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Learning Democracy

Learning Democracy: Education Reform in West Germany, 1945-1965

Brian M. Puaca
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 236
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  • Book Info
    Learning Democracy
    Book Description:

    Scholarship on the history of West Germany's educational system has traditionally portrayed the postwar period of Allied occupation as a failure and the following decades as a time of pedagogical stagnation. Two decades after World War II, however, the Federal Republic had become a stable democracy, a member of NATO, and a close ally of the West. Had the schools really failed to contribute to this remarkable transformation of German society and political culture?

    This study persuasively argues that long before the protest movements of the late 1960s, the West German educational system was undergoing meaningful reform from within. Although politicians and intellectual elites paid little attention to education after 1945, administrators, teachers, and pupils initiated significant changes in schools at the local level. The work of these actors resulted in an array of democratic reforms that signaled a departure from the authoritarian and nationalistic legacies of the past. The establishment of exchange programs between the United States and West Germany, the formation of student government organizations and student newspapers, the publication of revised history and civics textbooks, the expansion of teacher training programs, and the creation of a Social Studies curriculum all contributed to the advent of a new German educational system following World War II. The subtle, incremental reforms inaugurated during the first two postwar decades prepared a new generation of young Germans for their responsibilities as citizens of a democratic state.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-928-4
    Subjects: History, Education, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-xi)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    As the Second World War drew to a close in Europe, many observers looked to the future of Germany with a mixture of anger and despair. Now that Germany had been defeated, the question on the minds of Allied leaders, as well as many Germans, was what should happen next. While various plans emphasized the breakup of large industrial concerns, the dissolution of banking giants, or the restructuring of the civil service, they all underscored the problems (and potential future dangers) of the German educational system. In perhaps the most infamous proposal for the postwar treatment of Germany, United States...

  7. Chapter 1 Rebuilding Education in a “New Spirit” The Challenges of the Immediate Postwar Period, 1945–1947
    (pp. 13-55)

    In a 1946 article on the state of German education, an official in the Hessian Culture Ministry, Otto Appel, asserted that postwar educators must go about their task with a “new spirit.” Embracing democracy, he argued, would bring about a “spiritual and political rebirth” for Germany’s schools and its people.¹ A follow-up article written by Appel a few months later reiterated his point that nothing less than the “renewal of youth in a new spirit” would suffice for Germany’s future.² Hessian culture minister Erwin Stein echoed this sentiment in a September 1947 speech, stating that “the rescue and the future...

  8. Chapter 2 “We Learned What Democracy Really Meant” New Experiences Inside and Outside the Classroom, 1948–1954
    (pp. 56-107)

    On 28 January 1953, the RIAS-Schulfunk-Parlament (Berlin Student Parliament) celebrated its fifth anniversary. Despite the distractions of having important West Berlin and West German politicians in their midst as a sign of support, the young parliamentarians handled that day’s business with their usual mix of enthusiasm and determination. These elected secondary school pupils debated five bills that afternoon, passing four of them. Among those that passed was a commitment to assist in the construction of a new library for pupils living in East Berlin. Wilhelm-Dietrich von Thadden, a member of the cabinet, reported on his successful work with school authorities...

  9. Chapter 3 Political Education Reforms Continue Beneath the Surface, 1955–1959
    (pp. 108-152)

    After months of waiting, the pupils in the combined seventh and eighth grades of the GossfeldenVolksschule(near Marburg in Hesse) were overjoyed to hear that they had won. A letter from federal offi cials to the class president, Johanna Heine, informed them that their entry in the Fourth Great Christmas Prize Competition had been completed perfectly and was chosen as one of the grand prize winners.¹ The contest, an annual affair sponsored by the Bundeszentrale für Heimatdienst (later the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, or Federal Office for Political Education), required that pupils work as a class on a multitude...

  10. Chapter 4 Reform Reignited Ambitious Efforts in the New Decade, 1960–1965
    (pp. 153-192)

    In a March 1961 essay written in response to the theme “Why German-American Friendship?” Margarete Meyer, a pupil in the Mittelschule Dillenburg, recounted the brief history of German postwar democracy. “Today we still find ourselves at the beginning of German democracy,” she noted. “The Americans, however, who as experienced democrats have stood up for their freedom, can help us bolster and strengthen our young democracy.” Nevertheless, Meyer argued, democracy could not simply be handed to the Germans, nor could the Germans depend solely on the Americans to protect the fledgling republic. She boldly claimed, “That does not mean that we...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 193-202)

    Reflecting on the impact of the occupation in his memoir shortly after leaving Germany, General Lucius Clay waxed positive about the future of the German schools. He admitted that changes engineered solely by American officials were not likely to be lasting, but Clay reaffirmed his belief that German educators and administrators would take the initiative in the years ahead. He explained that “the results of an educational program are intangible and almost impossible to evaluate immediately, but they will record the success or failure of our occupation.”¹ The need to assess the merits of America’s role in postwar Germany based...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 203-215)
  13. Index
    (pp. 216-222)