Between the ages of 16 and 19, virtually all Norwegians attend upper secondary school – an optional, three-year add-on to a decade of compulsory elementary education. Most opt for public schools over private ones, and a goodly chunk of that group chooses a course plan whose emphasis is on history, social science, and the humanities. As our educators admit, though, Norwegian students would be remiss to expect to actually learn anything about those subjects. This is not an accident caused by the quality of the school system, which the international body PISA has repeatedly found to be among the worst in the developed world – it is a consequence of design. The bureaucrats and intellectuals who create the curriculum for Norway's State schools, most of whom attended university during the 1960s and 1970s and partook of that era's student radicalism, agree that the goal of education is not the transmission of knowledge, but the propagation of soixante-huitardisme, relativism, and a bellyfeel hatred of white Europeans.
For influential Norwegian pedagogue Harald F. Skram, for instance, the belief that history constitutes “an objective account of what happened in the past” and the rejection of cultural relativism are both earmarks of low academic historical competence, while “an awareness of how history can be used politically” is a sign of high competence. Harald Syse, writing in the renowned quarterly Prosa, assures us that “it's been a long time since historical education has had as its only goal to communicate the truth about the past.” (Syse's piece examines whether a set of newly released history textbooks sufficiently emphasize the oppression of minority groups by ethnic Norwegians, as a State edict has recently required.) Facts, to Syse, are of secondary or tertiary value, subservient to the need for “a broad education in democracy.” In other words: Schools are not to transmit knowledge, which can be inconvenient and unpleasant and is at any rate a mere social construction of late-capitalist phallogocentrism. No, they should instead turn their students into docile paragons of “tolerance” and “open-mindedness,” “tolerance” and “open-mindedness” being acquired mostly through the memorization of a few thought-terminating cliches and the unquestioning acceptance of Cultural Marxism and the therapeutic welfare state. Like all totalitarian institutions, the Norwegian establishment starts its indoctrination as early as possible – even kindergarteners are made to sing songs about the horrors of racism and the need for world government.
Is the agenda of the curriculum reflected in practice? Here I want to resort to my own experiences. My upper secondary school should, by all accounts, be a bastion of conservative fuddy-duddiness. The municipality in which it is situated is one of the wealthiest in the country, regularly giving record electoral percentages to the center-right Conservative Party during general elections; the school's history goes back to the mid-19th century, and it had a Latin course until less than a decade ago; the faculty consists largely of people who have been with the school for decades, and has shown reluctance towards the use in the classroom of such modern luxuries as laptop computers or the Internet. By rights, they ought to also be at least somewhat reluctant to let go of the apparently outdated notion that the goal of education is to transmit knowledge, not to indoctrinate politically correct bromides. But even this conservative gerontocracy (I use the expressions fondly) seems happy to lend a leftward slant to any available subject, as my own fairly recent experiences will demonstrate.
I have heard a history teacher describe Stalinist Russia as a basically benevolent and prosperous society with a few minor problems. I have looked through a school library for a biography of Mao Zedong, only to find it populated exclusively by hagiographies written by 70s radicals. I have had philosophy teachers who have never heard of Friedrich Hayek. I have been told that dialectical materialism is an indisputable fact in which all historians believe. I have, as mentioned, read course plans which openly instruct teachers to fail students who affirm the existence of human nature or objective truth, and to give good grades to those who regard history as a political tool of the ruling classes. I have had textbooks on 20th century philosophy with dozens of pages devoted to mediocrities like Simone de Beavouir but not a single mention of Wittgenstein or Russell. I have had lessons on the Middle Ages that have consisted almost entirely of infantile urban legends. (Angels on the head of a pin, feudalism, etc.) I have heard of teachers who openly exhort their students to vote Socialist. I have been told that it is racist to pass moral judgment on female genital mutilation.
These anecdotes only describe my experiences, and incompletely at that, but I have no reason to suspect that my peers – burdened as they are with the same curriculum, teachers, and textbooks as me – have had a significantly different experience, nor that the situation is going to improve. If the human rights fora of the EU and the UN were made for more than trendy guilt-mongering, the tendentiousness and totalitarianism of Norway's State schools would long ago have invited their censure.