Most dialogue participants agree that nationalism should be discussed in schools. However, their underlying motivation focuses less on educating a well-rounded generation with a broad understanding of diverse ideologies and more on cultivating patriotism among young students. "My main objective in teaching nationalism is to instill a deep appreciation for independent statehood as an absolute value,” says one of the teachers, Nelli. Interestingly, many directly equate nationalism with ideas around statehood and responsibilities towards the state: from an academic perspective, this is an exact understanding of a nation-state. Most dialogue participants do not discuss the possibility of a non-nation-state state, and they mostly equate nationalism and patriotism. However, certain academic currents now differentiate the two, bringing forward ideas of critical patriotism based on a more deliberative, non-nationalistic, and critical approach toward the state.
“I don’t know a country where nationalism isn’t taught in schools,” says another teacher, who is convinced that one can’t contribute positively to a nation if one's upbringing didn’t involve proper history education or a sense of statehood. It could, therefore, be inferred that to this particular teacher, nationalism is associated with the proper knowledge of history as well as the sense of statehood. While it is unclear what they mean by proper history, it can be assumed that in the context of nationalism, whether history is proper or not can be decided based on how conducive to nationalistic thought its teaching is: if history teaching helps students become more nationalistic or at least help them want to contribute positively to their nation, then it is proper, if not, then not. This, of course, is problematic from a history education standpoint.
Similarly, another teacher compares children to a ball of dough that will take shape as you mold it and suggests that the state and society aim to produce a specific type of citizenry. In his point of view, education should contribute to that goal. This is problematic not only from a history education standpoint but from a broader perspective on education: perceiving students as balls of dough means perceiving them as blank slates, whereby education becomes a process of the teacher imparting knowledge one-sidedly and the student taking shape exactly as the teacher wants them to. Current educational theory tends towards perceiving students as having more agency over how they think and how they learn, with the process being two-sided, and students never being blank slates when they learn, especially when they go to school, but having their own opinions, understandings, and experiences that affect what, how and why they learn.
Tatev, another teacher, holds a similar opinion. In her eyes, the sense of statehood has deteriorated among Armenians and history education should be used to restore it. “Many Armenians built Venice made inventions in the USA, but they served other systems. Of course, it is praiseworthy that they have created universal values, but in the end, they served other states,” she says. These teachers’ perspectives perhaps illustrate Anderson’s point about how education can be used to produce a specific national identity or reinforce nationalist sentiments.
This article is based on dialogue between history teachers and students within the scope of the “Intergenerational Dialogue” project led by Paradigma Educational Foundation in partnership with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. The real names of dialogue participants have been changed to protect their privacy.