Craig recommends The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan. I’ve read it and can recommend it as well. Der deutsche Titel ist Der Drache in meiner Garage. Oder die Kunst der Wissenschaft, Unsinn zu entlarven.
Garret expresses his view and asks about the curriculum in German schools. I try to explain German schools and curricula here.
John writes about homeschooling on his weblog. I think you can tell the differences between school in the US and in Germany by our opinions, and John knows them as well:
Something does need to be said, though. As someone who has attended school in both Germany and the United States, my German classmates were enthusiastic and eager to learn the subjects put before them. I’m afraid I can’t say the same for most of my American classmates, who were more interested in pop culture and who had the latest sneakers. I think it’s part of the American cultural slide we’ve all been talking about lately. It is possible to have great schools, and if we had one near us we would probably not be considering homeschooling.
I was very lucky – I attended a great school. And it happened to be the nearest Gymnasium to my home, too.
It seems that I wasn’t able to get my opinion about homeschooling through to my readers yesterday. Oliver mentioned the subject on his homepage today and contributed an article in my discussion group. My response to it is here.
Some thoughts on school and homeschooling:
- Teacher’s training in Germany: The training is not bad, but doesn’t deal enough with the problems the teachers are likely to encounter. While we are trained very well in our subjects (I feel like I’m doing half a diploma in mathematics and another half in physics!), there is only very little time that deals with the real problems teachers encounter at school, psychological and sociological things. Teachers are not scientists, they should be able to educate the students.
- School in Germany: Although the aforementioned problem exists and has to be dealt with, German schools are not that bad, in my opinion. Many teachers are able to learn the things required for their job even if they don’t learn them at the university or during their two-year training on the job.
- Homeschooling and its dangers: Teachers in Germany have to study their subjects and pedagogy for at least four to five years, depending on the grades they are going to teach, and write an exam thesis on one of the subjects in the end. Next, there’s 18 to 24 months of Referendariat, training on the job. During that time, they teach classes and are supervised by teachers and meet for seminary sessions and the like in the afternoons. They even have to write a second exam thesis with focus on a pedagogy problem.
Now how should any parent be able to teach his/her children without any special education whatsoever? The only exception I can think of is that the parent is a teacher him/herself, and still, he/she would not be able to teach all subjects. And besides, I’m sure that no parent who is a teacher is willing to teach the children at home instead of sending them to school.
The other problem is that the children who are taught by their parents do not get a chance to learn other opinions than those of their parents. They are not encouraged to think for themselves, to criticize their teachers or other people’s opinions as much as they would be in a “normal” school. This can be very dangerous for children of parents with radical opinions – and those parents are more likely than others to teach their children at home.
I think parents can and should contribute to the education of their children by teaching them some things at home: in day-to-day life, or by encouraging them by showing them means to learn on their own, but they should not try to replace school because they just can’t.
America and Europe
Scott, American and living in Germany for ten years, has some thoughts about the differences and similarities between the US and Europe.
“The other problem is that the children who are taught by their parents do not get a chance to learn other opinions than those of their parents. They are not encouraged to think for themselves, to criticize their teachers or other people’s opinions as much as they would be in a “normal” school. This can be very dangerous for children of parents with radical opinions – and those parents are more likely than others to teach their children at home.”
i agree with this totally. yet in america we have states wanting to repeal darwin and teach only ‘creation science’ … that makes even me consider home schooling as an option. school violence has scared many parents. home schooling has been around for a while, but i feel the recent resurgence in america is specifically caused by the violence issue, not by any lack of educational integrity.
children of radical social groups raised in a home school environment are a scary proposition. one does not want to believe that ‘spontaneous generation’ and other medieval theories could be taught to children today as fact, but it IS happening here in santa fe among smaller religious and new age sects using home schooling. whether the mainstream fundamentalist religious groups will begin recommending home schooling or not remains to be seen. certainly it will need a strong governnmental-level response in order to maintain a technologically-advanced society.
the entire issue of social interaction is an integral element in the rearing of children … yet it is ever given a back seat because of our lingering faith in ‘rugged individualism.’ we venerate the one star, and ignore the constellation. leftover pioneer/cowboy mystique; it was only a hundred years or so ago … we need more time to grow out of it.
andrea, i would be interested to hear who sets the curriculum taught for german school students. do you have a goverment-elected board, or a peer-review committee? who decides the level of mathematics for each grade? i’m curious.
Yes, violence in schools is something that makes parents think. It seems like the problem is not as prominent in Germany as it is in the US, but I’m afraid violence will increase here as well. And I do understand parents who don’t want their children being schooled in such an environment and therefore decide to teach them at home.
“children of radical social groups raised in a home school environment are a scary proposition. one does not want to believe that ‘spontaneous generation’ and other medieval theories could be taught to children today as fact, but it IS happening here in santa fe among smaller religious and new age sects using home schooling. whether the mainstream fundamentalist religious groups will begin recommending home schooling or not remains to be seen.”
This is scary indeed! And I guess home schooling is illegal in Germany for reasons like that.
About the curriculum in German schools: This is going to take some time to explain… sorry.
First, I’d like to explain the German school system. After elementary school (grades 1 through 4), students can choose between three different schools with different degrees of difficulty and different diploma. The elementary school teachers suggest one of the three schools for each student, but the parents decide what kind of school their children go to.
The Hauptschule has grades 5 through 9 and prepares for learning a trade, the Realschule has grades 5 through 10 and thus a diploma that is a bit more difficult than the one you get at the Hauptschule. The third school is the Gymnasium with grades 5 through 13; it prepares for studying at a university. There are no colleges in Germany; they are sort of built into grades 11 through 13 of the Gymnasium.
These school forms are somewhat compatible; for example, you can get a Realschule diploma at the Gymnasium after 10th grade as well, or you can continue your education in 11th grade of a Gymnasium after you finish the Realschule and pass a test.
(There are also schools that combine all three forms and are similar to US highschools, but there are only very few of those.)
Germany consists of 16 states. I quote from the German Constitution:
Notice that in Germany religious education is part of the curriculum, but parents (or students themselves, if they are old enough), decide what kind of religious education students attend. Besides r.e. for protestant or catholic students, there is also the possibility to attend philosophy or a subject called Werte und Normen, which deals with values in society, philosophy etc. and is somewhat more abstract than r.e..
Each state is responsible for its own curriculum and has a ministry for school, education or something like that (the name varies) which works out the curriculum and other things concerning the school. As far as I know, there is a board of “experts” who suggest what should be taught in school and when. The board consists of teachers, university professors, some people from the churches (most Germans are catholic or protestant) and maybe some other parties. I’m sorry I don’t know whether the board is elected or nominated.
Since all three school forms, with some minor varieties, exist in all the states, it has to be ensured that the schools and especially the diplomas are comparable throughout Germany. For this, the ministries for education of each state form a community and regulate, for example, the things students must know to get a certain school diploma.
The curricula prescribe certain things (some of which are obligatory in all states), suggest others and leave some things for each school or teacher to decide.
A similar thing is true for school books. They are written by independent authors, but have to be approved for use in school by the states, i.e. the ministry for education. Then, each school decides which books they use.
You’re quick! I wasn’t done yet — see the last paragraph.
It seems I’m too quick. Your last paragraph was the most important one.
thanks for all the info! it certainly makes sense. in princeton, new jersey, used to have twin track education in 9-12 grades … ‘business’ track or ‘university’ track. that pretty much died out in the late 70’s and early ’80’s. which, by the way, NOBODY wanted to be known as a business major; the pursuit of money was considered ‘dirty.’ everyone wanted to be a research scientist, and do something to benefit humankind. the pure pursuit of money was considered selfish in the extreme. the 80’s and ronald reagan changed all that, unfortunately. “greed is good.”
i find it hard to believe now.
one would think that in the ‘melting pot’ multicultural view of america, we would be adopting a similar curriculum as germany to deal with the religion issue. our belief in the separation of church and state sentences us to endless debates over ‘school prayer’ … a puny and ineffective solution, compared to yours. it would be great to see kids being exposed to different religions, more deeply than just by name and prejudice.
Violence in German schools isn’t totally unknown, as in the song Meine Kleine Schwester by Spektacoolär:
Sie ist meine Schwester
Und trägt ein Messer
Sie sagt in der Schule
Sei sowas besser
I’ve never been to a German school, and have been gone from the US for a long time, so everything I say here might be wrong.
While in Germany a state ministry is responsible for schools, in the States schools are organized autonomously at the local level. Usually there is a ‘school district’ that is independent of state and local government, holds its own elections and has the power to levy property taxes. There is some regulation and funding from the state and federal levels, but the school districts are basically responsible for themselves.
This leads to wide disparities in the funding, and thus the quality of schools, although overall schools are badly underfunded. Property tax increases need to be approved by the voters, and are very difficult to pass. The property owners who pay for the schools may not have any children in school and may not even live in the area, and thus may have no interest other than keeping their taxes as low as possible.
It would be interesting to compare figures on the money spent on education per pupil in Germany and in various US states.
A consequence of the lack of funding is that teachers are underpaid and poorly trained. I believe that a 4-year bachelor’s degree is all that is required. (A German Abitur is equivalent to 2 years of US college, so add 2 years to that and you’re ready to teach.) When I was making career choices, I rejected teaching because of poor pay and having my job depend on local politics.
On the other hand, from what I hear about underfunded and overcrowded German universities, I’m glad that I attended university in the US!
On the other hand, from what I hear about underfunded and overcrowded German universities, I’m glad that I attended university in the US!
I think this depends largely on what subject you are studying.
The Physics department at my Uni has about 70 lecturers and about 1100 enrolled students. The number of first-year students has been declining steadily over the last few years.
The most crowded lectures I attended were the first-year lectures in Calculus and Linear Algebra, held by professors from the Mathematics department and attended by students of Maths, Physics, and Computer Science. There were about 500 students in those lectures, but the main lecture hall of the Physics department had room for about 650. The related tutorials were well staffed so that there were never more than 15 students per tutor. The least crowded lecture I ever attended was on the physics of nuclear reactors with no more than five students participating regularly.
While I haven’t heard a professor from my department complain about underfunding, you get to hear quite a few stories from other departments. As far as I know, there’s at least one student library at my Uni that had to be shut down, because the roof was leaking and couldn’t be repaired for lack of funds. There are also rumored to be several lecture halls suffering from the same problem. Usually, this affects departments whose subject is generally not assumed to have any immediate economic value, e.g. classic or non-european languages.
“It would be interesting to compare figures on the money spent on education per pupil in Germany and in various US states.”
Yes, indeed. I’m looking around for some info…
About the universities in Germany:
I think depends very much on the subject you study whether you encounter and overcrowded and underfuned university in Germany. Physics and mathematics are not crowded at all. If you study these subjects to be a teacher, like I do, you will find the conditions to be good.
For example, last year I took a course about nuclear physics for teachers. It was held by two teachers and one assistant, and there were only two students attending. And they didn’t cancel it! This means the other student and I had 1.5 teachers to each of us. Great.
Of course that was an exception, but it is normal that advanced courses have between 10 and 30 students, and that’s not too bad.
Both mathematics and physics are important subjects at the University of Bonn, so I can’t complain about them being underfunded either.
But I know that things are different for other subjects. My sister is studying economic science in Hanover, and for her, things are different. The courses are crowded, they have to fight over books in the library etc.. Totally different from my experiences. Sadly.