Academic journal article German Quarterly

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

Academic journal article German Quarterly

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

Article excerpt

Puaca, Brian. Learning Democracy: Education Reform in West Germany, 1945-1965. New York: Berghahn Books, 2009. 236 pp. $95.00 hardcover.

At first glance, this noteworthy historical work calls to mind an important issue regarding the relationship between school and society. By its very nature, the cultural rootedness of schooling calls into question the advisability of transferring elements from one nation to another. This was precisely the note of caution articulated by John Dewey in the pages of the New Republic (1916) in the face of growing support among Americans for adopting the German model of vocational education for high schools. Some thirty years later, under very different historical circumstances, the direction of proposed cultural adaptation was reversed, this time under the aegis of military occupation supported by the twin concepts of democratization and reeducation. This substantive volume offers readers a well researched study on the complex meaning of "democratic education" for German schools in the American zone of occupation with special emphasis on West Berlin and Land Hesse. An important element was the reality that Dewey's philosophy would re-emerge during the post-waryears as part of a larger ideological justification for the creation of democratic schools in a country so recently crushed by the defeat of Nazi dictatorship.

Written with clarity and well supported by extensive documentation from German and American sources, the book argues that "subtle transformations" (3) took place over time which reflected a growth of democratic education in the late-primary and secondary schools of West Germany. For evidence of these transformations, the author points to the growth of student government, the revision of history and civics textbooks, curriculum reform in political education, teacher preparation, and the legacy of the U.S. State Department's "exchange of persons" program. In effectively setting the context for education reform in post-war Germany, the study aptly articulates the immense initial difficulties faced by occupation authorities during the early years of occupation. The book carefully documents the unique nature of West Berlin as a seat for Cold War tensions as well as a laboratory for reform. Yet, the author does not limit his visions to Berlin, but rightly expands his investigational net to include a Land not so powerfully shaped on a daily basis by the reality of the Cold War. …

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