Countering antisemitism by improving school textbooks
The lack of proper knowledge about Jews and Judaism should be considered a contributing factor to the spread of antisemitism. The role of education is critical in erasing prejudices and countering antisemitism, so how textbooks address the Holocaust, discrimination, hate speech and crimes, and how they portray Jewish communities and their contributions to the progress of a given country makes a big difference.
Hungarian school textbook reform
In 2016-17, APL has launched a unique school textbook reform project in Hungary to ensure primary and secondary school students use textbooks free from discrimination and bias. The goal was to educate and inspire the next generation to view Judaism in a positive light and fight antisemitism including Holocaust-denial.
Our experts have reviewed 15 elementary school books and 28 secondary school books in Hungary and made recommendations on textual changes to the government. As a result, 70% of the proposed 450 amendments have been accepted. Currently, 80% of Hungarian (nearly one million) students use the revised textbooks.
So far, there has been no similar initiative in Europe (or in the world) that systematically reviewed a minority group’s representation in textbooks. The Hungarian project completed was the first of this kind.
European school textbook reform
APL and its main project partner, the European Jewish Association (EJA) have been cooperating closely with the European Commission, to introduce educational models similar to those used in Hungary in a number of other European countries as well. In 2020 we presented to and discussed our idea with governmental educational officials in a number of European countries, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, and Slovakia.
Between September 2021 and May 2022, APL completed a regional European educational reform project with participation of Hungarian, Polish and Slovakian Jewish organizations. Our goal has been to counter antisemitism through education by developing white papers that outline a methodology to review and improve Jewish representation in school textbooks. APL developed a general white paper based on a textbook revision project successfully completed in Hungary in 2016-2017. With this methodological guidance, partners have prepared their white papers for Poland and Slovakia to offer practical advice and a local action plan. The next step should be the planning of the actual textbook revision in the project countries, including advocacy activities with national educational stakeholders.
The General White paper titled Improving School textbooks from a Jewish Perspective- The White Book for European Education Policymakers and Jewish Communities is available in English, Hungarian, Polish and Slovakian. For further information on the local white papers and the project results you can contact us or visit this website.
This project strengthened the cooperation and partnership between the V4 countries in their activities encountering antisemitism and laid down the foundation for a pan-European textbook revision project to ensure positive Jewish representation. The methodology developed by APL can also be used later for carrying out similar researches for different minority groups (from ethnic minorities to persons with disabilities) to improve their representation and help combat stereotypes or prejudices, thus its educational and social benefits can be shared across different sectors of society.
APL appreciates its partners (Jewish Educational Center Chabad in Slovakia, the Social-Cultural Association of Jews In Poland) and we are grateful to the International Visegrad Fund for its support.