Children conceived through an in vitro procedure are “products of a human breeding program” and have no idea if they will ever be truly loved by their parents.
This is just one of a series of scandalous and highly polemical statements that can be found in a textbook for the new subject History and Present, part of the educational reform on the curriculum for high school students in Poland.
The new subject was widely promoted by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party as a way to improve students’ understanding of modern history and politics, reports the BIRN Balkan Investigative Journalism Network.
But despite the fervent defense of education minister Przemyśl Czarnek, known for his radical pro-Catholic and conservative positions, the new course has faced protests from parents and professional historians alike.
One of the reasons for this is that only one possible textbook is offered for this new subject, written by a historian with close ties to PiS – Wojciech Roszkowski. He is a former MEP from the party whose political views have become increasingly radical over time.
His name alone should not be such a red flag for problematic content, as he co-authored a previous history textbook published some 20 years ago, as well as a historical work published around the same time that enjoyed acclaim even and by his current critics.
One of the problems in this case is that in those two decades, Roszkowski’s views have become significantly radicalized, and his ties to PiS may have made him the perfect person to carry out an “errand” for Czarnek’s ministry by creating the perfect textbook for propagandizing the Catholic, conservative and nationalist worldview that the rulers in Warsaw profess.
The particular section denigrating IVF is likely to be removed from the textbook after parents threatened the Ministry of Education with legal action.
However, this is only one of dozens of similar examples of extreme and completely unscientific interpretations of social issues, and according to experts, the textbook contains manipulative moments and even outright false facts.
The troubling point for many in this case is not just that Roszkowski wrote an ultra-conservative textbook, but the fact that it is the only textbook offered for the subject. Formally, there is freedom to propose another alternative to be approved by the Ministry of Education, but so far there is none.
And the time it takes to get a new textbook approved makes it nearly impossible for another textbook to teach the new subject.
For the defenders of this textbook, it is a means of filling the “vacuum” in the public discourse of insufficiently patriotic and nationalist examples, although PiS rulers are trying to saturate this very space. An example of this is the Institute of National Memory directly controlled by them.
However, critics note some serious problems in Roszkowski’s text. The first of them is purely didactic – the author has inserted too many arbitrary statements, positioning them as facts.
His work lacks references to historical sources (something that is mandatory for any scientific text in this field), and some events are interpreted too one-sidedly and uncritically.
Another important point is that the visual materials – the pictures in the text of the textbook and the explanations to them, are often not related to the very essence of what is written, but rather give a suggestive subtext.
The former president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, a Christian Democrat, for example, is presented as a “Karl Marx admirer”. Marx himself has been labeled a “precursor of the criminal communist system”, while the far-right demonstrators at the infamous Independence March in Warsaw are shown as “defenders of the Catholic faith”.
A second criticism of Roszkowski’s textbook is that it deviates from the standard textbook form, offering instead a much more essayistic text format, full of random digressions into the present. They, in turn, do not help the development of the narrative at all, except that they give evaluative comments on the part of the author, which he prefers to call “truths”.
Thus, for example, according to Roshkovski, the post-war economic boom in Western Europe and the growing integration of the countries of the region at that time are an expression of “an existential crisis of identity, which triggers a civilizational collapse and degeneration of morals and norms”. This collapse, according to the author, was fueled by the youth riots of the 1960s and the rise of pop culture and rock music.
At one point in the textbook, Roszkowski also claims that fornicating monkeys were a source of inspiration for The Beatles’ work, and at other times he veers off into tirades against the women’s rights and LGBT+ rights movements of recent decades, in which tirades accuse the West of moral decadence and sexual debauchery.
In practice, the entire textbook is written entirely tendentially in the spirit of extreme conservatism and refracts all facts through the lens of the writer’s own ideology. Accordingly, the text inside is full of hyperbolized moments, while others that do not correspond to the author’s thesis are deliberately omitted.
In its essence, Roszkowski’s book brings together all aspects of PiS’s ideological framework – from the worship of the Catholic Church, through the most extreme conservative views on what society should look like, to the historical role of Poland as the antithesis of Russian and German influence on the continent.
The textbook mythologizes the times of Reagan and Thatcher, nurtures Euroscepticism and inculcates the idea of Greater Poland chauvinism.
If it was an independent and independent work of the historian, there would hardly be such a wave of criticism.
However, this is to be an official textbook from which to teach impressionable teenagers. That is why many are against the release of this book in schools.
According to some, this textbook, with its deep ideological fracture, will only strengthen the division in Polish society, introducing the opposition between liberal and conservative at an even earlier age.
However, others believe that it is very possible that even with the outright propaganda in the History and Present subject, the majority of teenagers will ignore Roshkovsky’s messages.
Surveys show that, for the most part, young people in the country profess rather secularist and more liberal views along with pro-European sentiments. And such a textbook, which is already speculated to be sponsored by PiS, can only cause more discontent among them.
Meanwhile, some municipal authorities have already issued negative recommendations regarding the use of Roszkovski’s textbook. It is also very likely that a significant percentage of teachers will reject it and use other didactic materials of their own accord.
For others, however, the conservative historian’s writings will become something taught in school.