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Title: Education in turmoil. A history of Catholic secondary education during the Second World War in Belgium
Authors: Van Ruyskensvelde, Sarah
Issue Date: 2-May-2014
Abstract: In October 2009, this doctoral research project was started within the framework of a joint degree between the Research Group Education, Culture and Society of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and the Research Group Political History of the Universiteit Antwerpen. At the basis of this dissertation lies the central research question as to what extent the implementation of the ideological and political outlooks of the German military regime influenced the development and organisation of Catholic secondary education for boys in Belgium. At the eve of the Second World War, the network of Catholic secondary schools represented the majority of pupils. Because of the focus of this dissertation on elite education for boys, I have selected the episcopal and Jesuit secondary schools as case-studies. Firstly, this research investigates the educational policy of the German military regime in Belgium during the Second World War and deals with the question as to what extent education was used as a political tool to gain acceptance of the regime. Secondly, this study focuses on the relation between the Verwaltungsstab and the Roman Catholic Church that held responsibility over the network of (non-subsidized) private schools. Thirdly, this dissertation shifts its focus to class practice and answers the question as to what extent the war and political situation penetrated the classroom. In a final chapter, this dissertation deals with the patterns in the war memories of teachers and pupils and frames those within historiography. The main goal of this study was to fill a gap within the field of the history of education and the historiography of the Second World War that, until now, have only investigated certain aspects of this subject, such as the revision of school manuals in Belgium, the resistance activities of teachers or the development of history education in Belgium and the Netherlands. Furthermore, the period of the occupation is often neglected in historical overviews of the history of Belgian education. And although there is an extensive literature about the organisation of Catholic education or the position of the Roman Catholic Church during the Second World War, the importance of education in the contacts between the Belgian Church and the German occupier have never been investigated. In spite of the fact that this dissertation enrols in the historiography of the Second World War and history of education, this dissertation aims at approaching this subject from a different angle. Rather than focussing on the unilateral imposition of the German policy and a traditional focus on collaboration and resistance, this dissertation shifts its central focus to the dynamic process of negotiation between different actors involved. Moreover, this study also aims at contributing to a new definition of the concept of school culture. Rather than looking at the ‘unique’ characteristics of the school, this dissertation underlines the connectedness between the school and political context. One of the consequences of the selected approach and the focus on dynamic strategies of negotion between actors on different levels of the educational pyramid is that the focus of this dissertation shifts from structures to actors and their networks. Methodologically, I have found great merit in Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory (ANT), for it describes and threats objects and subjects as a part of their social networks. This enables me to gain a better understanding of interactions between different actors. While some studies emphasize the ways in which actors implemented German orders and the subsequent response of collaboration and resistance or accommodation, this study looks at the ways actors constantly redefined their positions as a result of the interactions. This dissertation concludes that the educational policy of the German military government was directed towards the unification of the social centre field in particular. The restriction of the societal position of the Roman Catholic Church and its authority over private, Catholic schools formed an important element of that policy. More specifically, in 1942, the occupier issued two decrees that aimed directly at the restriction of the expansion and development of private Catholic schools. As a result, negotiations over the future of private schooling were started between the Verwaltungsstab and the Archbishopric in Mechelen. Because the German military government was willing to make concessions in principle, negotiations with the German ennemy were not a priori excluded. Good contacts with the Belgian Episcopacy were useful for the military occupier in the maintenance of order and peace in the country and even formed a way to shield off the hineinregieren of the SS and the party. Furthermore, the creation of a ‘politically neutral school culture’ was considered one of the best garantuees to continue the Catholic educational project. More specifically, each diocese, as well as the Society of Jesus issued a general prohibition to engage in political associations that were not approved by the Archbishopric, nor to participate in political manifestations. Furthermore, it was stricktly forbidden for teachers to comment on the political situation or the war during class. Generally, Catholic secondary schools succeeded in securing the Catholic educational project. The difficulties to implement the German educational policy in schools were mainly a result of the relative independence of private education, local resistance – for instance against handing over the lists of final year pupils within the context of forced labour, and the intrinsic intertion of the schooling system to implement reforms. Yet, the episcopal authorities and Jesuits could not prevent changes in school culture as a result of the war. More specifically, the German occupier did not have to gain total control over education to find support for some of its authoritarian ideas. Yet, admiration for German culture of National Socialism generally was more widespread during the interwaryears than during the actual period of the occupation. Because authoritarian ideas (about education) were increasingly connected with collaboration during the war, many teachers and pupils refrained from direct references to Hitler or National Socialism. These conclusions show that the German occupation and the Second World War did not cause a breach in the history of private secondary education, but rather stirred up new dynamics within Catholic school culture.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:History of Education
Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Campus Kulak Kortrijk – miscellaneous
Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences - miscellaneous

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