Germany is a land of fairy tales and the future. It is a juxtaposition that I’ve been observing and feeling since arriving last week, but one that I have felt most keenly today.
When we left Berlin, I was so excited to finally see the Germany that I had pictured in my head. Today, I noticed a strange combination of the old Germany and the new, all conveniently centered on education.
When we met with Sybille Schick from the University of Freiburg’s Center for Teacher Education, my overall impression was of limitations — we discussed tracking from an early age, the limited variety of schooling for special needs children, and the lack of technology in both teacher training and practical use in classrooms. We left there with an educator’s critical view of the system she knows so well.
From there, though, the energy changed. As we met with the Frieburg Department of Ecology, the tone shifted in an exciting and positive way. It was so refreshing to hear about all the environment-friendly changes happening in the Freiburg area, from solar panel use to plans for a carbon-neutral city. The best part, for me at least, was hearing all the ways that the department was reaching out to education. From this, we got a more positive outlook on the educational system, and a refreshing reminder that Germany is a front-runner in many areas.
It is worth reflecting that no system is perfect — we may have some things to learn from Germans (I am blown away by the timeliness and self-driven responsibility of schools and students here) but they can also learn from us (perhaps our differentiation and inclusion styles in the majority of American classrooms).
I was considering all this as I walked through the Black Forest region today, staring at old trees and enormous wind turbines. Fairy tales were actually written about this region, and yet Germans are also using it to make their country and our world a better place in the future. My hope is that we, as teachers, can process what we are learning here and bring back a movement of innovation to our schools, always remembering this fairy-tale setting with world-class technology. We need to create new stories for future generations to read, and it needs to start now.