What is at stake is not prep schools [in Turkey]

BÜLENT KENEŞ
BÜLENT KENEŞ


Date posted: November 21, 2013

BÜLENT KENEŞ

Our approach to the matter was all wrong from the beginning.

What we should have discussed is not prep schools. It should not have been the fate of prep schools in terms of what they should or should not become. It should not have even been education. Rather, what every citizen in Turkey should have discussed was how the much-touted “new Turkey” should be redesigned. We should have focused on freedoms. We should have turned the spotlight on democracy. We should have scrutinized the problem of justice and fairness in a state governed by the rule of law. The matter to be discussed should be how the redesigned state is taking steps in the wrong direction concerning private lives, private property and free enterprise. We should have discussed how the tyrannical apparatus called the state can be restrained from meddling in individual preferences.

In other words, what is at stake is not education. Nor is it prep schools. The matter that we should debate at length should be our concerns about the etatist trends — which rose from the dead and haunted the most unexpected individuals and groups — and how these trends might ominously evolve. If we reduce the matter to the state forcing some educational facilities to shut down, this would amount to an oversimplification of the matter. The matter would be simplified even when compared to other problems that this country has suffered from.

The state forcibly evacuated more than 3,000 villages in the Southeast at a time when the military tutelage was in full bloom. Villages were torched one by one. People’s homes were destroyed. Hundreds of people were displaced. They were deprived of peace. Their hopes and expectations for the future and life were blackened. The state apparatus, which currently shows similar reflexes at the hands of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), is currently moving to close down prep schools — which are essentially instances of free enterprise, provide services to millions of people and create employment for thousands of people — with the advertised claim of ensuring equality of arms regarding competition and equal opportunities, and this is not a far greater oppression than the torching of villages in the 1980s and the 1990s. Closing prep schools is, of course, an act of tyranny but it is not such a great act of oppression as compared to setting houses and villages on fire.

But this is not the matter we should be discussing. Rather we should examine how a political movement, which marketed civilization and democratization as its primary goals when it started its political career, has today turned out to exhibit the reflexes of that old Kemalist state. Or more correctly, we should discuss how conservative politicians and circles who have always had problems with the repressive state have started to use the state power they have seized more ruthlessly and in a less unrestrained manner than the Kemalist/militarist state against which they fought in the past.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on TV that the plan to close down prep schools has been on the state’s agenda since 1980. True, in 1982, this plan was on the agenda of the interim government which was the product of the coup d’état of Sept. 12, 1980. But since then, this plan hasn’t been brought to the agenda due to the massive problems facing the educational system and the fact that prep schools were the outcome of and a partial solution to these problems. But it appears that with the recklessness which he derives from state power, Prime Minister Erdoğan is resolved to close down prep schools which couldn’t be shut down even by the military coup government.

Will he really close them down if he is bent on it? Why not? Although Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, speaking after a Cabinet meeting last Monday, tried to reassure people by announcing that the government will discuss the matter once more with the stakeholders involved, Prime Minister Erdoğan refuted Arınç once again by saying they would shut down prep schools. Isn’t this sufficient in showing his resolve in this regard?

Of course, in a country where democracy is in force even in its average form, this resolve shouldn’t be enough regarding any matter that is of concern to millions of people or even the tiniest social matter. In the case of our country, we will wait and see. This will also give us the opportunity to see the real place and position of every member of the Cabinet. This process will be a historic test of whether every single deputy in Parliament continues to be a proper representative of the people or has turned into a yes man after losing their representativeness.

And I can assure you that it is not only the ordinary people who fail to make sense of the tenacity to close down prep schools, which emerged within the supply-demand machinery of the free market and which have made positive contributions to the country’s educational system. Thus, Cüneyt Özdemir, the host of CNNTürk TV channel’s 5N1K program, recently said during the program that they couldn’t find a single politician or scholar who could defend the plan to shut down prep schools, which is enough to expose the fallacy of the position the prime minister has personally adopted. Perhaps in the coming days, we will see some politicians emerge to defend Erdoğan’s position in the media after having gone through the “rooms of forced persuasion.”

But I don’t think there is a reasonable or conscientious way to really vindicate the plan to close down prep schools with regards to educational or pedagogical principles, the supply-demand chain in the economy, the sanctity of free enterprise in democracies or the overall cost effectiveness of these institutions. Given the sheer volume of Turkey’s massive unsolved problems and the ongoing tremendous problems in the educational system — which form the very rationale of why prep schools exist — it is really impossible to justify Prime Minister Erdoğan’s obstinacy in proceeding with the plan. So why is the prime minister so reckless, eager and determined to proceed with such an indefensible move?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question has nothing to do with educational, economic or social cost-effectiveness considerations. It appears that the prime minister and his colleagues are acting as though they embody the state and are increasingly becoming part of that defective apparatus instead of moving to rectify the traditional defects of that anti-democratic state. Unfortunately, he sees the state as the sole power and social groups as slaves who are supposed to show absolute obedience to that power. He irremediably wages war against every social group, legitimate formation or social entity that seeks to survive by remaining civilian in the face of this monstrosity.

For this reason, the problem is not the prep school issue or essentially a free enterprise issue. All this is just a reflection of a far greater problem. What really matters is whether every one of us is willing to submit our wills to a state apparatus that is run by a handful of people. What we really should be discussing is what the limits and boundaries of the powers and authorities of the state that make every social group suffer from great sorrows and tragedies should be. Thus, the problem is essentially a problem of human rights, fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law. The gloomy conclusion is: if this nation fails to pull together to settle this crucial problem, this is really bad news for all of us.

Source: Today's Zaman , November 21, 2013


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