Friday, March 13, 2009

Thoughts on the German school shootings

When talk turns to secondary and college education in the US, at least in my circles, it's pretty negative. You hear, for example, that there are no practical standards for high school students to meet, that anyone can pursue higher education, with the result that too many people go to college and waste their money and time there partying, that the college-as-business ethos has turned undergraduate education into a farce, etc. etc.

On the other hand, there is a pronounced tendency to lionize the European educational system. There, DOGS or DOPS(disgruntled old grads or disgruntled old profs)say, every student has to meet high standards in rigorous testing, the college -bound are identified and segregated early, so that they can prepare for the rigors of university, while those less academically gifted automatically head off for Mercedez-Benz to become highly paid servicepeople. Well, this week's horrifying shooting rampage has brought to light some facts that give you pause about that vaunted European model.

As Sabine Rennefranz reports in today's London Guardian, German schools have developed serious problems over the last decade. For one thing, the teaching cadre is older, average age 54, and they don't receive any instruction in psychology or child development. They look at students strictly in terms of how well they perform in class. Second, there is less social mobility in German society than in a lot of places, so that if you are deemed voc-tech material and you don't want that, you see a lot of doors shutting on you permanently, even if you do get a good internship. Third, there have been a lot of cutbacks in social welfare and education in recent German budgets. While I don't want to blame societal conditions for an act of apparent insanity, you can see where an average student--like this gunman-- might feel marginalized, trapped, alienated.

The US educational system IS a mess, a patchwork quilt of requirements according to the state you live in, and probably too many students do go to college--anyone who's had a large undergraduate intro class and compared the numbers at the beginning and end know this. Students come in with poor skills and inferior basic knowledge. And yet, and yet...you aren't shut off from college if you choose not to attend when you are l8...you might not get into a top university, but you can get your college degree at any age if you've got some initiative and desire and get yourself a professional position. And redemption is always just around the corner for people who have trouble...faculty and staff will almost always work with you to help you succeed if you let them. This educational system, and for that matter the society in which it is based, is still far more mobile and flexible than most, with all its myriad flaws.

I think i will be revisiting some of my fundamental beliefs about Things here vs. Things elsewhere...

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