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Knowledge in Culture Pedagogy: Examples of Dutch Textbooks

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    With the knowledge dimension, I am referring to courses which are, even if implicitly, based on a view of culture pedagogy which used to be called Landeskunde. This term is now gradually disappearing, as Risager says, (Risager, 2007: 5) but the idea of providing an overview of knowledge of society, country and culture, an extension of the old, what Risager refers to as ‘land-and-people tradition’ (ibid: 27), still underpins many language courses in practice. The term kennis van land en volk (knowledge of land and people), is also in some cases still adhered to in the context of Dutch as a Second and as a Foreign Language. The term is gradually being replaced by Nederland-en Vlaanderenkunde (knowledge about the Netherlands and Flanders), a clear indication of the national orientation of this approach to culture in language teaching. The traditional ‘land-and-people’ courses took a strong orientation towards typical national characteristics (ibid: 28). This emphasis has changed over the years, yet the discussion of the ‘national typical’, even of the national psyche, was until recently part of many language courses. I will discuss this below in relation to some Dutch textbooks which specifically address the culture dimension, either as an integrated language activity, in providing reading texts in Dutch, or as articles written in English to be used by teachers to address ‘culture’ in the curriculum as they see fit.

    The knowledge element of culture pedagogy, particularly when it has a strong national focus, tends to be based on a view of culture in terms of its particularities. These courses are based on the idea of a defined culture or ‘cultures’ (Williams, 1983 (1976): 89) that can be clearly described as a cohesive unit, marked off from the cultures of other groups of people (Risager, 2006: 33). The most traditional of courses in this mode focus on the history and social structures of the target country, providing factual information on, for instance, the party political, judicial, educational, and healthcare systems, economics, media, and historical events. In other words, a course that describes rather than analyses. These courses tend to provide a simplified picture of society in order to create a coherent overview. An example of a book which is used (or perhaps more accurately now, used to be used, at universities abroad where Dutch is taught is Nederland leren kennen (Snoek, 2000, (1996)). This consists of chapters focusing on history, culture, recent social issues, economics, and religion written in Dutch and functioning as reading texts in the language classroom. Another well-respected example is The Netherlands in Perspective: The Dutch way of Organizing a Society and its Setting (Shetter, 2002 (1997), an English language resource providing an in-depth historical, social and cultural ‘coherent overview of the Dutch society in all its aspects’ [my translation] (Beheydt, 2003). Themes running through the chapters emphasize supposed national characteristics, such as the consensual nature of Dutch society, the pragmatic approach of its citizens and institutions, and, above all, the insatiable need to ‘organize’.

    The kind of Landeskunde pedagogy I referred to above, might seem a little outdated, with its broad overview and its references to national characteristics. However, the national paradigm is anything but outdated, at least in practice. Courses which aim to provide a cultural dimension are more often than not presented in a national framework, and directed towards ‘the target country’ and ‘the target language’. Some of these courses can indeed be very informative, aiming for a deeper understanding of the cultural and social complexities of the country under study. Recently, in the Netherlands a book was published with the intention to address ‘culture’ in a more complex context, acknowledging that Dutch national identity is fluid and apt to change as a result of globalization and multiculturalism (Besamusca and Verheul, 2010). Their book, Discovering the Dutch is not primarily written for the educational market, but already it has become a key text for Dutch language and culture courses at universities in and outside the Netherlands. This book takes a more contemporary approach to ‘Dutch culture’ than some of its predecessors I mentioned above. Gone are the references to the national characteristics of the Dutch. And there where Dutch characteristics such as pragmatism and tolerance are mentioned, this is always within the context of representations made ‘through foreign eyes’. The approach to Nederlandkunde in this textbook is not only aimed at giving factual information, but many of the themes which are touched upon are based on research and theoretical considerations. A chapter on the multicultural society, for instance, offers a gentle critique of the ‘us and them’ approach adopted by the Dutch government and sets the discussion in a complex historical context. The occasional references to the ‘construction’ of national identity, indicates that the idea of national identity is not necessarily taken as a given. The book clearly pushes the genre of Nederlandkunde, but it does not constitute a new paradigm as it remains located in a national context. This is not surprising, since the context of Dutch language and culture pedagogy, including the materials and textbooks available, is influenced by the guidelines of the European Council, which I will discuss later in the chapter. But, probably more significantly, Dutch language and culture teaching is influenced by the current political context in the Netherlands. As a response to the brand of government supporting multiculturalism, which the Netherlands pioneered in the late 1970s, the political climate has veered towards a strong national outlook, which demands cultural assimilation of immigrants. These political views also had an effect on the public discourses about ‘Dutch culture’ and history, and the media frequently discussed the need to reclaim the Dutch national identity. In 2006 a canon of the history of the Netherlands was commissioned by the government in order to address the fact that many native Dutch do not have a sense of their national identity and history. The canon, widely used in primary and secondary education, sets out the ‘significant events in Dutch history’ that all Dutch citizens should be aware of.

    The national model in language learning in the Netherlands is strong. Language learning materials construct a nationality which constitutes what Billig (1995) refers to as ‘banal nationalism’; the representation of nationality through seemingly harmless symbols, such as the orange dress of football supporters, tulips on t-shirts, weather reports with national maps, and indeed language when it is seen as a political and national, rather than a social construct. Banal nationalism feels ‘natural’, because it is part of everyday life and customs.

    The national outlook in culture pedagogy does then not only have its source in earlier romantic notions of nationality but is also influenced by contemporary political contexts. Nor is it only a characteristic of Dutch foreign language and culture pedagogy. As Stougaard-Nielssen argued, the same national outlook takes place in course materials produced in Denmark (2010).

    This page titled Knowledge in Culture Pedagogy: Examples of Dutch Textbooks is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gerdi Quist (Ubiquity Press) .

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