Teach­ers’ loy­alty law. Non­sense!

The Baltic Times - - FRONT PAGE - Karlis Streips Karlis Streips is a Lat­vian jour­nal­ist and ob­server of US de­scent.

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

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