Extremism in Textbooks

On 14 December 2018 the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research (GEI) presented in Berlin the findings of a study that analysed extremism in textbooks and curricula. History and social studies textbooks from all 16 German federal states were analysed to ascertain whether they contained examples of extremism, which forms were depicted, whether the presentation was problematic and what improvements could be made. The resulting publication ‘Preventing Violent Extremism through Education: International and German Practices’ by GEI research fellows Dr. Eleni Christodoulou and Dr. Simona Behling is available as an open access publication.

The education sector plays an important role in the prevention of violent extremism (PVE). Curricula and textbooks in particular can include content, objectives and methodologies specifically developed to prevent the emergence of extremism that can then devolve into violence. Depictions of violent extremism occur most often where there is discussion of ‘terrorism’ or ‘extremism’, in their different contexts.

Textbooks take two conceptual approaches to the subject. GEI researchers discovered that the topic of ‘terrorism’ is predominantly situated in an international context and only sporadically related to Germany. In terms of content, the threat to global security, and sometimes to domestic security, is central, although the explanations are frequently too abstract and too removed from their everyday lives for pupils to completely grasp.

‘Among the different formats, Islamic terrorism is discussed most frequently, however its complexity, internal differentiation and the contentious terminology surrounding it as a topic are neither discussed nor highlighted as problematic’ says Dr. Eleni Christodoulou. ‘We were able to establish that extremism is viewed without exception as a threat to the domestic democratic order. The material often connects historical and current events, and attempts to make the subject relevant for pupils. The most commonly portrayed form of extremism is right-wing extremism. Specific forms such as Islamophobia are, however frequently omitted’, adds the author.

The analysis also showed that the phrase ‘prevention of violent extremism’ did not appear in any of the analysed curricula documents or textbooks. Some content however, was aimed at preventing violent extremism through education. Various forms of extremism, which could lead to violence, such as right-wing radicalism, left-wing extremism or Islamic extremism were addressed in detail, either separately or in combination. In history teaching the most common content relevant for PVE examined National Socialism, Germany during the Cold War and the world since the end of the Cold War.

In social studies subjects the topics with the most relevant content to PVE-E were democracy, human rights and the basic constitutional system, conflict resolution as well as peace and security.

In some cases curricula and textbooks gave pupils the opportunity to actively explore counter-terrorism measures or arguments against extremist points of view. To illustrate this, the study includes examples of successful and more problematic methods from the 137 analysed textbooks.

The publication is available to view under creative commons licence (cc-by-nd) and to download::



For further information on the project see:

About the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research.

The Georg Eckert Institute conducts applied and multidisciplinary research into textbooks and educational media informed primarily by history and cultural studies. It explores the production, content and appropriation of educational media in their socio-cultural, political, economic and historical contexts. It also provides unique research infrastructure services that are founded in research and available on site and digitally. At the core of the Institute is its research library containing the world’s most comprehensive collection of international textbooks for the subjects of history, geography, social studies/politics and ethics/religion. In addition the Institute also develops digital and freely accessible infrastructure tools for cultural studies and humanities research related to educational media for schools. It also provides transfer services based on critical research for application in national and international education practice, educational media production and education policy

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