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Germany

Textbook sparks row over economics in schools

A row has erupted in Germany over a school textbook that allegedly paints a "monstrous" picture of rampant business lobbying. The book was withdrawn from sale after a complaint from an employers' association.

The German Interior Ministry is facing a backlash from anti-lobby groups after it asked the Federal Agency for Civic Education (bpb) to withdraw an economics school text book following a complaint from German employers.

In June, the Confederation of German Employers' Associations (BDA) wrote a vociferous letter to Thomas Krüger, president of the bpb, to complain that the book, entitled "Economy and Society," sank to the "level of one-sided propaganda against business," and calling for its sale to be stopped. "The fact that the book is now being distributed through the Federal Agency for Civic Education and is expressly recommended for schools is scandalous and unacceptable," wrote Peter Clever, a member of the BDA's management team.

The letter complained that the book painted a "monstrous image of a non-transparent and self-serving influence of business on politics and schools." "Where does this publication properly address the constructive and central role of German companies in dual education?" Clever wanted to know.

Deutschland Grundschüler mit Werbung auf dem Trikot

Anti-lobby groups say companies have too much influence in schools

Private sector 'polishing its image' in schools

Clever resented "generalizing" lines in the book, such as "companies have no business in state schools," but his letter also contained several specific quotations with attendant critiques. For instance, he was annoyed at a suggestion that schools were cooperating too closely with the private sector because of a lack of "organizational and pedagogical expertise." "The result means there are 'financial dependencies and influence on content,'" one passage in the book said, and oil companies are able to "polish their image" in school projects.

Clever rejected this outright, arguing that businesses mainly engage with schools to help with career orientation, and that "financial help from companies for schools is not usual at all." "Sponsoring affects special initiatives such as a sports day and is legally controlled," he said.

The BDA also objected to a task on lobbying, in which students were asked to debate two opposing positions - one describing lobbying as "the worst enemy of democracy," (a quotation from German writer Günter Grass) the other saying that lobbying in Germany had a bad image and needed to be "demystified." Here, Clever objected that the way lobbying had been described in the book, "makes it clear that students must support the judgment of Grass."

Book banned - briefly

According to a report by "Der Spiegel" magazine published on Tuesday, the German Interior Ministry apparently took Clever's criticism on board, and in July sent an email to the bpb asking it to withdraw the book from distribution. "The title of the book promises a thorough representation of economy and society," the email, apparently leaked to "Der Spiegel," said. "But in the volume itself a certain ideology on economic questions dominates."

"Der Spiegel's" story triggered outrage among anti-lobby groups. Berlin-based organization LobbyControl released a statement within hours, calling it "unacceptable" for the Interior Ministry to "censor" a publication by the bpb on the wishes of the BDA. "Companies and industry federations are the driving force in the influence on students," said LobbyControl's Felix Kamella. "We cannot allow the industry lobby to also censor the discussion about it."

In an emailed statement to DW, the ministry defended its move, claiming that the BDA's letter had only been the "occasion" rather than the "reason" it had asked for the book to be withdrawn, and pointing out it had also called on the bpb's academic advisory board to reassess the book and make a ruling. The board's report was finished earlier this month, and though it was not released, the academics evidently came out against banning the book, because the ministry announced on Wednesday that that the book would be available again shortly.

Still annoyed

Despite the defeat, the BDA stuck to its guns. "My criticism takes in the entire one-sided and defamatory tendency of the book," Peter Clever said in a new statement, published on the federation's website. "The volume can barely be topped in terms of one-sidedness and indoctrination."

He was also indignant at the suggestion that the BDA had improperly hectored the ministry into having the book banned, pointing out it had been sent to multiple addressees in the bpb and the ministry. "I would welcome it if a balanced, defamation-free representation of company engagement in politics and society could now happen," he concluded.