Hello Marie, could you maybe briefly introduce yourself?
Well, If you asked me to do that, I would describe you roughly as a politically active high school teacher to be, who is very well read and still likes to do so. And probably the person with the most remarkably assorted bookshelf that I know. Do you have anything else to add?
Yes ... uhm, no. From my side that does it.
Okay, then tell me, what made you want to become a teacher?
Hmm, I wanted to study German and philosophy, and with that you either work as a teacher or nothing at all, basically.
So you were only interested in your subjects? You never had the wish ...
Well, a lot of my colleagues somehow have the feeling that their job is their calling. I don't see it that way, for me it's wage labor. I like working with people and I like the courses I teach. However, I don't see why one should see teaching as a life's work and why it shouldn't be a profession like any other.
Maybe because our society interprets a certain importance into it. Aren't you basically shaping the future of the students you teach?
I hope I don't have that much influence on their future.
But wouldn't it be kind of nice to have an influence?
Hm ... (thinks for a moment) My goal is actually that you can sit with me in class without fear. That means I try to give them a break or reduce their stress, because I think that's important. Some of the young people are so overworked, under so much pressure, some really suffer and spend so much time in school. Spend so much time working in the afternoons too that I don't have the feeling that I have to push them through any specialist content or anything else. Rather, they are actually trying to make life a little easier for them. That is actually the essential thing that, in my opinion, I have to contribute to their future.
You are addressing a very interesting topic. Do you have any ideas about why today's students are so overwhelmed?
(laughs) Yes, because more and more is being asked of you. If I compare it to my school days, they have to do a lot more now. Not necessarily in depth, but in quantity. They have more than one full-time job, work more than adults, and are exposed to quite blatant power structures, constant evaluation and constant fear. They actually have just enough to do with their puberty and other life and so on.
A lack of depth, one often hears this accusation in relation to reading. That the ability to read deeply could slowly be lost. What do you think about that?
Sure, the students rather spend time on doing social media. But I don't think that's that bad. It is often complained in school that their reading skills are declining, that they are no longer read that well or that they are no longer able to grasp a Goethe text. But I wonder where the problem lies, whether the school shouldn't simply have to adapt to the realities of life and the changed circumstances. Or why this is so important, for some, that they have to grasp a text that is three hundred years old. Basically, I see a lot of advantages in young people: They are incredibly fit because they can get information every day via Instagram, for example, and access news and information much more easily. So they tend to know more and more and are super up to date, can do more and more, and things are checked or demanded at school that have nothing to do with their lives.
Is there not also raising the question, who determines what we has to be read?
Should I answer that?
I please you to do so!
So first of all, of course, the curriculum. Or actually only one book is required in the curriculum for Bavaria. Otherwise, teachers can basically choose what to read. Epochs are prescribed, for which one then has to choose appropriate texts. And that sounds like you have a lot of leeway, but you don't have that because you have to prepare young people for high school graduation. And in this, authors who belong to the canon are tested. That means if you want to help the young people, then you have to read these canonized texts that they need for their Abitur and later maybe for their studies. And that means in reverse that you read Goethe, Schiller, white old men. Hardly any women and non-white authors. And that's a shame, you would have the freedom to read modern and other, lesser-known authors, but it takes time, and it takes a lot of time, especially in preparation. Because if I take a book that I read fifteen years ago, then I have less preparatory work than if I have to deal with new literature. And the young people get relatively little of it in their Abitur.
If you could read anything with your students now, no matter what, what would it be?
No matter what? (laughs) Hm ... Well, in German class, Elfriede Jelinek definitely. Well and everything else you can read about political writings. Marx, Engels. But of course I don't read that in German class, at most in ethics. Or in history class. But my political point of view, which of course does not apply in the classroom, must not come into play. So I don't choose what I read in class based on my subjective feelings.
Regardless of the fact that I personally support your political opinion for the most part, isn't it somehow a good thing that the young people shouldn't be too politically influenced by their teachers?
Oh, that's really a fallacy. Because they will of course, but in the interests of the political center. But that is not a neutrality but a massive influence. For example, history class. This is a blatantly perspective subject, it is super Eurocentric and all that we have handed down in history is from a hundred years ago, always from the perspective of those in power. It's incredibly subjective. When I teach the French Revolution, it's from the perspective of Napoleon and not from the perspective of those who really stumbled. There are no objective lessons in school, you have to reproduce the opinion of the middle class. ... Was that too political for you now?
No, not at all. That is an interesting point, there is nothing to add on my part. What about the moral or ethical attitudes of your students? Can you tell me something about that?
Well, well, I keep wondering because they are so incredibly decent. I have never had conflicts with young people for the past three years. They are super polite and super appreciative. They treat you the way you treat them. They also notice immediately whether you are reliable, whether you keep the things you promise. Whether you're freaking out or being just. And they treat you accordingly. Sometimes I would wish they were a little more insurgent or would protest more often. Or discuss, or argue against. But they do everything with easy. They have somehow learned to deal with this pressure to perform, to just always do what you tell them to do, to always be polite and nice, no matter if they shit or if the job you gave them is nonsensical, they just do it .
A similar opinion emerges from some surveys and studies in youth research. The term adaptive pragmatist comes to mind, almost a swear word for a youth who likes to adapt for their own benefit
Of course I have now put it in an exaggerated way. Of course there are also some that get on your nerves. But when I think back to my school days, there was more questioning and then I sometimes wonder how much they put up with everything today. And I think that's also because they just have so much work
So they simply don't have time to revolt, to rebel?
Yes, and also no space. For example at my school in Munich a small political group has formed. They did Fridays for Future stuff, climate activism stuff. And they were really perceived by the school as extremely annoying. And they were always massively hindered in their work and constantly threatened with sanctions, were excluded from school trips because the school simply didn't like what they were doing.
Even with this, let's say fashionable form of activism?
If you end up with the wrong school management, yes. Maybe somebody stuck stickers on the toilet and then everyone broke the collar. It's just amazing how tough it is done when people express their displeasure.
So you would reproach the school system for deliberately taking action against any form of protest?
Well, one of the basic tasks of schools is to reproduce its own social system and I don't do that by encouraging critical thinking or allowing criticism of our social structure, but by preventing it. It also fits that the young people have 12 years of religion class, but only four years of social studies. They also hardly get any political education.
But speaking of climate activism at your Munich school, is there already a certain awareness of social or ecological problems?
Partially. For some young people yes, for some less so. Social media also make a significant contribution to this; they use it to organize themselves and obtain their information there. Yes, there are some active young people. But they make up a much smaller part.
Are there any stereotypes? Can they be classified somehow?
Well, I mean they are sixteen and ... (short pause) they are super fit, super bright, they have great media skills, so I sometimes wonder how well they handle their smartphone devices and have information at hand immediately. Things that I sometimes fail at, the students could do in their sleep. And you can tell when you argue with them that they are getting informed. Some really feel like arguing or arguing. But that is mostly prevented ... if you really want typifying descriptions ...
Well In texts that I have read so far, there was often talk of material or post-materialistic value systems and I am amazed how this affects the basic attitude of students. Are young people from financially better off families more willing to change something in the world?
I wouldn't speak of will! They simply have the capacity to do so, that is a question of privilege, of course, whether I can invest the time and energy for it. That depends on my social environment. If I have parents with money and an academic educational background, then of course I have completely different options than if, as a black girl with a migration background, I am the first in my family to go to high school. Of course, that makes a huge difference in capacities for something like that. And vice versa, the white, better-off from the middle class are less aware of social injustices. When I discuss ethics with young people it becomes clear that some people experience racism every day and can also analyze them structurally and that others get the idea for the first time that something like this could exist and question it because they think something like that can not even imagine. Depending on what experiences I have, I also have different levels of awareness.
Do you talk to them a lot about their future? Want to become something about it?
Most of them don't even know that yet. Some of them are seventeen when they graduate from high school. Most actually want to travel first. So no, that is surprisingly little topic. Who knows what he or she wants to be in the tenth grade?
I'm just surprised about this. There must be some kind of motivation to endure this day in and day out. The constant pressure and to get up at half past six every morning. Do they never ask themselves why?
(laughs) Yeah, okay, now I see your point. You think you need a reason to do that. (short pause) I don't know what your reasons are. I think there is a lot of social pressure involved. You just need a degree. In our social system, performance is linked to value and to generate your value as a person you need a school leaving certificate, in the best case a high school diploma. It's not so much about which profession you want to pursue later, but about status and social pressure. They don't go to high school in fifth grade because they know I want to become a lawyer later or something.
Shouldn't they even ask this question?
Much in school is detached from any use, I mean why do the students still take a Latinum? Much can no longer be justified, it is just a traditional system. And the young people don't question that either, they do it for their degree and their grades, not because they feel that they would benefit personally from reading Ovid in the original text.
Now that brings me to a question that you already partially answered earlier. Should, or perhaps better why, should one read at all?
For fun. If you don't feel like reading, then you shouldn't read. I don't think that's something to do. And I believe in an expanded concept of literature anyway. In addition to reading, I would also watch films or actually summarize everything that contains narration. I can also watch Tik-Tok videos. Of course there is social pressure that one should read or that one has read this and that. I think one should read to form identity, but of course there are other ways of doing this. Reading is one of many ways. When I read, I question my own value models, my own actions. I compare it with what I have read, I check it. Maybe I'll change it or develop it further. And we do that all our lives and texts are definitely a nice template for this.