Last month, I posted about a tradition in Switzerland in which students shake hands with their teachers before and after class — it’s a sign of respect, not to mention a way to calm everyone down before the lessons start. But a school in the Basel-Country canton was at the center of controversy after two Muslim students said they didn’t want to participate in the ritual because their religion forbade them from touching women outside of their families.
The school had granted the boys an exemption from the handshaking rule, but government officials and local residents were furious at the non-assimilation. It got even more serious when the boys’ family had its application for citizenship suspended.
As I said before, I don’t think students should be forced to participate in traditions that go against their beliefs, no matter what their reasons are. A cultural norm that’s a sign of respect for Swiss people may be seen differently by others, and while I’m not defending the students’ faith-based sexism, I don’t find this tradition worth all the fuss. It doesn’t matter if you’re not standing for the Pledge or not shaking a teacher’s hand. None of it has any bearing on your education.
But that’s not what local authorities believe. In fact, they’re turning the dial to 11, issuing a ruling that will fine parents if their kids don’t shake their teachers’ hands.
Parents of pupils who refuse to shake a teacher’s hand at schools in the northern Swiss canton of Basel-Country could now face fines of up to 5,000 Swiss francs ($5,000, 4,500 euros), regional education authorities ruled.
“A teacher has the right to demand a handshake,” they said in a statement.
Explaining Wednesday’s ruling, authorities said “the public interest concerning gender equality as well as integration of foreigners far outweighs that concerning the freedom of belief of students.“
It’s far too authoritarian for my tastes. If this tradition is forced upon students, what other cultural norms are no longer allowed to be questioned?
If anything, forcing students to shake their teachers’ hands won’t teach anyone a lesson about respect; it’s not “respectful” if they’re making you do it. And it’ll give the Muslim students all the more reason to be suspicious of the Swiss government.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Tom for the link. Portions of this article were posted earlier)