By Jacinta Nandi (Amok Mama)
In Konrad Werner’s blog last week, we were given many examples of anecdotal evidence of racism in German schools. And let’s be honest here: you don’t need to dig particularly deep to find horrific stories. Horrific is the right word – I was literally horrified when I arrived in Germany. Teachers in the staff room sniggering while telling me that German students whose parents wanted them to go to Gymnasium (grammar school) were “actually Arabic”, teachers yelling at kids in Wilmersdorf – in a class made up of around 50 perecent immigrants – that they should be grateful they weren’t in Kreuzberg, where all the kids were called Ayse or Ali. I was gobsmacked. But after a while, I kind of got used to it.
I was still shocked by my ex’s mother, though, I have to admit that. My ex-husband’s mum was teaching until 2006. She retired in 2006. 2006. It is not that long ago. She thinks Turkish people have smaller brains than German people. She was teaching until 2006! Just spare me all your crap about integration, okay. In fact, I’ve got a really good idea. Let’s wait until we have a generation of Turkish and Arabic people who have only been taught by people who think their brains are the same size as German kids’ brains before we have our next debate on integration. Okay?
When I went to register my son at his local primary school – I send him to private school, yeah, I know, I am scum for doing so, but I do it anyway – I went along to register him, feeling wracked with guilt that I was doing something so unsolidarisch and actually inhumane. In the secretary’s office, I had to fill in a form, and as I was filling it in, a father came in, looking for his daughter. He was a Migrationshintergrund-father, and his German wasn’t perfect. In the corner of the office there were three Migrationshintergrundy kids. The dad talked to the secretary, I wasn’t really paying attention. After he left, the secretary said to the Hausmeister, in front of me, and in front of the kids: “Teilweise sind die Araber noch schlimmer als die Türken.”
Like, what the fuckety fucking fuck? IN FRONT OF THE KIDS. Of course people think German schools are racist. In front of them. They weren’t deaf. They heard. She didn’t care. OF COURSE people think German schools have a racism problem.
“But these are all anecdotes,” says a German friend who works as a schoolteacher. “You can’t establish a racism problem using anecdotes. The German secretary is at home, telling loads of anecdotes about aggressive Arabic parents and neglectful Turkish parents. Anecdotes aren’t helpful.”
“She’s telling racist anecdotes,” I spit angrily.
“Anecdotes don’t prove anything,” says my friend.
“My mother-in-law thinks Turkish people’s brains are smaller! Their actual brains!”
“Yeah. That is shit. It’s really shit. I just don’t think anecdotal evidence is helpful, Jacinta. I don’t think the German school system is systematically racist.”
Here’s the thing: I’m not sure that I think the German school system is systematically racist, either. I just think maybe German people are a little bit clumsier, a tiny bit more honest, a little bit blunter, and quite a bit less sensitive. So the teachers, secretaries, etc, are just being German, a bit clumsy, honest, blunt, insensitive, and, because of the spiritual nature of teaching – I don’t want to be too esoteric about it, but when you are teaching, you literally have to want the souls of the people you’re teaching to grow – this has haddisastrous effects on the German school system. This is what I think.
One thing I think would be really helpful to combat this clumsy bluntness would be a bit of brainwashing. Just a tiny bit. I think German teachers really need to get brainwashed into seeing multiculturalism and bilingualism and all that crap as a Bereicherung for their nation and their schools when they’re studying Lehramt. Actual brainwashing. Best of all, hypnosis. Also, maybe they need to be sat down at some point of their Lehramt studies and told not to slag Migrationshintergrund parents off in front of the kids and/or otherMigrationshintergrund parents. Like, in a dark room. You know, like at school, when they take the girls out of PE and tell you about periods and give you some free tampons. It should be like that. They should take all the Lehramt students out of the lesson, put them in a dark room, put a projector on and go “DO NOT SLAG OFF TURKISH, ARABIC, RUSSIAN, POLISH, ROMA OR ANY KIND OF ETHNIC GROUP PARENTS IN FRONT OF THE KIDS. IT’S BAD FOR THEIR SELF-ESTEEM. IT MAKES THEM FEEL LIKE SHIT. IT MAKES THEM DISTRUST YOU. IT’S NOT GOOD FOR THEIR SOULS. DON’T DO THIS.”
If they started doing this during the approximately million-year-long Lehramt-Studium program, the German education system would immediately feel about 75 percent less racist.
But yeah, I’m not sure whether I think the German school system is systematically or institutionally racist, in fact. Sometime I think the main problem isn’t that they’re systematically racist, but just way too systematic in general. I think the German education system discriminates against underclass Germans as badly as it discriminates against the children with non-German parents. The UN said it a few years ago: in no other Western country is the child of immigrants or the child of drinkers less likely to end up at university. There was even a report a while back that said that children with “bad” names like Kevin are more likely to do badly at school because the teachers have low expectations of them. Like what the fuck? That is not okay. That is not what I want to be happening in German schools. This is not what education is about. This is the OPPOSITE of what education should be about. I hate being esoteric (I think Germans won’t want to have sex with me if I’m too esoteric) but fuck. Education should be about lifting people OUT OF boxes, not putting them into them, burying them underground in a load of soil and then despising them for the fact that you’ve done this.
Look, let’s talk about poverty and class, let’s talk about these impoverished German school kids who are discriminated against by the German school system just as badly as ethnic minority schoolchildren. Poor kids, kids with alcoholic parents, etc. What are we going to do about this lot? Well. We are not gonna start sterilizing people. I think we all know that. We are not going to start sterilizing poor people. These people are going to be with us forever. I don’t wanna sterilize them, nobody wants to sterilize them. Now, we can sit around and whine and whinge and wail and howl and generally have a total fucking baby until the cows get home about what parents should be like. Parents should speak in perfect German sentences with their kids, they should give their kids breakfast, they should help their kids with their homework. Okay. Say I agree with you. There are people in Germany who are NOT doing that, and are not going to do that. And we’re not going to sterilize them. We are not going to take their kids off of them. The only option we have is to create a school system which is so good, so fair, so decent that it makes up for everything a child should be getting at home, but isn’t. This is the only practical solution we have. I am not saying this to let feckless, lazy parents off the hook. But this is our only solution. Raising generation after generation of Hartz-IV-recipients is too expensive in the long run (not coz of the Hartz-IV money, that’s peanuts, but because of the social cost of raising generation after generation of socially disenfranchised people) so our only solution is to accept that our schools have to be just as good as poverty is shit. That is our only solution.
So, I know I’m not an expert, but here’s a few things I would do to make German schools fairer for everyone – poor kids, ethnic minority kids, everyone:
I would have a quota of Migrationshintergrundler teachers in all urban areas. The ethnic minority make-up of the teachers should reflect the ethnic minority make-up of the students they teach. But I’d also try and send a few Migrationshintergrundler to Chemnitz and Hellersdorf and stuff, you know? I think all students would benefit from having a wider range of people teaching them, if you know what I mean. And at least it would make those Frau Freitag, Chill Mal annoying-type books slightly less boring than they are at the moment, if they were written by someone who knew what the kids were saying when they were slagging off the teachers in the Schulhof.
2) Less segregation
Berlin’s doing pretty well here, actually. They’ve got rid of the Hauptschule and introduced secondary schools, and I think it’s a step in the right direction. I don’t believe in educational segregation anyway, but definitely the way it’s been done up to now in Germany is pretty extreme. Three schools – Gymnasium, Realschule, Hauptschule – the Gymnasium was like a grammar school, the Realschule was kind of like normal, and the Hauptschule was like this greenhouse full of poisonous gases waiting to explode. The trouble was, everyone’s standards started getting higher and higher – you used to need a Realschulabschluss to work in a bank, but then they said you needed an Abitur – I mean, you can get a Bachelor working at Lidl now. So as the general standards moved higher, the value of the Hauptschulabschluss just became less and less and less and in the end there was so much self-hate involved in those schools – the very word became loaded – that they had to get rid of them. I would have a system that focused less on segregation and more on inclusion – also of disabled children and people with learning difficulties, especially during primary school time. But Germans need to accept that standards will fall a little. It is ridiculous to think that you can have kids with learning difficulties in the class and standards won’t fall. Standards are going to fall a little, but that’s a price we have to pay, unfortunately.
Okay, I hate to admit it but I actually agree with that dickhead mayor of ours on this one, and I do think he’s a racist sod, but I do think he’s right. I think there should be one year of Kindergartenpflicht from the age of four onwards. Then you start school at five, but if your German’s not good enough, for whatever reason, you do a Vorschuljahr in the school and can start with the first grade aged six. What we should not be doing is that Betreuungsgeld bollocks, are those people insane?
4) Whole-Day Schools
Whole-Day Schools are good, too, especially for the children of alcoholics, because it means that the kids spend a large part of their everyday life immersed in a different culture. They don’t have to be learning until 4pm each day, mind. They can just be doing their homework and fun activities, like football or whatever. I really don’t think I’m an incredibly stupid person – often, when hanging out with intellectual Germans or whatever, I am the stupidest person in the room – but generally, I’m not one of the stupidest people in the world. I don’t think I am incredibly stupid, anyway. There are a lot of people who are a little bit stupider than me. I think. And I already can’t help Ryan with his homework. He’s only in the fourth Grade! His math homework and his German homework are beyond me. So I can imagine that there are lot of people in Germany who can’t help their kids with their homework. Without wanting to be arrogant, I reckon around 49 percent of people can’t help their kids with their homework. But I’m really not that stupid. That’s why we need Whole-Day Schools – or, perhaps, just the Abschaffung of homework as a concept.
5) Breakfast in school
I think we should just stop complaining about people not giving their kids breakfast and in poor, urban areas, the schools should just provide a healthy, free breakfast, a good lunch, and snacks throughout the day. There’s no point complaining about it. Just do it. I went to a Goethe Institut thing once and there was all this origami sushi, like slabs of really high-quality salmon precariously balanced like sculptures in the air, almost reaching the ceiling. Germany’s got money, man. We can afford to give poor German children a bit of cheese, salami and a roll every morning. Kids eat more when they eat together, as well.
6) Think about bussing
I think we should start thinking about bussing kids around Berlin. I’m not suggesting it, it’s just something we should start thinking about. We could bus kids from Zehlendorf about, we should have schools all across Berlin with an equal mix of poor and rich, or German and non-German. If we are not willing to do this – and I think that probably Germans are not willing to do this – then we need to spend the most money on the schools in the poorest areas. They need smaller classes, the best teachers, and the newest equipment. They need to be treated like the créme de la créme. This would help balance out social inequality.
Okay, so, I know I’m not a teacher, well, not a proper one, and fuck, I really, really, really wouldn’t like to do the job, either. I have loads of respect for teachers and I’m sure there are a lot of German teachers who aren’t that racist, and quite a few who aren’t racist at all. I do, though, wish that those teachers who are slightly casually racist would just try and be a bit more subtle about it. As to whether German schools have a systematic problem with racism, well, maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but, more importantly, I actually think that it wouldn’t take much to change things for the better. I mean, considering how racist German schools actually are, isn’t it amazing how well the ethnic minority kids actually do? They actually perform far better than their teachers expect them to! What we need to do now is to create a system where everyone can perform their best. We need to have teachers who really want the kids to achieve their best. And to do this, we actually need German society as a whole to accept that not everyone who has kids is middle-class and perfect. We’ve got to work with what we’ve got, man.
By Jacinta Nandi aka Amok Mama for the Ex Berliner. An Author and Blogger.