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Friday
Sep302011

Dank der Eltern

A short essay ("Thanks to the parents") by this German novelist and polemicist, presented as a speech at this school's high school graduation ceremony in Cologne.  You can read the original text in this collection.

Were we to think back nine years to the scandals, the concealed and visible evils with which people tried to impede or lame this school and in particular its prerequisite, the Montessori elementary school, then this first Montessori high school graduation truly deserves to be celebrated.  And the men and women who dared to attempt such an experiment, in Cologne of all places, are not only deserving of our praise but also of our thanks.  I extend this gratitude in the name of all the parents.  In an educational system and within a framework of educational planning in which the suggestion of freedom and play with regard to something as deadly serious as education is considered suspicious, in which castigation, breeding and grades are all regarded as indispensable, and in which numbered and innumerable performance assessments are desired – in this very system many a compromise had to be made, and a double burden was shifted onto the shoulders of teachers and students: they were obliged to demonstrate their ability to thrive in a system that the Montessori method was actually supposed to refute.  I hope that this compromise will not endure; I hope that with this first high school graduating class the established system will gain confidence in a method that need not bring shame to graded evaluations.  Here we do not only have teachers and students, we also have a method that has been tried and tested, and one which I hope can be tested in its pure form in the years to come.  Critical stages emerged again and again, of course, as teachers, students and parents soon discovered, as more or less force was directed from above and below against the Montessori method as a compromise of the predominant school system.  This force came from fear; fear on the part of all the framework evaluators who look at everything new with scorn and mistrust. 

That force begets counterforce is a simple law, and to make light of the student crises, one hardly needed any psychology just the most basic laws of physics.  Until six years ago this force only begot oppression and oppressed.  If you were to remove all ancillary mental and physical meanings from the word "pressure" and understand it more in the sense of the imprint on a page of a book or newspaper – from which it derives its name as a pressurized and pressed baked good – then perhaps you'll understand why I do not think much of societal baked goods, unconditional conformists, and unconditional obeyers as the best barometers of an educational system.  The origin of the family, school, university and church crisis lies in the fact that people, above all young people, no longer wish to be mass-produced  as if they were in a printing house.  Contemplate for a moment the words "manufacturing," "dispatch," "preparation," and you will recognize the cause for angst and unease.  Young people no longer wish to be manufactured.  For that reason do they rightly regard the separation of teaching and learning methods (and, to a certain extent, teaching and learning forms) from teaching and learning content as suspicious.  No longer will they allow prerequisites to be stipulated for them in the way one orders a pre-prepared soup.  They want to test out the teaching content on the teaching form and vice versa, and a word such as "inbuilt," which may sound a bit precious, is in fact the most appropriate.  The Montessori method does not know this untested acceptance of content, method and form.  Now I do not want to seem overly optimistic and predict that this method, if used properly, could avert an education crisis.  And yet I have to say that in it lies the possibility of changing this screwed-up system fed by waves of arrogance from above and waves of resentment from below.  This method is in no way aimed as a type of world view or ideal, and it does not make angels out of our teachers, students and parents.  It simply assumes that one can detect realities, even complicated realities, and that this method can take a child from the abstract intellectual notion of something detected to the haptic notion.  This assumption contains an understanding of reality which gradually enables detection in terms of recognition.  Even Adam, the first man, detected and recognized the world in this way and both of these functions rendered him capable of carrying out the most complicated of all processes: the naming of the world, its people, animals and plants.

I could go on and on about these matters and interconnections, but I no longer wish to try the patience of the graduates for whom this celebration may finally comprise the end of school and their studies.  I will spare you the usual slew of warnings, recollections, and perspectives, as well as the emotions and sentimental digressions into my own school years.  I will also spare you a sketch of the "true man" and "true woman," or even of the "adult" – there are no such things.  The handful of truly adult people that I happened to encounter in my life were all monsters: printed, formed, they knew everything and nothing, could no longer be surprised by anything, incorrigible – and all this I would not wish on either student or teacher.  I congratulate all the teachers and students, I thank you again in the name of all parents, and I hope that this school will soon receive its own home, and together with its elementary school rebut the established system.

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