A tidal wave of fake news
The sharing of fake news already began in January, according to an extensive article on the disinformation by investigative journalism platform Pointer. Since then, Dutch politicians and opinion-makers have taken elements of the different teaching programmes out of their context and shared content that does not belong to the Spring Fever Week curriculum.
The fake news even led to parliamentary questions to Primary and Secondary Education Minister Dennis Wiersma.
The fake news not only led to more questions in schools, but also caused turmoil at Rutgers’ office. As Rutgers director Marieke van der Plas commented: “Colleagues were personally approached, threatened, scolded and called all kinds of names.”
On Twitter and other social media, Rutgers explained what was wrong with the various fake news stories. Programme manager Luc Lauwers: “We started discussing the fake news and the inaccuracies that politicians shared with the Minister of Primary and Secundary Education during a debate in parliament.”
In response, Rutgers received unpleasant reactions but also a lot of support from parents and opinion makers. For example, Dutch news paper columnist Hester Zitvast wrote: “It is downright naive to think that a child is not yet engaged or ready. Children know a lot more than we used to because of their unlimited access to the internet, and that deserves guidance.”
In the news
Many mainstream media also reported on Spring Fever Week. Rutgers staff spoke in prime time tv programmes and numerous experts not affiliated with Rutgers also debunked the fake news in various media and on their own platforms. They all emphasised the importance of relational and sexuality education at an early age. For instance, sexologist Eveline Stallaart said in a current affairs programme: “The biggest problem with all the critique is that a lot of untruths are shared but also assumptions about the lessons and what effect they would have on children. (…) It has been proven that early sexuality education results in fewer teenage pregnancies and young people having sex for the first time at a later age.”
The joint municipal health services stressed the importance of relational and sexuality education in primary schools: “We are surprised at the vehemence of this discussion; we stand for the safety of the people doing this work. Attention to relationships and sexuality from an early age is part of healthy childhood and education.”
On Friday, Mayor of Utrecht Sharon Dijksma visited Rutgers’ office, where she motivated Rutgers to continue to stand up for its values and promote the importance of Spring Fever Week. “There was a lot of noise coming from a small dark corner this week, but a much larger silent mass thinks what you are doing is very important. And so do I,” she said.
These and the many other expressions of support Rutgers received over the past week mean a lot to the staff. Luc: “They strengthen us to continue our work, together with the municipal health services and our other expert partners.”