This Story Isn’t Going Away

When I studied in Berlin in 2001, I spent the majority of my time in coffee shops and the Freie Universitat studying the issues surrounding Germany’s largest group of minorities: the Turks, who were invited to Germany by the German government during the post-WWII labor shortage.  

Today, while casually listening to NPR in the car, my ears perked up when I heard the abridged version of the story I learned rehashed on The World.

The story The World tells focuses on the controversy around integration: at first the Germans didn’t want the Turks to integrate, then the Turks wanted to integrate, then the Germans decided they wanted the Turks to immigrate, and once the Germans came around, generations had gone by and young and old Turks alike aren’t so sure anymore which road to choose.

A nation’s immigration policy is played out in heavy ways through language and education.  It’s especially extreme in a place like Germany, with its particularly nationalistic history (from Kant to Fichte to Hitler to post-WWII immigration policy) that contrasts with the global necessity of inexpensive labor (sound familiar?).  In Germany, these immigrant laborers are called gastarbeiter, or “guest workers.” 

The piece The World did is just the tip of the iceberg, but it serves as a magnifying glass.  Pay close attention around the 3:50 mark when one Turkish interviewee explains (in German) that his son has good enough grades at his elementary (!) school to get into the college track.  In spite of the good grades, the school is excluding the boy from the college track (implicitly on nationalistic grounds) and forcing him into a vocational track.  The father can’t understand the school’s decision in light of his son’s perfect German language skills (his son was born in Germany).  

This is just one example.  Almost all the interviewees from The World story (both German and Turkish) express great concern over the issue of language.  Language can serve as a means of protest, a mark of integration, or a ticket to social mobility.

If we are smart, we Americans have a chance to learn from the extremes that Germany presents.  Germany is a potential heuristic for our own immigration policy and attitudes towards educating the children of immigrants.  The challenges of globalization cannot be exaggerated.  It will take real work (not just hours, but personal-attitudinal work on the part of citizens and educators, policy, and academic research) to create equitable policies and practices appropriate to a new and ever-changing conceptualization of citizenship and nationhood.

Excerpt from The World March 25, 2009

The Federal Foreign Office of Germany: information on German citizenship

Freie Universitat (Berlin)

oranienstrasse

Oranienstrasse, Kreuzberg, Berlin

kottbuser-damm-kreuzberg

Kottbusser Dam, Kreuzberg, Berlin

kreuzberg

Kreuzberg

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to go digging through the garage (I was actually taking pictures on film back then) for my personal photos from my time there, but I thought it appropriate to post some pictures of Kreuzberg, the notorious (and more recently hip) Turkish neighborhood in Berlin. 

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “This Story Isn’t Going Away

  1. Thanks for this, I didn’t know a damn thing about it til now.

  2. Alice

    Show me your pictures!!

  3. Dah7lin

    Reminds me of French and English schools in Montreal and too many other school situations worldwide to want to number.

    We must do better.

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