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Are “the Natives” Educable?

Dutch Schoolchildren Learn Ethical Colonial Policy (1890–1910)

Elisabeth Wesseling and Jacques Dane

Abstract

This article explores how geography textbooks and missionary stories were used to persuade Dutch primary schoolchildren of the moral righteousness of the Ethical Policy for the Dutch East Indies between 1890 and 1910. Educative discourses targeting Dutch children were instrumentalized in order to recruit the next generation of missionaries, colonial administrators, and overseas entrepreneurs. To achieve this aim, they dwelt at length on the opportunities for and constraints on uplifting indigenous children in the Indies. These narratives all convey the message that Indies children, though certainly capable of improvement, would never attain the same level of civilization and moral integrity as their Dutch counterparts.