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German media roundup: Hamburg's democratic revolt

The Local · 19 Jul 2010, 10:50

Published: 19 Jul 2010 10:50 GMT+02:00

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Some of Germany's leading publications warned the referendum on Sunday, which thwarted the city-state government's attempt to create a common primary school up to sixth grade, would complicate educational policy nationwide. But others welcomed more direct democracy, as citizens revolted against unpopular policies implemented by out-of-touch politicians.

The website of weekly Die Zeit called the referendum against the school reform “a panicky segregation of the middle class” that will only aggravate the city’s educational woes.

“The vote doesn’t only mean the end of (children) learning together longer. It’s also a manifestation of the fears of the middle class. The opponents of reform didn’t have many good arguments. There’s a reason why children in all European countries aside from Austria learn together up till at least the sixth grade.”

Die Zeit said it wasn’t surprising that the fear-mongering had worked, but warned the middle class could not simply shut out those less fortunate and expect society to function.

“We’re on the path back to times when it wasn’t achievement that mattered, but where you came from. But whoever puts up walls and guards to protect themselves from the rabble will soon need to do just that.”

A commentary in Munich’s centre-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung focused on the growing importance of referenda in Germany.

Calling the recent votes for a smoking ban in Bavaria and against Hamburg’s school reform a type of “citizen militia,” the paper said the times when Germany’s politicians could dictate policy from upon high were over.

“A referendum certainly isn’t a magic potion that can simply be poured into a democracy – it’s more like medication. And medicine can have side-effects,” Süddeutsche wrote. “One has to be aware of the symptoms and pick the proper dosage.”

Regional daily Hamburger Abendblatt called the city-state a “new crisis centre of representative democracy” and called for new elections.

“All members of the city parliament have been exposed as alienated through the vote and from their constituents. All parties in parliament were in unusual agreement in favour of the school reform that failed by a majority in yesterday’s vote.”

"Apparently the parliamentarians no longer represent the votes and attitudes of their constituents. A city parliament that does not reflect the will of the citizenry in central community questions has forfeited its democratic legitimacy. Therefore the citizens must be asked again who should lead this city, and with what ideas and projects.”

Centrist Berlin paper Der Tagesspiegel said that while the weekend’s events in Hamburg were the result of local circumstances, they would have nationwide impact.

While the referendum issue was education, the disconnect between outgoing Hamburg Mayor Ole von Beust’s coalition and the voters and his unwillingness to take on responsibility was a broader echo of situations happening in state parliaments across the nation, the paper said.

“Ole von Beust's job fatigue finds its analogue in other state parliaments – the announcement of Roland Koch’s resignation is an example here – and also in the federal government, as the resignation of President Horst Köhler shows,” the paper went on.

Beust, who resigned just hours before the referendum result was announced, did not take a consistent political position, the paper alleged.

“The disquiet and unhappiness of the voters is a result of this in Hamburg, but also in the rest of the republic,” it concluded.

Story continues below…

Left-wing daily Tageszeitung said that Beust had a double mission during his time as mayor – to open his conservative Christian Democrats to cooperation with the Greens and to encourage the modernisation of the CDU’s education policy.

“Both missions culminated in a symbol – the fight for the six-year primary school,” the paper said, adding that the struggle was over before the referendum results had even been tallied.

“Because in Hamburg referendums are binding. The power is therefore transferred to the citizens, the mayor from politician to executive organ. Thus it was consistent to step down on the day of the referendum.”

Beust’s decision, the latest in a string of high-ranking CDU resignations, will resonate on a national level, the paper said.

“No doubt, the CDU is disintegrating,” it added, saying that many would blame party leader and Chancellor Angela Merkel in the end.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

12:19 July 19, 2010 by whatzup
I applaud the rejection by voters of the school "reforms". I don't have the money to send my kid to private schools and the less time he spends in the classroom with kids not destined for university the better. Politicians can try to engineer a more integrated society with someone else's son.
14:41 July 19, 2010 by ciaran_c
I would suggest that whassup's opinion reflects that of many who voted against the school reform; middle-to-upper class fear that the lower classes might move in his or her territory and shock horror, go on to take that money that little son was destined to amass when he took over Daddy's business. Surely this boorish anti-change attitude is archaic and a reflection of selfishness on a grand scale. Why suppose that those from less-privileged backgrounds are not destined for university or such? They have entirely as much chance of making progress as the other if everyone is given equal opportunity. Why should background dictate prospects? The attitude is egocentric and in many ways protectionist.

AS the article says, why is it that nearly every other European country keeps children together longer? Why is it that nearly every other European country scores more highly on comparison tests of education such as the PISA study. German education is currently approaching a shambles for the majority, and this decision to discard change purely continues this status quo.

If your son has the intelligence, he will thrive; indeed if he is not pandered to in some kind of super-school, he may even come out the better for having learned to do something himself and not been pandered to at every move. Isn't such a sense of initiative what we should be looking for in future managers and leaders?; not the sense of detachment from the normal people that seems to be very apparent in many of the current German upper classes, many of whom can only be described as weirdos.

And lastly, I might add that I have come from my own middle class background, had the obviously harrowing experience of going to my local normal school with the plebs and lower classes, spent a shocking 8 years together with all manner of children in primary school, and worse still 5 more with the older brats, and came out the other end with the best national exam result in the country (topping those private-school daddy-boys as well I might add). And now I'm a doctor, hopefully a vaguely normal one....it can happen!
15:41 July 19, 2010 by canadianinberlin
ciaran_c, thank you for posting so eloquently what was on my mind.
16:15 July 19, 2010 by whatzup
Sure it CAN happen ciaran_c, congradulations on swimming against the flow. However, distractions for kids being what they are in today's increasingly globalized society I want my son to be reinforced with values I hold to rather than those of what I consider lesser cultures. Exposure to those cultures may have benefited you personally but I would rather bet my son's future on folks that believe in the same things I do.
10:14 July 20, 2010 by twisted
Seems like the comments expose less an interest in education and more about bias against those not ethinic German or perhaps better, caucasian. A tinge of racisism, perhaps?
13:24 July 20, 2010 by whatzup
My comments have nothing to do with racism but perhaps a bit to do with culturalism. Don't believe one culture has more to offer than another? Try reading the Declaration of Independence or having open heart surgery in Zambia.
13:32 July 20, 2010 by kursten
ciaran_c....well put.
14:57 July 20, 2010 by elboertjie
So to the all the people here that berate the desire of bringing up children in one's own cultural values, what do you propose to do for a community or nation to keep its culture and heritage?

It is very easy here to throw sticks and stones at other people for wishing to have their desires, but isn't this exactly what you too are doing: wanting your way without allowing the way for others?

Many nations have cultures and traditions that are quite old and with every little change demanded, there are less options available for people who wish to hold what they feel dear.

If you keep this up, soon instead of having mixed vegatables that have a distinct taste, you'll have a soup with no distinct flavour at all, because all the different cultures are boiled down to nothing.

The next time you folk go into a restaurant and eat bland food, realise that this is what you desire a nation to be like.
14:11 July 21, 2010 by slawek
The attempt should be to create a common primary school up to the 10th grade, not just the 6th grade. The level of education is already very low and always has been up to that particular grade, especially in the Gymnasium, as compared to other countries, which do or did (e.g. DDR/GDR) much better. You could easily squeeze the materials from 1st to the 10th grade from a Gymnasium into an 8 grades primary school system.
07:33 July 23, 2010 by 1FCK_1FCK
"So to the all the people here that berate the desire of bringing up children in one's own cultural values, what do you propose to do for a community or nation to keep its culture and heritage?"

Culture, like language, isn't static. Its definition changes over time. Nobody wants National Socialist culture to be what defines Germany, yet only 70 years ago it did. Today something entirely different defines Germany. And 70 years from now something different will define Germany.

The one thing you can't define is "culture & heritage." It's different for everyone, so trying to somehow teach it or inculcate it into young people is doomed to failure. Better to accept that everything about a country changes over time & not make such a big political deal about it.
18:57 July 23, 2010 by BrightContralto
Interesting thread, though I suspect the basis for separating school children into different streams at either 4th or 6th year is, technically, neither culture nor class.

Is it a standardised test? What role do parental indifference or ambitions play?

I went through a school system that was fully 'integrated' throughout all levels - but within schools there were different streams to separate kids for individual subjects depending on ability. I think this worked pretty well, and avoided some of the stigmatisation/insularity which can come from separate schools.
18:22 August 1, 2010 by slawek
@BrightContralto There isn't even such a thing like a test. The teachers simply make a recommendation based on their personal subjective opinion. In practice it ends up with teachers recommending children based on their family backgrounds, there is also lots of teasing, e.g. teachers trying to prove a particular child is no any good. E.g. my school friend had problems with her biology teacher, because though her parents were pharmacists, she still was adopted.

I would say a child with say an IQ of 90 - that is an IQ below the avg.- could still easily pass the Abitur and even successfully study law, only if the family background justifies such high expectations. It's simply put, up to the teacher. And there is of course no external evaluation for teachers and professors.

The introduction of a standardized and neutral test like the IQ would only be a horror for the middle class. It's not only not welcome, the society simply doesn't work that way - it works the way, who is who and who among the parents is most important. It's simply not about talent, it never was in the whole history of German education.
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