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Navigating the Waves of Change: Political Education and Democratic School Reform in Postwar West Berlin

  • Brian M. Puaca

In the aftermath of the Second World War, Germany found itself defeated, destroyed, occupied, and ultimately divided. The eastern portion of Germany fell under Soviet administration, while the western part came under joint occupation by the three victorious western Allies (the United States, the United Kingdom, and France). Recognizing at an early date that rebuilding Germany would promote political stability, economic growth, and peace in central Europe, the western Allies set out to reconstruct the defeated nation. The schools were an important part of this project. Many observers argued that without substantial reform to the educational system, German nationalism, militarism, and xenophobia might once again lead to conflict. In the western zones, particularly in the American zone, democratizing the schools took on great importance by 1947. This effort, however, was short-lived. The occupation of Germany ended in 1949, leaving many Americans with the sense that school reform was incomplete.

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1 Jutta-Lange-Quassowski, B. argues that German education reform had not in fact begun before 1947, as denazification had prevented its implementation. Karl-Ernst Bungenstab differs, claiming that 1947 marked the end of reforms, because the United States now shifted its priorities to containing Communism. Henry Kellermann argues that reform, however limited through 1949, was not implemented based on Cold War ideological motives. See Jutta-Lange-Quassowski, B., “Amerikanische Westintegrationspolitik, Re-education and deutsche Schulpolitik,” in Umerziehung und Wiederaufbau: Die Bildungspolitik der Besatzungsmächte in Deutschland und Österreich, ed. Heinemann, Manfred (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1981), 5367; Bungenstab, Karl-Ernst, Umerziehung zur Demokratie? Reeducation-Politik im Bildungswesen der US-Zone 1945–1949 (Gütersloh: Bertelsmann Universitätsverlag, 1970); Kellermann, Henry, “Von Re-education zu Re-orientation: Das amerikanische Re-orientienmgsprogramm im Nachkriegsdeutschland,” in Heinemann, 86–102. Others have argued that the occupation was a formative period that contributed to long-term developments over the next two decades. See James Tent, Mission on the Rhine (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982); Hahn, H.J., Education and Society in Germany (New York: Berg, 1998), 91–112. Füssl, Karl-Heinz also alludes to some of the long-term influences of the American occupation in his important study of postwar education in all four of the Allied zones. See Die Umerziehung der Deutschen. Jugend und Schule unter den Siegermàchten des Zweiten Weltkriegs 1945–1955 (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1995).

2 Scholarship on postwar education in Berlin, specifically West Berlin, is voluminous. These studies have generally focused on institutional changes instead of curricular reforms. Accordingly, they have concentrated on policymaking elites and devoted less attention to classroom instruction. Finally, in light of the Cold War division of the city, there has been great emphasis on Berlin as an exceptional case rather than as a pioneering model. See Klewitz, Marion, Berliner Einheitsschule, 1945–1951, Band 1 in Historische und Pädagogische Studien, ed. Büsch, Otto und Heinrich, Gerd (Berlin: Colloquium, 1971); Füssl, Karl-Heinz and Kubina, Christian, Mithestimmung und Demokratisierung im Schulwesen. Eine Falltudie zur Praxis von Beratungsgremien am Beispiel Berlins (Berlin: Carl Marhold, 1984); Füssl, and Kubina, , Zeugen zur Berliner Schulgeschichte (1951–1968) (Berlin: Carl Marhold, 1981). The minutes of the meetings held by the Berlin school authorities until the division of the city in 1948 have recently been compiled and published in Schulreform und Schulverwaltung in Berlin. Die Protokolle der Gesamtkonferenzen der Schulräte von Gross-Berlin, Juni 1945 bis November 1948, ed. Geissler, Gert (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2002).

3 Education played a key role in the creation of a new national identity in the aftermath of the Second World War as West German politicians, education officials, and teachers sought to engineer a new concept of citizenship in the postwar schools. See Dierkes, Julian, “Teaching Portrayals of the Nation: Postwar History Education in Japan and the Germanys” (PhD diss., Princeton University, 2003). See also Gellner, Ernst, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983); Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983).

4 For a more complete analysis of the impact of these curricular and pedagogical changes in the schools of the early Federal Republic, see Puaca, Brian M., “Learning Democracy: Education Reform in Postwar West Germany, 1945–1965” (PhD diss., University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, 2005).

5 In explaining the major characteristics of political education before 1933, Zilien, Johann cites an emphasis on knowledge of the state's political organization as a defining trait. Additionally, he notes that instruction stressed the “unpolitical” orientation of the citizen. Finally, his work underscores the increasing nationalism that entered the discipline by the mid 1920s. See Zilien, Johann, Politische Bildung in Hessen von 1945 bis 1965. Gestaltung und Entwicklung der politischen Bildung als schulpolitisches Instrument der sozialen Demokratisierung (Frankfort: Peter Lang, 1997).

6 Some of these ideas did originate with American military officials and education experts serving in Germany during the occupation. This does not mean, however, that German educators simply copied the American practices to which they were exposed. In the spheres of student government, student newspapers, Parent Teacher Associations, textbooks, and teacher training, German educators adapted and modified educational proposals based on their experiences, their conception of democratic schools, and German educational traditions. For a discussion of this process of negotiation, see Volker Berghahn, “Conceptualizing the American Impact on Germany: West German Society and the Problem of Americanization,” The American Impact on Western Europe, Conference, German Historical Institute, Washington, DC, March 25–27, 1999, available from; Internet, accessed 28 February 2007.

7 Eichmann, Adolf was tried in Jerusalem for his actions as a member of the SS involved in the deportations of Jews during World War II. He was found guilty and executed in 1961. The German news magazine Der Spiegel published an article in October 1962 that questioned the preparedness of the West German army. Police arrested the article's author, on vacation in Spain, and searched the editorial offices of the publication. Many Germans viewed this incident as eerily similar to the actions of the Gestapo twenty years earlier. The “Spiegel Affair,” as it has come to be known, ultimately contributed to Konrad Adenauer's resignation in 1963 after fourteen years as chancellor. Finally, Georg Picht authored a series of essays on the German “educational catastrophe” beginning in 1964 that highlighted the country's falling competitiveness with other world economies and blamed this on the school system.

8 Zilien cites the entry of a new generation of young educators and their better training as the major factors in the improvement of political education in this period. See Zilien, , 253.

9 Despite experimentation with the organization of the school system in the former capital near the end of the occupation, it remained similar to the rest of the Federal Republic in the early 1950s. The West German school system tracked pupils into one of three schools after a period of common elementary education. The Volksschule (also OPZ, or Oberschule Praktischer Zweig, in West Berlin) provided pupils with instruction through grade eight, at which point they entered vocational training. In West Berlin, the OPZ included a ninth year of study. The Realschule (also OTZ, or Oberschule Technischer Zweig, in West Berlin) lasted one year longer and prepared pupils for careers in business and the civil service. The Gymnasium (also OWZ, or Oberschule Wissenschaftlicher Zweig in West Berlin) extended through grade thirteen and served as the gateway for university admission. Until the 1960s, two-thirds of pupils at the secondary level concluded their education in the Volksschule (renamed Hauptschule by this time). See Führ, Christoph, Deutsches Bildungswesen seit 1945 (Bonn: Inter Nationales, 1996).

10 Vorläufige Richtlinien für die politische Bildung an der Berliner Schule,” 14 April 1960, 1; B. Rep. 015, Nr. 451, Landesarchiv Berlin (hereafter LAB).

11 Ibid., 8–9.

12 Ibid., 5–6.

13 Ibid., 8–9.

14 With some notable exceptions, West German textbooks published in the 1950s failed to explore the most shocking aspects of Nazi extermination policies targeting the Jews and other minorities. This supports the findings of Norbert Frei, who has called into question the characterization of the 1950s as a time of coming to terms with Nazi crimes. Building on the work of a small number of authors such as Hans Ebeling, textbooks entering the schools by 1960 began to offer a frank examination of the Nazis’ most reprehensible acts. See Frei, Norbert, Vergangenbeitspolitik. Die Anfänge der Bundesrepublik und die NS-Vergangenheit (Munich: Beck, C.H., 1996). See also Herf, Jeffrey, Divided Memory (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997).

15 Vorläufige Richtlinien für die politische Bildung an der Berliner Schule,” 9.

16 Ibid., 11–12.

17 Ibid.

18 The Rahmenplan, which in reality was nothing more than a set of educational recommendations, encouraged greater standardization among the school systems of the various West German states. Believing that West Germany's schools deviated from those of her neighbors, the committee urged organizational reforms to align the educational system more closely with what it considered European societal norms.

19 The CDU, the party of Konrad Adenauer, is a center-right party that dominated West German politics at the national level in the postwar era. The Social Democratic Party (SPD), the party of the center-left, has historically been more liberal on social and educational questions. Although more traditional in its social policies, the CDU nevertheless sought to pursue moderate reforms in West Berlin, with Tiburtius serving as Senator for Education in a coalition government into the 1960s. For a more complete discussion of the political machinations behind educational policymaking in West Berlin, see Füssl, Karl-Heinz and Kubina, Christian, “Educational Reform Between Politics and Pedagogics: The Development of Education in Berlin After World War II.” History of Education Quarterly 25, no. 1/2 (Spring/Summer 1985): 133–53.

20 Auch Berlin regelt den politischen Unterricht,” Frankfurter Alfaemeine Zeitung, 28 April 1960 in B. Rep. 015, Nr. 439, LAB.

21 Wenzel, Otto, “Vorläufige Richtlinien für die politische Bildung an der Berliner Schuk.” Berliner Lehrerzeitung 14(29), no. 9 (15 May 1960): 194–96.

22 Witting, H.G., “Politik—ein spröder Lehrstoff. Wie werden unsere Kinder zu Staatsbürgern?” Berliner Morgenpost, 18 September 1960 in B. Rep. 015, Nr. 439, LAB.

23 Gutschow, Harald, “Gedanken zu den Richtlinien für politische Bildung,” Berliner Lehrerzeitung 14(29), no. 2 (31 October 1960): 461–62. Gutschow, an English language and literature specialist, was a teacher in the city before joining the faculty of the Pädagogische Hochschule in 1971.

24 Letter from the Hermann-Hesse-Schule, , 21 May 1962 in “Bericht zu den Vorläufige Richtlinien, Kl. 11 s/m, 1961/62,” Anlage G, B. Rep. 015, Nr. 514, LAB.

25 Bericht der 3. Grundschule Kreuzberg,” 17 May 1962, B. Rep. 015, Nr. 514, LAB.

26 Erfahrungsbericht über die Vorläufige Richtlinien für politische Bildung und Erziehung für das Schuljahr 1961/62,” undated (likely May 1962), B. Rep. 015, Nr. 307, LAB.

27 Bericht über politische Bildung in der OTZ,” undated (likely May 1961), B. Rep. 015, Nr. 447, LAB.

28 Auszugsweise Abschrift der Niederschrift über die Konferenz der Borsig-Schule (2.OTZ) vom 16.5.62,” B. Rep. 015, Nr. 514, LAB.

29 Denkschrift zur inneren Schulreform,” Anlage zur Drucksache Nr. 1212, d. Abgeordnetenhaus von Berlin, III. Wahlperiode, 26 January 1962. For working drafts of the document, see draft of “Denkschrift zur inneren Schulreform; Künftige Planungen auf dem Gebiet der politischen Erziehung und des politikkundlichen Unterrichts,” 20 January 1961, B. Rep. 015, Nr. 142, LAB.

30 ‘Denkschritt zur inneren Schulreform,” Anlage zur Drucksache Nr. 1212, d. Abgeordnetenhaus von Berlin, III. Wahlperiode, 26 January 1962, 38.

31 Ibid., 49.

32 Ibid., 43–44.

33 Draft of “Denkschrift zur inneren Schulreform; Künftige Planungen auf dem Gebiet der politischen Erziehung und des politikkundlichen Unterrichts,” 20 January 1961, B. Rep. 015, Nr. 142, LAB.

34 Denkschrift zur inneren Schulreform,” Anlage zur Drucksache Nr. 1212, d. Abgeordnetenhaus von Berlin, III. Wahlperiode, 26 January 1962, 8.

35 Ibid., 12.

36 Ibid., 51.

37 Ibid.

38 Expose für einleitende Bemerkungen des Herrn Senators in der Senatssitzung,” 21 November 1961, B. Rep. 015, Nr. 141–142, LAB.

39 Response to “Denkschrift” from Berliner Verband der Lehrer und Erzieher, 25 June 1962, B. Rep. 015, Nr. 141–142, LAB. Nevertheless, the union was not totally satisfied with the plan. It expressed regret that the tenth grade would not be added to the OPZ during the next five years.

40 Wenzel, Otto, “Die Denkschrift zur inneren Schulreform.” Berliner Lehrerzeitung 16(31). no. 3 (15 February 1962): 4952.

41 See Appendix 50, “Denkschrift zur inneren Schulreform,” Anlage zur Drucksache Nr. 1212; d. Abgeordnetenhaus von Berlin, III. Wahlperiode. 26 January 1962; see also Table 1, “Pädagogische Hochschulen und andere Anstalten und Einrichtungen für Ausbildung von Lehrern an Volksschulen, Sonderschulen und Mittelschulen sowie an berufsbildenden Schulen (ohne Handelslehramt) 1954 bis 1962,” Lehrernachwuchs (undated, likely late 1962), B. Rep. 015, Nr. 398, LAB.

42 Appendix 50, “Denkschrift zur inneren Schulreform,” Anlage zur Drucksache Nr. 1212; d. Abgeordnetenhaus von Berlin, III. Wahlperiode, 26 January 1962; also Statistisches Landesamt Berlin, Statistisches Jahrbuch Berlin 1965 (Berlin: Kulturbuch, 1965), 108–11.

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History of Education Quarterly
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