Thursday, May 26, 2011

"Not all children can go to university Frau Connor"

"Let us all rejoice - even if the British have us wearing these goofy Easter bonnets!"
We've had some gems from the children lately, mainly as we've been discussing how great the school is here.

For example:  We NEVER saw Frau Pfitzenmaier (the school principal in Altdorf) in the classroom.  Ms Egan comes out and talks to ALL the kids.  This from Ryan.

You'd also never catch Frau Pfitzenmaier (who is actually quite a nice, caring lady, only hampered by a very natural and human inability to reach beyond the narrow confines of what she knows) chatting with parents, patrolling the school yard at lunch, playing games with the children, having weekly tea with selected children, making time for coffee with the parents, giving out her email information to parents AND answering emails, let alone actually dealing with parents' complaints and suggestions. 

One time, when I had had enough, I asked her why it was I was bothering sending my kids to school if I wasn't at all informed about what they were doing there - and about when they would be coming home.  This because Ryan hadn't told me - again - that they were being let out an hour early.  And because Frau Pfitzenmaier insisted that a second grader should be writing this down in her notebook herself.  And if she doesn't?  Why exactly am I bothering to send my child if you are doing nothing to help her or to communicate with me?  And if all the other 21 kids in the class ARE writing down their assignments on their own, why is it so damn unreasonable to ask her to help MY struggling child with it?!

I was not seen as an engaged, caring parent.  I was seen as a meddling pain-in-the-ass who was too ambitious for a less-than-average student. 

'Not all children can go to university, Frau Connor.'

People I tell this to here are as appalled as I was.  But shouldn't all children have the opportunity?  And hasn't anyone in Germany heard that early intervention - prep through year 2 - is the most important for improving outcomes? 

Improving outcomes wasn't a goal in Germany.  It was labelling and sorting.  Getting the top third to university track in fifth grade and letting the other two-third find their proper roles.  Bricklayer or prostitute for someone like Ryan.

How dare I have other ambitions for my child - or any other child for that matter!

Aidan.  No child left behind.  Not even a DREAM in Germany.  It's a POLICY to leave MOST of them behind.
The German education system was as hush-hush as everything else I found in German society.  Written and published guidelines and expectations?  Certainly not available to the parents.  I had a hard time getting them to share the results of Ryan's IQ tests with me.  Really.  Not that taking the tests mattered since they were going to do nothing with the results anyway.

No remedial programs.  No small groups.  No attention at all to the individual needs of a student.  It is fit in or drop out. 

I'm not even angry anymore.  It is just so unbelievable.  Teachers in Germany are doing their best.  They know no other way.  They haven't been taught to teach.  They have been taught to present.  Kids who pick it up do so.  And those who don't are relegated to the lower school system at fifth grade.  (Never mind that the kids excelling in the German schools are the same kids who would be excelling anyway.  I mean, honestly, give Andrew a computer and he'll teach himself.  The measure of a good educator would be one who is able to teach those who struggle, not aid those who can do it themselves.)

And everyone is okay with it.

Except the UN who has gone so far as to label it a violation of human rights, adding that it serves to reinforce a status quo based on a medieval heirarchy.  Recent immigrants and foreigners are most commonly shoved into the bottom rung.   Children of university-educated parents succeed.  And if they don't the parents shove them into private school in fifth grade.  You are not going to see a lot of white, German middle-class kids in the bottom rung.  They can pay to get out of it.

But that's just the way it is.  And the Germans shrug and move on with it.

Ryan playing flute in an area-wide two-day symposium.  Opportunities for growth?

I digress.  During my last telephone conversation with Frau Pfitzenmaier I actually SWORE at her.  Damn did THAT feel good!  I had called to ask her the procedures for UNregistering the kids for school since we were leaving.  And she responded by reminding me that homeschooling was illegal in Germany and that all children were obligated to go to school there.

Goddamnit it!  I did not ask you about my obligations to a system that isn't even trying to meet my needs.  (My goodness, I am obviously WAY too American to have even TRIED living in Germany!)  I did not ASK your permission. 

Frau Pfitzenmaier made us come to a formal meeting at the school to sign the required paperwork.  Of which there aren't any.  Since you aren't allowed to UNregister your kids from school.  She didn't even show up.  We wrote the address of a hotel in Brisbane on the back of a napkin and walked out.  I never felt better about a decision in my life.

I have to believe these people KNOW there are much better systems out there than their own and juts choose to ignore it out of sheer pig-headedness.

Andrew on drums.
Which is why I have to try to be kind - the people it is hardest to love are the ones who need it most.  It must be hard being the country the rest of the world looks at in wonder and shakes their head at in disbelief.  "Not that there is a German stereotype" a British comedian started with recently - and the audience was ALREADY rolling in the aisles!

Robin Williams says he talked to a German commentator once about the state of comedy in Germany.  "Why do you think it is that Germany has such a difficult time with comedy?" the commentator asked.  "You ever think you might have killed off all the funny ones?" Robin responded.

"No." came the straight-faced reply.

I mean, come on Leute, you make it WAY too easy!

Another gem from the kids comes in regards to the "Hands Off" policy at our school here.  Straight to the principal's office.  There is also no bullying, verbal harrassment.  And children are reminded to be kind to one another and to play together.  To the point that if they see someone looking lonely they are asked to go over and ask that person to join them.

"How would you feel if you were left all alone?"  asked Melinda, our VP.

What a contrast from " well, we let the kids exclude one another from games because we don't all get along as adults in real life and we think it isn't fair to teach the kids that we do."



Any questions on why Germans have a hard time fitting in in the international community?!


Uh - heads up Leute - maybe try TEACHING the kids about respect for others and about getting along with others - about caring for someone besides themselves and about working as a team.  But then again, how do you teach something you haven't been taught yourself?

Selbstaendigkeit comes first in Germany.  Translated as self-sufficiency.

I'd like to see that replaced with "be kind to others."

Pipe dream?  Come on over!

I keep wanting to write a blog Australia as the "Please and Thank-You" Nation.  You have never seen politer, nicer folks.  Damon has rowdy drunks at the bar slurring out please and thank-you as they order drinks.  He's had people thrown out for disorderliness who have come back the next day to apologize! 

It'd be a start Germany. 

SO Lawnton is a "Hands Off" school. 

Ryan called Altdorf's school a 'Hands On' school!  And obviously not in a good way.

People here look at me like I am crazy when I tell them what school was like for the kids in Germany.  They really don't seem to believe me.  In this day and age.  In a nation that is always well-regarded for its engineers.  (Big remind - just because the top third do well doesn't mean they have done squat for the rest!)

So that once again I have to apologize for digression.  I had a fantastic time working with some kids at school today and talking with the teachers afterwards.

The contrast is just too great for me to go on about the merits of one without remembering the deficiencies in the other.

We are SO lucky here.  And willing to help if Germany were just willing to accept it.

(PS - been meaning to get onto Amnesty International here about the campaign for homeschooling in Germany and Sweden.  Got a bit sidetracked by the illegal migrant issue in Malaysia.  No more Dateline for me!)

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