taught in religious classes or social studies, newspaper 'De Volkskrant' reported on Friday.

The Dutch Institute for Biology (NIBI) — which most biology teachers are members of — also wants to scrap the creationist theory from biology lessons. Director Leen van den Oever said it costs precious lesson time.

The issue entered public discourse after Education Minister Maria van der Hoeven was quoted on 21 May saying she wanted to organise a debate about evolution and creation because the theory of evolution was "incomplete".

Van der Hoeven is from the Christian Democratic Party, the Roman Catholic center-right party that has been part of every postwar Dutch governing coalition except for a period during the 1990s.

Note the reference to "religious classes." Virtually all schools here are publicly funded, including sectarian ones, and the system is in many ways quite similar to the voucher systems promoted by American conservatives. That whole church-state thing we Yanks get so exercised about (and I'm among those who tend to get very exercised about it) really doesn't have the same resonance here.

To make it even more difficult to shoehorn Dutch politics into American concepts, consider another of van der Hoeven's recent forays, and try to harmonize it with her stance on creationism and the fact that she represents a political party that is explicitly Christian. I'll do my best to translate.

Education Minister Van der Hoeven accepted delivery of the Prescription for Homosexuality in Education on Thursday, May 26. The Prescription Book contains concrete information and starting points for getting to work on the thorough prevention of discrimination against homosexuals. The Prescription Book is the result of Enabling Safety for LesBiGay Teachers [yes, that's its actual name, and it's not translated: the Dutch groups involved gave their project an English name, which I think we can agree was a mistake], a cooperative project among COC Netherlands [a leading gay rights group], the General Teachers' Union, and the General Educational Study Center.

In her speech following the presentation of the Prescription Book, Minister Van der Hoeven emphasized that safety requires openness. "Incidents of discrimination against gays and lesbians demand leadership from the schools. Tolerance is not enough. It's a matter of promoting respect for people with different lifestyles. We must break through ignorance on that subject," said the minister....

The Prescription Book demands the willingness of schools to choose diversity and safety policies in which homosexuality is explicitly discussed. Part of that must be stringent action against behavior that violates the rules. Such policies will create a culture and atmosphere in which lesbian, gay, and bisexual teachers and students can express themselves openly.

The Prescription Book itself isn't available without charge, but an English translation of the report of the Enabling Safety project can be downloaded in pdf format from the COC's website. The fact that "homo" is not a flattering term in English--unlike in Dutch, where it is the common and acceptable word for "gay"--seems to have escaped the translator's attention. I especially like the phrase "homo-hostile behaviour."

If the term "Prescription Book" sounds strange to you, consider the normal translation of receptenboek: "cookbook." Much as I would like to pay homage to Rod Serling, "Cookbook for Homosexuality in Education" didn't strike me as the best choice. Maybe I should have gone with "How to Serve Homos."

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