Thursday, 29 July 2010

About national identity and literacy

During vacation one catches up with interesting topics that have been neglected for some time. So I delved into the family history a brother of mine sent me. Some results of his research pertain to my job as a teacher.

Firstly, whenever some issue arises in my classroom about immigrant students or national identity, I will be proud to tell the students that “basically, I am not Dutch, I am German.” Ten generations ago, in the Dutch “Golden Age”, my ancestors, Jacobus Graaff and Engen Zeismuss, married in Stolberg, Germany, and produced a numerous offspring from which I descend. The family entered into The Netherlands not before the nineteenth century.

Secondly, my family definitely doesn't belong to the peerage. No upper class marriages what so ever. I knew this already, of course, but it is quite poignant that mostly those skilled workers, brewers, copper workers, hatters and brushmakers could not sign their names on the deeds of the municipal administration. They are just mentioned with their names in various spellings, Graff, Graaff, de Graaff, de Graaf, by the town's secretary, who put down down in beautiful handwriting “Comparanten hier hebben getekend, verklarende nooit te hebben leren lezen of schrijven, na gedane voorlezing”, the parties signed here, after having heard the content of the deed, declaring never having learned to read nor write, which was followed by a simple cross in ink.

Now that's something we can be proud of, as the teachers we are. We did it, in the nineteenth and twentieth century. All our students can read and write. They can put their signature on a document.

No comments: