West Germany explores bilingual schooling
Cologne, West Germany
The teacher holds his chalk over the map and pauses. Children's hands swoop into the air. "Sebnem!" He points to a pretty, dark-haired 12-year-old-girl. "The chalk is over the map," the girl answers in flawless German.
He approves the answer and continues to float the chalk on its meandering path around the room, with the children shouting out its changing position. Black-haired, bright-eyed, and eager, the children work hard at this, their most important -- and most difficult -- class. For them, the intensive German course is the canal through which they can enter this West German society -- and job market.
These children are Turks, but they could just as easily be Greeks, Yugoslavs, Italians, Spaniards, or Portuguese. They are children of the millions of "guest workers" drawn to West Germany from areas of high unemployment in the surrounding countries. More than 500,000 foreign children are enrolled in the German school system; many others are on their way.
The enthusiasm of these German classes is electric, "unnerving," according to Claus Weist, a lean, tall, warm teacher who spent seven years in Turkey before returning to instruct foreign children in this Cologne school.
"Turkish teachers are at once more brutal and more tender with their children than the Germans," he explains, "and the children respond in kind. They need constant praise, and a strong sense of discipline."
Other teachers, acting without the benefit of this perception, have had whole classes disintegrate into anarchy at the hands of these students. "We have sweet, friendly women teaching," explains Hannelore Collenbusch, an inspector in the Cologne schools, "and the Turkish children are used to tough, authoritarian males. It confuses the kids, and they act accordingly."
She continues, "We have gotten some 1,200 new foreign students in 1979 alone. Some of our schools are 50, even 60, percent foreign. It has become a question not of 'What do you do with these kids?' but 'Whom do you integrate -- the foreigners or the Germans?'"
Their integration efforts have taken an American turn. Last fall they started busing foreign students to the suburbs of Cologne, as a first step to achieve a balance of not more than 30 percent foreign students in any one school.
"The foreign parents are quite upset about the busing," Mrs. Collenbusch reports, "and show their anger in many ways -- by pulling their children out of the school or sending their daughters to school wearing kerchiefs. Kerchiefs are forbidden in Turkey, but here they are worn to show support for the Muslim ideology and disgust with German integration."
Integration is the pivotal question throughout West Germany. Recent studies have shown that the "guest workers," originally conceived of as a fluctuating, temporary labor force that would fill in the gaps in the German work market, are tending to stay now for an average of eight long years. Their children -- and this is the important, practical consideration -- tend to stay for life.
Harald Kastner, a director in Bonn at the Ministry of Culture in charge of policy for the education of these children, discussed the guest workers' history in an interview. "In the early 1970s we held a European council at Strasbourg to outline policy for these children," Mr. Kastner begins in English, reaching for each precise word.
"At that meeting we agreed to the so-called 'Double Task.' We concurred that, on the one hand, these children should attend German schools and be integrated into the German curriculum, and on the other hand, the children had a right to maintain their own cultural identity through the medium of their mother tongue.
"These two policies," he said, stretching and twisting his fingers across the conference table, "are like spaghetti, so far apart are they."
Mr. Kastner finds serious problems with the policy of maintaining cultural identity. "The German representative to the Strasbourg council was a Bavarian, and the Bavarians have been the only state that allows the countries of these guest workers to send teachers and curriculum to our schools."
His English became even more careful. "Reviewing the curriculum sent by the Greek government, we, the Germans, found the material, much of the material, to be fascist, well, extremely nationalistic in nature. And we, the German government, don't want to be responsible for sponsoring such a curriculum," he said.
The Bavarians defend their choice as "genuine bilingual teaching." In a recent news article, the Bavarian education minister, Hans Maier, denounced the policy of pure integration, saying that "it is nothing but haughtiness and arrogance to regard 'Germanization' as the supreme good."
The other states of West Germany disagree with this Bavarian position, however, and have rejected the foreign curriculum. Responding to this, the consulates of these foreign governments often set up their own national schools. This has resulted in some guest workers' youngsters attending German schools in the morning and Greek or Muslim schools in the afternoon.
In the primary schools, the children learn Turkish geography, and reading and writing are taught in both German and Turkish, often with Turkish teachers ("Don't ask where we get them," Mrs. Collenbusch warns; "they're not the Bavarian brand.").
The foreign children in Cologne are taught intensive German for two years, using materials gleaned from German schools run in the United States and Britain.The students start German when they enter the system -- sometimes as teen-agers.
As soon as practical, they are eased into nonverbal classes -- sports, music, and art -- with their German peers. Then, as the language takes hold, the children are mainstreamed into the regular system. Often, they must be held back a year.
With both the Bavarian and the softened approach, the results are discouraging. The minister of education who heads up the schools in Baden-Wurttemnberg, a man named Weiss, talks about the "slalom course" his state runs through the Double Task, and the results they have obtained.
"Basically, we get three kinds of students. The first are those born in this country or brought here by kindergarten age -- we give intensive German lessons to kindergartners.
"These kids have no real problem with the language, speak the local dialect, and often act as interpreters for the other children."
He warns to his subject, speaking faulty English but using precise body language. "The second group speaks passable German, but is held back in more difficult courses by their lack of familiarity. For these students, we've hired 1,200 teachers to give intensive German lessons three hours per week."
It is the last group that has educators the most worried. "These children are brought when they're 10, sometimes 14, years old. They speak no German, they've graduated from the Turkish school system, they have few skills. We must get their German up to a level where they can enroll in the vocational schools."
Do they make it? "Of those who make it through the seventh or eighth grade of schooling, 60 percent graduate. Of those who make it through the ninth year of school, 80 percent graduate," he explains.
What happens to the 20 percent? Mr. Weiss throws up his hands. "They fade away."
Mehmet Sarikaya, a 15-year-old Turkish boy of unusual promise, has a better idea of what happens to these children. "They hang around street corners, join up in gangs, steal, get into illegal stuff."
Like drugs? "some," he says cagily.
Mehmet struggles to speak German with his Turkish school friends. He attends a private institute that aids his German and tutors him in subjects missed in the Turkish schools he attended before coming to Germany three years ago. Right now he studies Latin, hoping to qualify for the Gymnasium -- equivalent to an American prep school. He eventually wants to study at a German university.
Does he consider himself a German?
"I am a Turk," he states proudly.
Will he go back to Turkey?
He smiles and answers in measured phrases. "There is an old Turkish saying -- 'Where you can make your living, you should stay.' I believe this saying."