The East Germans Have Discovered the Secret of Successful Schools- by Using the System We've Abandoned; How a Former Communist State Has Revived Its Grammar Schools - and Dumped Political Correctness

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), February 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

The East Germans Have Discovered the Secret of Successful Schools- by Using the System We've Abandoned; How a Former Communist State Has Revived Its Grammar Schools - and Dumped Political Correctness


Byline: PETER HITCHENS

How pleasant at last to find a place where political correctness is actually in retreat, where old values are treasured, common sense is respected and history is not treated as a rubbish dump to be forgotten, but as vital, irreplaceable experience.

Welcome to the former East Germany, struggling to rebuild civilisation in the ruins of Socialism. Here, until 1989, political correctness took solid form; equal this, equal that, equal the other.

Every slogan on every daft radical demonstration you have ever seen was turned into official policy. Everybody was so equal they had to put up a large fence and build miles of minefields to keep them all in, and keep them all equal.

Take education. In the same sacred cause of 'equality', all children went to the same sort of comprehensive school, at least officially, which is of course what our own Labour Party would dearly like to happen, and works tirelessly to achieve. The East Berlin government proclaimed that it had abolished inequality. As its official propaganda booklet stated: 'The first step taken was to eliminate-all educational privilege. Social status and the size of father's bank account no longer determined the quality of education a child received.' What this meant in practice was that dozens of fine old grammar schools, known as Gymnasiums, free to all those who could pass their rigorous entry tests, were shut down across the East German state, even more ruthlessly than they were in Britain a few years later.

Everyone went instead to Gesamtschule: comprehensives. Everyone, that is, except an elite, who at 16 were able to transfer to special sixth form colleges while everyone else went into the factories.

But that elite was selected not by bank balance but on political grounds. If your parents were not working-class enough, or not loyal enough Communists, or were known to be Christians, or had some other mark against their name, then the best exam scores would not get you in. And that meant you could never take the Abitur, Germany's A-levels; the guarded gateway to every profession, to university, to the secret privileges of well hidden wealth and comfort that the regime reserved only for the loyal, the subservient and the silent.

Meanwhile, across the barbed wire, West Germany's self-governing states preserved their grammar schools - in some cases because parents took to the streets in their thousands to protest against planned closures by local SDP politicians; the equivalent of the Labour Party.

And the moment the fences and the walls came down and the minefields were pulled up, East Germany's new free local governments began to rebuild the lost grammar schools, something we in Britain are told cannot be done.

Well, it can.

One of these new schools is the Gerhart Hauptmann Gymnasium in Wismar, a heartbreakingly beautiful seaport town on the Baltic coast now recovering at last from 50 years of shameful neglect, one of the biggest concentrations of unspoilt 17th Century architecture in Europe.

The same spirit of proud rebirth is obvious in this school, housed in a fine old Edwardian-era building with a frowning arched entrance, stern granite staircases and highceilinged proper classrooms.

Only one of the standard prejudices about Germans is confirmed here. The students wear no uniform, the atmosphere is democratic and relaxed rather than regimented. But education is taken very seriously.

Wolfgang Box, the school's director and a survivor of the old Communist system, is immensely proud of the opportunities his establishment is giving to the children of Wismar. It is one of two new grammar schools founded in the town. Herr Box says: 'There was so much demand for this sort of education from parents when the first one opened that this one had to be founded as well. Before the change, only ten per cent of local children took their Abitur. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The East Germans Have Discovered the Secret of Successful Schools- by Using the System We've Abandoned; How a Former Communist State Has Revived Its Grammar Schools - and Dumped Political Correctness
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.