Ajcommittee Gives Czechs an ‘f’ in Education on Jews

Education about Jews and Judaism is severely lacking in Czech schools, according to a new American Jewish Committee study.

“Very few textbooks include even basic information about Jews,” said the report’s author, Leo Pavlat.

Pavlat, the director of the Jewish Museum in Prague, reviewed more than 90 history, literature, civics and geography textbooks for the study, “The Treatment of Jewish Themes in Czech Schools,” which was released this week.

All of the textbooks were published since the 1989 collapse of Communism.

Because the Czech Jewish community is so small — numbering around 6,000 in a country of more than 10 million — few Czechs have any significant contact with Jews, Pavlat said. This fact means that schools are “of crucial importance” for teaching Czechs about Jews, according to the report.

“Unfortunately, most of the materials in use — standards, curricula, and textbooks — are inadequate with regard to coverage of the Jewish experience,” the report said.

When books do mention Jews or Judaism, the religion is often considered only a precursor of Christianity instead of a contemporary faith, Pavlat said.

And discussions of anti-Semitism are often absent even when textbooks have sections on racism and xenophobia, he continued.

David Singer, director of research for the AJCommittee, said the report should worry everyone — not just Jews.

“The way in which a society treats Jews is a barometer for the general levels of tolerance in that society,” he said.

The report is part of an ongoing AJCommittee project to study the treatment of Jewish themes in the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe.

A report on Poland has already been released, and a study about Slovakia is due for publication early next year.

The Czech Republic fares reasonably well in comparison to other countries in the region, Singer said. “Happily, no textbooks here contain anti-Semitic material.”

The AJCommittee had found anti-Jewish statements in Slovak textbooks.

But Poland is “more problematic,” Singer said.

“Polish materials pay more attention to Jewish issues” than Czech texts, “but certain negative perceptions of Jews that are part of Polish culture do exist in textbooks,” he said.

“There is a lot of information about the Shoah, for example, but some of it is not candid about the role of Polish anti-Semitism,” Singer said.

Otakar Funda, who specializes in teaching about religion at the Charles University Pedagogical Faculty in Prague, agreed with the report’s findings that the system lacked information about Judaism. But he added that religion in general is underrepresented in schools.

Pavlat, who has met with the past four ministers of education to discuss Jewish concerns over the Czech school system, said the ministry did not have “bad will” regarding the problem, but was indifferent about it.

“The Education Ministry lacks a systematic, coordinated program to fight racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism,” he said.

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