April 21, 2009 at 6:49 pm (Life, School) (, , , , )

A certain quiz has been popping up on my Facebook news feed a lot lately. All my German friends have been taking it. As is the nature of all these quizzes, it is arbitrary and stupid; however, this one also takes on a whole different level of offensive.

The title of this quiz is “Which Gymnasium in Stuttgart should you have gone to?” A Gymnasium, in Germany, is one of the three branches of schools you are sorted into after grade four. Gymnasium means you most likely will be pursuing college once you graduate. It is a college-track system with a diploma, the Abitur, that will allow you to actually go to university. A Realschulabschluss or a Hauptschulabschluss do not do the same.

My point is not to discuss the extremely faulty German education system, at least not at this time. Many of my friends have been getting the following result: “$$$ Money makes the world go around $$$ – Abitur hat eben seinen Preis $$ Auf der M. kostet es eben etwas jedoch hat dann auch jeder eine Chance.” (Roughly translated: An Abitur has a pricetag. It may cost a little at the M., but at least everyone has a chance.)

Yes, I attended a private school. Yes, there was an inordinate amount of idiots at my school who should not have been let anywhere near the Abitur, but that is beside the point. The point is that I have never met or heard of anyone who had to do anything less than work for their Abitur. Getting your Abitur is a grueling task; this diploma spans two years, in which all your grades count towards your general GPA. You have five four-hour classes a week along with at least another four or five that are two hours. You take two exams – all essay and analysis questions – in the four hour courses per semester, and one exam per semester in the two hour classes. Again: ALL these grades count towards your GPA.

In semester four, you take a standardized exam – again, essay questions and analysis – in four of your five four-hour courses. German is mandatory (for this, you have to read certain books over the span of those two years and hand in a blank copy you can use during this exam), as is Math. An exam in a foreign language is also required. The fourth is one of your choosing; it can be a science (profile courses) or anything else (chosen). If you take PE, Music or Art, you are required to do a practical examination in which you complete certain hands-on tasks of your field. The Abitur is compiled by calling in state-wide teachers’ conferences a few years before a final is assigned. There, questions and topics and themes are brought together and it is left up to a very exclusive committee to write them. The day before the exam is given, a courier brings the double-sealed exams to the school where they are placed within a safe and not touched until the date they are to be taken. If it leaks, the entire state of BaWü is assigned a whole new exam.

I will not claim I did not have any free time when I worked towards my Abitur, that would be a lie. I usually had an easy time with academics. However, nobody did anything less than challenge us on a daily basis. I did less work than I should have, excelling in subjects that required little effort and almost flunking those that were hard for me. This is why I graduated with only an average GPA. My friend L. graduated with the best GPA, and that took a lot of effort.

A few years ago, a parent who had some beef and minor influence with one of the local newspapers pulled some strings so a reporter and a photographer ended up coming to school to write a profile on us. This article, as it turned out, held no praise for us – instead, it tore down every student who was interviewed, twisting words FauxNews-style and essentially blaming our school for all the evil in the world.

We were accused of being nothing more than a bunch of people whose main job was being heirs; who paid for their diplomas. One student in particular was interviewed, and his words were used as ammunition. See, at our school, we happened to have teachers who actually gave a shit about us. Our exams happened to be the week after Easter vacation, which meant our classes would not meet for two weeks before our Abitur finals. If we had any questions at a different school, we were hosed.

This student had been honest when asked whether or not attending this school made a difference. He said that, yes, it did. Our teachers cared. A lot of them invited us into their homes so we could do extra study sessions and voice any concerns we had. My German teacher, for instance, sacrificed an entire week of his holiday to go over the three books we’d had to read. He asked the church where he played the organ if he could have the classrooms in the mornings. My biology teacher made sure that those of us taking the Bio final had his mobile number so we could call him at any time. Germany does not have a private school email system for its high schools, so we received private email addresses. The religion majors’ teacher organized private study sessions.

All of this, mind, was unpaid. These teachers did it from the goodness of their hearts, and all they receive for doing so is scorn from a newspaper and the public. The year I graduated, the teachers weren’t even supposed to do any of what they had done for the classes before precisely because of the public perception of their work. They did it anyway.

My parents did not pay tuition so that I was guaranteed an Abitur. My parents paid tuition for smaller classes and higher quality of education, for teachers who actually worked with their students instead of just talking at them. I find the quiz on FB, to come full circle, incredibly insulting to the people at M. who do good, dedicated work, and to anyone who graduated at all. It took work. Money had nothing to do with it. I also wish my friends weren’t even taking that quiz because all they’re doing is perpetuating the stereotype of our school.


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