German elementary schools

Deutsche Welle – Do you know your Gymnasium from your Gesamtschule? The German school system is certainly complicated. For this week’s Meet the Germans, Rachel heads back to the classroom to get to grips with the different types of schools and to find out what kids like about going to school in Germany.

Rachel moved from the UK to Germany in 2016. As a relative newcomer she casts a fresh eye over German clichés and shares her experiences of settling into German life. Every two weeks she explores a new topic – from German books to German-Turkish culture or Germany’s obsession with cars. This week: German schools and the education system.

80% self-censor

7 April 2022. New York Times:

“There is now little doubt that students frequently bite their tongues because they feel unsafe. A 2021 survey of more than 37,000 college students — by far the largest on free expression to date — found that more than 80 percent of students censor their own viewpoints at least some of the time, while roughly one in five students regularly do so. Meanwhile, only 40 percent of students say that they are comfortable openly disagreeing with their professors.”

Yes, hypersensitivity on American university campuses is well-known. What does this have to do with communication and feedback within American companies? Everything. Political correctness, like it or dislike it, has been a growing force in the United States for several decades.

“Well, that was complete shit.”

Berliners respond to the question “Are we Germans direct?”:

And one of the comments from a German: “When I was in high school, I can remember, another student gave a poorly-prepared presentation. Directly thereafter the teacher simply looked at him and said in English: “Well, that was complete shit.”

Shanghai … wait, what?

Referring again to this article in the New York Times about how a few major U.S. companies are handling the post-Covid work environment. With some employees returning full-time to the office. Others are working exlusively or almost excluisively from home. And many dividing their time between office and home.

“Though most evidence that remote workers are at a disadvantage is anecdotal, at least one study, led by researchers at Stanford University, suggests they are less likely to be promoted than their in-office peers. In the experiment researchers randomly assigned workers at a large travel agency in Shanghai to work remotely or in the office for nine months. Though the remote workers were 13 percent more productive, putting in more hours and making more calls per minute, they were promoted about half as often as their in-office peers.”

“They can get forgotten,” said Nicholas Bloom, a professor of economics at Stanford and one of the study’s authors.

But wait, what, Professor Bloom? That’s Shanghai. Those are Chinese. What does anecdotal evidence from China tell us about how Americans benefit or lose out if and when working remotely?

Rankings USA

Rankings – or standings – are particularly popular in the U.S. Where an individual, team, organization „stands“ is always in competitive comparison to other individuals, teams, organizations.

Examples of college and university rankings include US News and Business Report, Princeton Review College Rankings, College Prowler Traditional College and University Rankings. Subjects of rankings include Liberal Arts Colleges, National University, Research, Student Satisfaction, Diversity, Alumni Networks, among others.

Business school rankings are found in BusinessWeek, Forbes, US News Business School Rankings, Princeton Review Business School Rankings, Wall Street Journal Business School Rankings, Poets&Quants, the Economist. Subsets include region, country, specialization, composite, and endowment.

Law School rankings are found in Vault, LLM Guide, Princeton Review Law School Rankings, US News & World Report, Gourman Report, Hylton, Leiter, National Law Journal, QS World University Rankings, and Judging Law School Rankings.

Corporate rankings are found in Fortune 500, MarketWatch, Most Ethical Companies Rankings, Netweek Green Rankings, Company Rankings, Forbes Company Rankings, SEO Company Rankings. Subcaterogies include revenue, ecologically friendliness, ethical behavior, innovation, size, industry, sector, social media presence, pay, employee satisfaction, and career development.

American Teaching Styles

Perhaps because of the high cost of tuition at American universities, Americans typically view students as customers and schools as businesses. As such, teachers will attempt to cater to the needs of their students – if a certain process doesn’t interest the customers (students), the teacher will change it in order to keep the customers attentive.

During their classes, if American teachers notice that students aren’t paying attention, they will often include several amusing anecdotes that they tell throughout the class to keep their students’ focus.

For example, during a physics class, it would not be uncommon for an American professor to stop the lecture to talk to students about how Herman Weyl (one of the early proponents of group theory) had an affair with Erwin Schrodinger’s (the physicist who’s best known not only for his quantum mechanics equation but also for his potentially dead cat) wife, or how Murray Gell-Mann (who won the 1969 Nobel Prize in physics) was so narcissistic that he once warned his cab driver not to cash his check, because he believed that his signature was worth more than his cab fare had been.

American teachers will also include anecdotal stories from their own lives if these stories have any relevance to the subject matter.

Zero Tolerance

Americans typically prefer rules that are very specific, but not meant to be followed to the letter. Nevertheless, recently in response to a lot of complaints about inconsistencies in disciplining misbehaving students, many American school systems have started adopting strict zero tolerance policies.

These policies typically state that any student committing a wrongdoing will receive the same pre-determined punishment, no matter what the specifics of his/her offense are.

Schools have had quite a bit of trouble implementing these policies, and statistics have shown that the rigid rules have actually led to elevated dropout rates and an increasing number of suspensions. This is largely because American students are used to having a little “wiggle room,” and weren’t accustomed to the strict enforcement policy.

Wiggle room – permission to slightly bend a couple of rules, as long as most of the rules are followed.

All theory is gray

To deduce is to infer certain consequences from general premises (assumptions, propositions). Infer means to form an opinion, to reach a conclusion based on facts. Stated simply, to apply the general to the specific. This is a central part of how Germans think.

Deductive thinking is in German commercial law. What work processes should look like are very specifically defined. They should, for example, be based on German laws governing safety, but be shaped by overall knowledge of the respective company.

Work process, therefore, are based both on theory (safety laws) and on practice (knowhow developed over years).

The renowned German dual vocational training is based on this logic. The students in vocational schools learn at the same time theory and practice (or application). The so-called gray theory – classroom learning – is a requirement.

Business Majors

Business has long been a cornerstone of American culture. The American Dream is typically associated with the ability to start with almost nothing, and through the virtues of business, to rise to great wealth and social stature.

Although the U.S. is no longer the country with the largest rate of social mobility in the world Americans still hold business savvy and an ability to rise in social stature in high prestige.

The most popular major for American university students is business, with approximately 22% of graduates. Science and engineering are the least popular majors, with approximately 5% of American students choosing engineering, and only 1.4% choosing physical sciences.

As a result of this business prestige, in every American engineer you’ll find a businessperson – someone who’s always looking to get the best for less, and will never consider quality without also considering the cost necessary to achieve it.

Prussian Reforms

Much of what is Germany has its roots in the Prussian reforms of the early 19th Century. Napoleon‘s rapid defeat of Prussia in 1806/07 led to a deep-dive analysis of what went wrong, of what required reform. The Germans radically changed their agricultural system, their business laws, their military training, and most importantly their system of education.

Public eduction for all was introduced. The universities adopted the Humboldt education philosophy, which stressed free and independent inquiry and teaching. Knowledge quickly became the foundation of a modern Prussian economy and state, in many ways for contemporary Germany.

The Prussian Reforms also addressed state institutions. A system of professional civil servants and a bureaucracy was instituted. Bureaucracy then stood for efficiency and professionalism. The tax laws were simplified and made transparent. The state should function more efficiently and become a motor for positive change.

Germany today remains a rather bureaucratic country, with its scores of civil servants, rules and laws. It is a country where one simply cannot do as one pleases. From the perspective of other societies this is a limitation on freedom. Germans, though, view it as a sign of security and stability. Doing things the right way, punctuality, reliability, predictability, following the rules, bureaucracy. Germany has a 200 year history of these. They are who the Germans are as a people.