Teachers’ loyalty law. Nonsense!
Politicians quite often have a habit of dealing with peripheral issues so that they don’t have to think about important ones. In Latvia’s case, that is specifically true with respect to two amendments to laws which our wise heads, as Latvians ironically refer to their elected representatives, have passed in recent times. One was the so-called morality amendment to Latvia’s education law, which was the result of one schoolteacher giving her high school students one poem to read which contained, entirely in context, a naughty word. Can’t have that. Teachers in Latvia now have to be moral and teach students moral things.
The other was the so-called loyalty amendment to Latvia’s education law, which, as far as I can tell, was the result of one schoolteacher in one Russian school making comments about the Soviet Union and Latvia’s history therein, which Latvia’s nationalists found to be offensive. So now there is an amendment which says that teachers must also be loyal. Last week, the Education Ministry released a set of guidelines about what that really means, and this is one slippery, slippery slope. First of all, they say that a teacher must be loyal not only in school, but also during his or her free time, which apparently means when the teacher is sitting on a sofa, having a beer and watching television. Somehow, loyalty does not seem to be an issue in such cases, but that’s not the point.
The amendment, as such, also says that teachers are expected to educate their students to become patriots. I suppose that each and every one of us considers himself to be a patriot, but if someone asked me to explain what exactly I mean by that, I would have a very hard time doing so. Does it mean that I support my country? Well, yes, but in my case I have two home countries, Latvia, where I’ve lived for a quartercentury now, and the United States, where I grew up. On those very rare occasions, when a Latvian team is playing against an American team in one sport or another, I find myself torn. Am I less than patriotic because of that? Those who have lived in Latvia for a while will remember the slogan “I love this land, but I do not love this country,” by which people meant that they love Latvia as such, but they sure don’t think much of its government. Is that unpatriotic? Patriotism is by definition a subjective concept, and in the case of schools, what is a teacher supposed to do if a student does not conform to his or her understanding of what patriotism is? Turn the student in? To whom? And for what purpose?
The other thing is a sentence in the guidelines, which instructs teachers never to say anything that casts doubt upon the idea that sovereign power in Latvia belongs to the people of Latvia. I can easily imagine a civics lesson, in which a teacher would want to discuss what the concept of sovereign power as such means, and conclude that sovereign power in Latvia may belong to the people of Latvia, in the sense that they vote in elections, and choose their parliamentary representatives, but that is pretty much that. The people of Latvia do not choose the prime minister or the cabinet of ministers. They do not choose the president of Latvia or the heads of any of the government’s agencies and institutions. That doesn’t sound like absolute sovereign power to me. Even more, as a state, Latvia has ceded considerable amounts of its sovereign power to international entities such as: the United Nations, the European Union, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and so on. All of those have rules and principles that Latvia, as a member state, cannot ignore. This is a fact, but is it now something that schoolteachers are not allowed to discuss in the classroom?
Students in Latvia must be taught about Latvia and its history, but it is not possible to teach someone to be a patriot. I understand that the government does not want teachers praising the USSR and all that went with it, but there, again, I can fully envision a history lesson in which the teacher says that not everything in the Soviet Union was terrible. Education, such as it was, was free. Health care, such as it was, was free. People were poor, but then, so were most other people. At least you had money set aside for your funeral. Is that now out of the realm of discussion? And does our government really believe that high school students are not able to make their own judgments about issues such as patriotism, and when it comes to it, morality? So, to paraphrase Pink Floyd, government, leave those teachers alone!
Karlis Streips is a Latvian journalist