Last week a documentary was shown on German TV about the plight of German students who are now a minority in their own school. The following review of “War in the Classroom” appeared in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung before the film was aired. The documentary itself may be found at the ARD website (in German).
Many thanks to JLH for the translation:
Why Are You Going to the Germans?
July 21, 2010
ARD today is showing a portrait of a parallel world: a school where Germans are a minority, where it is tough every day in the schoolyard, and teachers faced with stubborn prejudices resign.
by Regina Mönch
Everything used to be different, even in the schools. That reverberates in the notable film by Nicola Graf and Güner Y. Balci. Nobody says everything was better in Essen-Karnap then, almost three decades ago, when Brigitta Holford became a teacher at the local secondary school. Right at the start, she tells what was different: she liked teaching so much. Her German and Turkish students were a community; there were many friendships. At some point, the Germans began to draw away. At some point, they became the minority in the classroom, and since then things have been difficult in the schoolyard and in teaching.
Brigitte Holford still has these good-natured eyes. She always tries her hardest to give her students the best start in life, but it is immediately apparent that it is a losing battle. In intensive conversations over a long period of time, the two cinematic authors are able to show the difficult situation the students and faculty are in. It is the story of a manifested intolerance which defies all attempts by teachers to crack it.
Brutal Beatings and Insults are Everyday Events
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The majority decides who is beaten up and what is customary. During Ramadan, Germans see their soup being spit into, and whoever objects is awaited by all the brothers and cousins at the school entrance. The Turkish and Arab girls stand on one side of the schoolyard and the boys on the other. The few Germans squeeze into a corner as if they were not a part of any of it. “We keep ourselves to ourselves,” says a girl; it is the only way to survive. They tell of brutal beatings and about insults — the more harmless ones are “dweeb” and “Germans always cheat.” “Nazis” and “sluts” are meant more seriously: they refer to ways of behaving that are natural in this country — having your own opinion and the equal relationship between boys and girls.
The inhibited way in which Muslim boys in the school speak of sexuality peaks again and again in nasty insults and grotesque prejudices, in a contempt that seems to include everything German. Teachers like Brigitta Holford try repeatedly to break through. Her 10b is an unusual class at this school. Nearly all of them intend to graduate and have a good chance of doing so. A friendship like that between Shirin and Anastasia is the exception; is considered unsuitable. One of the girls was born in Germany of Lebanese parents; the other came from the Soviet Union. Shirin must constantly justify herself to the other Lebanese students. “What are you doing, going with the Germans?” they ask, and demand an end to the alliance. Stress in the family, says the forceful Shirin, has abated. It had existed because fraternization with the society that took them in, with the Germans, is apparently considered unseemly.
“Eventually, We Have to Talk Openly about It”
In one class lesson, there is an argument about how they are going to live after finishing school. Three Arab girls talk openly about being married and how good it would be if their fathers found nice men for them. “One who doesn’t beat me.” Afterwards, they are scolded. You don’t give away your secrets. The boys think that girls here in Germany have too much freedom. Another confides that he hates the way they dress. Another speaks of honor and respect — two concepts he is not able to explain in words. Culture war in the classroom. The Lebanese teacher of Arabic does his best to make his students friendlier to the idea of living together and to the advantages of German society. But the parents complain: he should not meddle with “internal affairs.”
“We are horrified at how it is becoming more and more intense,” says Brigitta Holford. She has had to learn to defend her profession as an educator from indignant uncles, fathers, brothers. Not every teacher has the strength to do that. Nicola Graf and Güner Balci have succeeded in creating an unusual portrait of a parallel world that is growing before our eyes and can only be countered by what the teacher recommends: “Eventually we have to talk about it.”
WAR IN THE CLASSROOM airs tonight at 12:15.