Friday, January 25, 2008

Deutsche Schulen....

So...busy week. Monday night I went to a really interesting talk about the German school system, called "What kind of school does democracy need? Good reasons for a school for democracy in which children learn and live together."

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Gymnasium system, the Germans separate their students at age 10 (fifth grade) into three levels of schools: Hauptschule, Realschule, and Gymnasium, the last being the highest level, which leads to the college-entrance exam Abitur. There are other ways of getting an Abitur, but this is the most common one. And handicapped students are not at the same school as other kids but are in Sonderschulen, "special schools."

Anyways, the speaker, Susanne Thurn, was very critical of the German system, saying it's the last element of a class system in German society, and that parents will never get rid of it because, deep down, they want to be able to say "My kids go to Gymnasium." The problem is, of course, that not every kid goes to Gymnasium, and there is a pretty obvious social and racial divide between the students who are at this school if you look at demographics. German politicians are currently talking about changing it into a two-school system, which would only be somewhat of an improvement of the current system, according to Thurn.

I was really amazed by this woman and her work. She is extremely politically active in trying to make changes in Germany, and also teaches at an experimental school in Bielefeld, Germany, which has no classrooms, no grades, and tries really unique teaching methods which they believe promote success among students.

Another fault Susanne Thurn had with German schools is that they are not all-day schools. They get out around 1:30 for the younger kids. I also notice this problem, but see the challenges of changing the system. Structurally, German schools will need cafeterias and staff to switch over to having full-day schedules.

The audience members were all really supportive, not any critical voices, and all hoping the system will change in Germany. I guess it's pretty political, because the CDU, the current party in power, is a bit more conservative and it's harder to set through such educational changes. And, like I mentioned, parents are always afraid of change and there is a lot of opposition to getting rid of Gymnasium because it's elite.

Tuesday I went out to eat Schnitzel with my roommates and some friends, and realized that ordering a Schnitzel was ordering three Schnitzel. Oh man. It was an experience though. It was a local little bar/restaurant and there were lots of old Germans sitting around who know the owners, smoking and drinking their beers...

Wednesday I went to record my native-speaker voice again, for the Saarland's standardized tests next fall. I had to do some conversations with other native speakers and the teachers are going to write questions based on what we talked about. It was interesting.

In the evening I went to a lecture (with lots of slides!) on the British artist Henry Moore and the Shelter Drawings he did of the London tube stations while they were being used as bomb shelters in 1940. It was really interesting, and the art historian who spoke was really passionate about the topic, which made it even more interesting.

Thursday I went to a nearby art museum with students to see the Duane Hanson Exhibit "The American Dream." Duane Hanson (more info) was actually born in Minnesota, which I didn't know. He's famous for doing those hyper-realistic sculptures. Well this exhibit was full of sculptures representing people from American society who didn't realize the American Dream. So it was a bit depressing. But interesting. Even more interesting were the students' comments afterwards. Their assignment was to write a stream-of-consciousness paragraph or an interior monologue, pretending they are the person in the sculpture.
Above: One of the sculptures I saw on Thursday

Thursday evening I went to France with some friends to see Into the Wild. In France it was showing in English with French subtitles, and in Germany they dub everything. So that was fun. Great film, and I love any opportunity to go to France. Next time I'll have to go to an afternoon film so that the grocery store will be open afterwards and I can get some good cheeeeese....

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