Modernization and History Education in the Maghreb

The static, fixed and exclusionary interpretation of national identity and the (political) uses of history in national identity construction have been evaluated negatively several times over (Grever, Haydn, & Ribbens, 2008; Grever, Pelzer, & Haydn, 2011; Ribbens, 2007). History may be readily used as a means to make claims in the struggles over national history and identity. Debates on the content of school curricula thus a priori exclude the possibility of this fixedness and stability of the interpretation of history that tends to prevail in nationalist discourses. Static and fixed conceptions of national identity can only lead to static and fixed interpretations of the past. How does this work in the context of formerly colonized states? States produce narratives and citizens equally consume them by reproducing and/or contesting them

(Wertsch, 2002). Edward Said (2000: 179) argued that invented traditions (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 1983) used by states are: ‘(...) an instrument of rule in mass societies when the bonds of small social units like village and family were dissolving and authorities needed to find other ways ofconnecting a large number of people to each other.’’

Ernest Gellner (2006) in particular has stressed that education was crucial for nationalism to succeed as an ideology and in creating and maintaining moral membership of and loyalty to the nation. State institutions play a crucial role in the spread of national ideologies and the creation of a shared culture. In this view, modern state surveillance mechanisms imbue citizens with the importance of the nation-state and its ideology in their daily lives. In Morocco, this entailed downplaying cultural differences between Arabs and Berbers and stressing citizens’ shared identity as Moroccans and Muslims. The nation is narrated as a particular and homogenous culture with a particular history and destiny (Breuilly, 2006). Education is a site where narratives of the nation are produced: ‘(...) all breathe and speak and produce (...) the same culture’ (Gellner, 2006: 3-37). Unlike other forms of memory (i.e. social, cultural), political memory is always learned (Assmann, 2006) and has a more prescriptive and compelling nature precisely because it enhances the shaping of political identities and not mere cultural or social ones (Assmann, 2011).

During the immediate post-independence years, education in Morocco was significantly and thoroughly reassessed and crafted to produce a Moroccan national identity. France had left Morocco with not just two, but three different school types: French secular primary and secondary schools, primary and professional ‘Moroccan’ schools instated by the French for the locals, and traditional Islamic schools. In 1956 and 1957, Moroccan policy makers agreed to Arabize and ‘Moroccanize’ education. The nationalist party Istiqlal had driven these debates. They claimed a privileged position in these debates because they had played a pivotal role in the anti-colonial movement. ‘Moroccanization’ was viewed as a more hands-on solution to the Berber issue.

From 1956 until 1973, schools continued their use of French and Arabic manuals and textbooks. The former arose out of the French secular schools, the latter out of the Arab schools. From 1973 onwards, each subject was to be taught with the help of one manual and one teacher’s guide, produced by the Ministry of Education. After ‘Moroccanizing’ schools and teaching staff, a process of Arabization kicked in. In 1989, the use of Arabic in public education was strengthened. Since 1999, any Moroccan publishing company may submit proposals for manuals, but a committee overseen by the Ministry of Education ratifies and approves them. This measure was meant to introduce plurality in teaching methods but not so much in subject contents. Thus, the basic principle of unification in education has not yet been abandoned. With this specific reform, the Ministry of Education adjusted outdated pedagogies. For instance, instead of relying all too heavily on narrative history, textbooks made more use of visualization and inserted edited historical and archival records, probing for more reasoning in classrooms and ‘diminishing’ nationalist ideology.

From the early seventies onwards, the school became a place where Moroccan identity was to be shaped. Through education, all citizens—whether they belong to the elite classes or not—are reached (Balibar, 1991). Schools are therefore powerful sites where identities and linguistic communities are shaped. Within the bounds of educational settings, citizens thus learn the myths of the nation. History education in particular promotes views on who belongs to the nation and who does not. Wertsch (2002) especially has argued that nationstates and governments make use of narrative form in order to produce such a coherent story. For Wertsch, narrative form is the instrument through which memory is distributed. Memory cannot survive without a medium, and states turn to texts when they need to control and direct collective memories. History textbooks reflect the views of the state, not necessarily those of the citizens of the state. The content of history textbooks, the rules of production and their distribution reveal state views on history and state ideology. They are produced and distributed under national constraints (De Baets, 2002). Textbooks used in Moroccan schools were, for example, initially produced in Egypt because Morocco had become a member of the Arab League. The Egyptian Ministry of Education thus initially produced textbooks used in the Maghreb. This only changed in the early seventies. From then onwards, textbooks were produced in the capital, Rabat.

In general, national history textbooks in Morocco and Algeria have paid little attention to the Berbers. The politics of historical priority (Zerubavel, 2003), wherein individuals and groups may want to claim a deeper history, a homeland or an ‘ancient’ lineage says a lot about how they (want to) position themselves in the present, how they construct and present their ‘identity’. It creates not only a sense of belonging and one’s place in the world but it also produces a particular claim to autochthony and indigenousness, that is, the roots of national identity. In Morocco, this consisted of countering the narrative on the Berber identity of the Maghreb on the one hand and dismissing the ‘primitive’ status the Arabs and Muslims were accorded during colonial times on the other. One might argue that after independence, local discourse on Moroccan identity was colonized once again by an Arabism that ignored Morocco’s regional and local specificity.

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