Democratic Citizenship and Democratic Values in Textbooks


"Textbooks draw the borders of the citizenship domain in a reductionist approach and conceptualize a political inclusion mechanism stripped of social conflict and historical change."

Dr. Canan Aratemur Çimen & Dr. Sezen Bayhan

We are going through times that have the potential to bring about important changes and transformations. With the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have experienced changes with respect to our lifestyles, work routines, social relationships, consumption patterns, and our relationships with nature. In such a time of crisis, we have been inclined to reflect on our old habits and think of ways of creating an alternative world order that privileges conservation of nature, human well-being, and collective good.
The new imperatives brought about by the pandemic condition have revealed the importance of acting responsibly, with an eye to collective interests, on the one hand, while on the other resulting in conflicts and controversies that have implications for rights and freedoms in various realms such as education, health, law, politics, domestic labour, and professional life. Some examples that illustrate the current conflictual situations are the problems experienced by the service sector workers due to their changing work conditions, the deepening gender inequalities at home because of the increasing household burden on women, disputes over the way curfew is implemented, citizen criticisms against government policies concerning access to transparent knowledge and stay-home procedures, and the harsh sanctions imposed on these critical voices. With the transition to distance education, the content of the lectures broadcast over the Information Network for Education (Eğitim Bilişim Ağı) also caused fierce public debates. Some of the lectures were criticised for their implications for child psychology and for the language featured in them. These criticisms directed the attention of many to the question of what is presented to the pupils and the way it is presented as well as leading to a critical questioning of the quality of the information transmitted to them. At such a time, when the debates over the educational content have intensified, we wish to focus on how the notion of democratic citizenship and democratic values are conceptualised in the textbooks and summarise some of the important points we raised in our previously published reports whose links are given below [1]. 

What does the concept of democracy encompass?

Textbooks treat the concept of democracy and democratic values in a restricted manner, describing democracy largely with reference to the mode of government, rights, and elections. The discussion of rights, however, remain at a theoreticel level and is framed in a way to exclude the right to be participate in political processes. Concepts of civic participa¬tion and active citizenship are largely exemplified through the contexts of requesting a park or wheelchair ramps from the municipality via written petitions and claiming consumer rights in the face of consumption-related problems; however, no attempt is made to exemplify the situations that involve individuals participating or demanding inclusion in political processes such as the formation of laws, regulations, and similar decision-making processes. In a similar manner, there is no coverage of the right to strike and peaceful protest, which are the chief instruments for voicing one’s demands to be included in political processes, or political rights such as the right to oppose government policies. In short, textbooks draw the borders of the citizenship domain in a reductionist approach and conceptualize a political inclusion mechanism stripped of social conflict and historical change. 
In a similar vein, messages related to freedoms are featured in a restricted manner. Freedom of thought and expression and freedom of faith come into prominence as largely avoided concepts. Even the primary school citizenship textbook, which is expected to treat these concepts in the most extensive manner, deals with these freedoms only at a theoretical level and avoids providing concrete examples of the ways they are exercised. The book includes such an equivocal statement in relation to freedom of expression: “We have to take into consideration the consequences while expressing our ideas, acting in a certain way, and making our choices” (Human Rights, Citizenship and Democracy, Grade 4, 2018, p. 27). Both in this book and in others, freedom of faith is reduced to freedom of religion while freedom from religion  or religious pressure is not mentioned at all even in the discussions on secularism. Religious Culture and Morals textbooks draw the boundaries of freedom of opinion and expression with religion as a guide, allowing little room for a conceptualisation of freedom outside religion. The textbooks feature numerous statements and questions built on the assumption that particular daily practices associated with Sunni-Islam are practiced by all members of the society. The discussions and questions in Religious Culture and Morals textbooks in particular are biased to the extent that they constitute violation of human rights and run the risk of deepening educational inequalities. For instance, 9-year old pupils are asked such questions as “Why do you think we pray?” and “Can you give examples from the prayers you make?” in the textbook of the first mandatory religion course taught at primary school (Grade 4 Religious Culture and Morals,  2018, p. 25). Including such questions in the very first unit of the textbook of a mandatory course demonstrates a singular and totalising understanding that excludes the pupils from different bakcgrounds and denies the possibility that not all the 9-year olds might have learned how to pray prior to taking the Religious Culture and Morals course. It would be meaningful to note that the European Court of Human Rights have ruled that Religious Culture and Morals courses in Turkey constituted a violation of human rights and that Turkey must introduce a mechanism of exemption from these courses [2] (Council of Europe, 2007, 2014). 

"That the textbooks make no attempt to promote critical questioning of gendered stereotypes while simultaneously featuring numerous examples of gendered division of labour at home, constitutes a major barrier to create opportunities for eliminating the existing inequalities."

Dr. Canan Aratemur Çimen, Dr. Sezen Bayhan

The Construction of Ideal Citizenship 

The framing of the ideal citizen is premised upon the assumption that a shared religion, language, and set of customs with which all the members of the society identify themselves exist, leaving little room for critical reasoning, pluralism, and differences. Many of the textbooks include statements as follows: “Values such as religion, language, and traditions make the land on which people live more valuable for them and help them act based on the consciousness of a nation. A patriot possessing national consciousness never betrays their country.”  (Grade 7  Religious Culture and Morals, 2018, p. 91). Such language, with the use of the term “betray”, serves not only to deny the existence of differences but also to forestall the possibility of critically reflecting on the purportedly shared values. Also, such an approach establishes a criminalising discourse aimed at delegitimising critical interpretations. A good citizen, according to the textbooks, is also expected to safeguard the national values and fall martyr for the homeland when necessary. While men are idealised as those who eagerly join the war, women are idealised as those wholeheartedly sending their sons to martyrdom. Similar to the definition of the ideal citizen, the definition of national culture is based on an assumed set of shared values. The love of the homeland, nation, and flag stands out as a value that is essential for the society not to lose its national identity. Such a definition of culture that emphsizes the existence of a set of shared feelings and lifestyles builds a totalising discourse on the lives of the citizens.

Virtuous, Religious and Sportive Men; Mother-Women
A corollary to the definition of ideal citizenship is the construction of ideal manhoods and womenhoods. Turkish language textbooks stand out in this respect with the theme entitled “Virtues”, which include messages with religious implications similar to the ones found in Religious Culture and Morals textbooks. These messages are largely narrated by nostalgic male characters who seem to no longer live in the present, such as sultans, viziers and madrasah teachers. In this way being virtuous and wise is narrated as an attribute associated with men.  It can then be said that men as ideal citizens, who are expected to safeguard national values and sacrifice their lives when necessary, are also expected to act as paragons of virtue and make more efforts to align their daily lives with religious teachings. The gender-discriminatory approach that pervades the theme “Virtues” is also visible in the themes that include sports such as football, cirit, and wrestling. Male characters and boys dominate the narratives on sports, accompanied by visuals of the virile characters. In contrast, both in these themes and in the textbooks in general, women characters are underrepresented and represented largely as mothers, in a way to accord with family-oriented conceptualization of the national culture dominating the textbooks. Grade 7 Social Studies textbook implies as follows that a woman comes into being with her existence in a family and she would not be as esteemed without a family: “In Turkish culture, family is the building block of the society. In the Ottoman society too, women had a highly esteemed standing as a result of the value attached to family”  (2018, p. 85). The textbooks represent women as those responsible for housework and childcare, treating their roles as mothers and housewives as given. Whereas men are almost never featured doing housework alone, women are frequently mentioned in the context of housework or portrayed through visuals that show them working in the kitchen. The textbooks used prior to 2017 curricular reform included a few examples that could serve to undermine the stereotypes associated with gendered division of labour, but the new textbooks seem to have been stripped of most of these examples. That the textbooks make no attempt to promote critical questioning of gendered stereotypes while simultaneously featuring numerous examples of gendered division of labour at home constitutes a major barrier to create opportunities for eliminating the existing inequalities.

The Blurring of the Boundaries Between Religion and Science

Textbooks include various examples of discourses that blur the boundaries between the scientific realm and the religious realm, conceptualising the two in an intertwined manner. While this is mostly the case in the Religious Culture and Morals textbooks, textbooks of other subjects also include in an embedded manner, rather than explicitly, various examples of narratives that blur the boundaries between science and religion. Religious Culture and Morals  textbooks provide religious explanations for various phenomena that are known to have a scientific base. For example, the Grade 8 textbook discusses the concepts Qadr (fate),  Qada (command), and tawakkul (reliance on God), which are related to the idea of predestination in Islam,  by linking them to scientific methods, blurring the line between the scientific and the religious realms. Examples given to clarify Qadr and Qada are as follows: “For example, the principle that ‘Water boils at 100 degrees centigrade’ exemplifies the concept of Qadr [fate], while water’s boiling upon reaching 100 degrees is Qada [command].” (2018, p. 12). Although it is possible to explain these two terms without entering the realm of science or to present the above description as a claim of the religious point of view, the relationships above are presented as statements fact. Such manner of discussion bears the potential to transform the way students view and interpret scientific knowledge.

Also, Turkish language textbooks include various instances of the blurring of the boundaries between science and religion. In Grade 6 Turkish textbook, in the theme “Nature and Universe”, the reading text entitled “Thunderstorms and Lightings” includes the following statement: “If the rainbow is the cutest atmospheric event created by God in the air, thunderstorms and lightings are the most spectacular ones.” (2018, p. 167). In an activity in the same book, rain is described using the statement, “My name is the mercy falling from the sky” (p. 158 ). In Grade 8 Turkish textbook, the passage entitled “The Voice of the Heart” subtly questions the importance of science: “‘Do not cut it down!’, we say to them, ‘we have memories with this tree, please do not cut it down. We beg your mercy’. An imperious voice says, ‘But we will erect a skyscraper here. The business will go well, interest rates will decrease, peace will come, and science will find a cure for cancer’.” (2018, p. 159). The last two sentences exemplify a discoursal strategy whereby disparate entities are set up as equivalent to one another through their inclusion in lists [3]. 


The findings of our research dealing with how democratic citizenship and democratic values are dealt with by the textbooks show that textbook content falls short of the objective of “responding to the requirements of the current era”, which was stated as one of the rationales for introducing the new curricular programs as part of the 2017 curriculum reform. Putting forth religious explanations for the subjects that fall in the realm of natural sciences illustrates the prevalent backward approach to education. 

Coverage of such controversial content along with the lack of engagement with various critical values such as gender equality raise alarming questions about how to promote a notion of citizenship in which engaging with the problems in one’s surrounding, valuing science as a guide, and safeguarding democratic values are prioritized. Textbooks that are based on universal values, scientific principles, and democratic values would be an important step towards realising this.



[1] Democratic Values and Democratic Citizenship in the Turkish Education System: Textbooks,

Değişen Ders Kitaplarında Sekülerizm ve Toplumsal Cinsiyet Eşitliği Araştırması I,

Değişen Ders Kitaplarında Sekülerizm ve Toplumsal Cinsiyet Eşitliği Araştırması II,

[2] Council of Europe (2007). European Court of Human Rights: Case of Hasan and Eylem Zengin v. Turkey (Application no. 1448/04). Retrieved from{%22itemid%22:[%22001-82580%22]}

Council of Europe (2014). European Court of Human Rights: Case of Mansur Yalçin and others v. Turkey (Application no. 21163/11). Retrieved June 16 2019, from{%22itemid%22:[%22001-146487%22]}

[3] Please see, Fairclough, N. (2003). Analysing Discourse. London: Routledge