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  • The Pedagogical State: Education and the Politics of National Culture in Post-1980 Turkey
  • Nathan J. Brown
The Pedagogical State: Education and the Politics of National Culture in Post-1980 Turkey Sam Kaplan Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006xx + 254 pp., $65.00 (cloth), $24.95 (paper)

Education in Middle Eastern states has become a matter for international controversy. Addressing the United Nations General Assembly in September 2006, U.S. president George W. Bush described his understanding of the existing state of education for students in the region: "While your peers in other parts of the world have received educations that prepare them for the opportunities of a global economy, you have been fed propaganda and conspiracy theories that blame others for your country's shortcomings." President Bush was not initiating a debate on education but joining one over a century old: how can and should state educational establishments train students? What values, skills, and truths should be communicated to students and how?

Officials, political elites, educators, and students have all participated in building and molding current educational establishments, curricula, and pedagogies. And because of the multiple parties involved, the struggles over education are far more complex than has been understood. Sam Kaplan's The Pedagogical State: Education and the Politics of National Culture in Post-1980 Turkey explores the contest over education in republican Turkey. While he [End Page 486] devotes some attention to the history of educational debates, his primary focus is on the period since the 1980 military coup reconfigured the country's political landscape. Part history, part political analysis, and part ethnography, his book is a major contribution to understanding education in Turkey and will likely appeal to those interested in education and the state more generally.

Kaplan's book analyzes contests over education on three levels: general debates among political leaders and groups about the purposes of education, the content of the texts, and the operation of the educational system in a Turkish village where Kaplan lived for two years.

On the first level, that of national politics, Kaplan shows how various powerful groups—political elites, business elites, and the military—have sought to mold the educational system according to their conceptions of the needs of the Turkish nation. The educational reforms of the late Ottoman Empire and Turkish republic placed education at the center of national debates over identity, Islam, citizenship, and economic development. Over the past few decades, the debates among various national elites have grown increasingly contentious and, indeed, the elites themselves less unified in their views. Kaplan analyzes in particular depth the views and proposals of business leaders, Islamist politicians, and the military.

On the second level, school texts, Kaplan's book explores the ways the officially mandated books work to inculcate a national identity, religious identity, and citizenship, as well as how they seek to promote economic development.

The third level, based on his fieldwork in the village of Yayla, contains the richest material, but it also remains the least focused, partly, perhaps, because the ethnographic methods Kaplan uses are more resistant to generalization. In these sections, Kaplan explores a range of topics, such as the inflections given the official curriculum by an Islamist nationalist teacher or the perceptions villagers have of the paternalistic obligations of the state. Sometimes Kaplan wanders into tangentially related but fascinating terrain, such as when he explores villagers' memories of Armenians or the wedding of a devout bride (an account that does indeed begin with the educational system but ends in a description of an admittedly didactic celebration).

These three levels are not distinct sections of the book; rather, Kaplan moves among the levels in exploring a variety of themes, related generally to politics, identity, economics, Islam, and the military. In doing so, Kaplan's work presents fresh understandings in three ways. First, Turkey emerges as a far more cacophonous place—especially in the political realm—than earlier generations of scholars realized.

Second, debates over Islam are particularly complex, and Kaplan's exploration of the post-1980 military's changing image and usage of Islam is especially interesting given the Turkish military's international reputation as a guardian of secularism. In both these...


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