Between Pacification and Conflict: The History of Belgian Education and the Challenge of National Socialism

  • Sarah Van Ruyskensvelde


The history of education in Belgium can be understood in terms of three ‘cleavages’ that intersect Belgian society: the ideological cleavage between the Roman Catholic Church and the state, the Church–state conflict over the concrete organisation and purpose of education and the linguistic tensions between Flanders and Wallonia. These fracture lines have inflicted Belgian society, and its education system, since the start of independence in 1830. Since the tensions between the Church and the state were in fact the first to surface in the discussions about education,1 the first section of this chapter deals with the power struggle between the episcopal and state authorities in their efforts to establish power and control over education. Furthermore, the Church and the state also had different opinions as to what the ultimate goal of education should be. Generally, the Church held on to the elitist character of (secondary) education and attached great importance to the classical humanities. For a very long time, private Catholic schooling remained a bastion of French elite culture. Yet, from Belgian independence onwards, the Flemish movement contested the linguistic regime in schools that remained in large part Francophone. During the 1930s, a radicalised wing of this Flemish movement shifted towards Fascism and National Socialism and, as such, formed an important breeding ground for New Order ideas during the interwar and war years.


Compulsory Education Catholic School Military Government German Occupation Belgian Society 
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© The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah Van Ruyskensvelde
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LeuvenKortrijkBelgium

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