Following the decision of GO!, the Flemish public institution for community education, to reduce the hours appointed to the subject of history by a quarter, a group of Flemish teachers have started a petition for the retention of teaching hours for history classes. These teachers argue that history education stands for informed and critical citizenship and that it arms students against simplisms, black-and-white reasoning and conspiracy thinking. This decision by GO! threatens the historical knowledge and skills that young people take with them after leaving secondary school.
These concerns are similar to the situation in the Netherlands. In an open letter, published in NRC on February 15, the KNHG, VGN and EuroClio call on the ministers of Education, Culture and Science to strengthen the infrastructure of history education in the Netherlands. Since 1968, history has become an elective in upper secondary education, and subsequently it is only included in two of the four course profiles for havo and vwo. Vmbo students only follow history courses for two years. As a result, generations of young people have had no history education at all after the age of 14 or 15. This even though “historical thinking” as a skill is a necessary condition for a nuanced view of current developments in the Netherlands and in the world. “Without historical knowledge, anything can be said. It doesn’t matter if it’s factual or not. This is a dangerous development,” according to the signatories of the open letter.