The Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism

Antisemitism in schools: an overview of the reality throughout the Federal Republic of Germany

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According to scientific research there appears to be very little awareness of the problem and very little commitment to combatting Antisemitism among role holders (“actors”) in German schools in the various regional states.

Professor Dr. Samuel Salzborn of the Center for Research on Antisemitism (ZfA) of the Technical University in Berlin and Dr. Alexandra Kott of the Institute of Political Sciences at the University of the Justus Liebig in Giessen presented “an overview of the reality on the ground” while conducting the very first comparative assessment throughout the Federal Republic of Germany on the subject of “Antisemitism in the classroom”. The current state of affairs, in the wake of Antisemitic incidents in German schools in recent months, is summed up and focalized in the overview of the updated data available, hereby indicative of upcoming challenges for both academic research and politics.

The research, now being presented by Professor Samuel Salzborn and Dr. Alexander Kott, covers and documents the field of “Antisemitism at school” after systematically scouring the available facts and figures from other studies and professional literature. It demonstrates in which areas the data emerging from the research on antisemitism and political education, must be applied – if one wants to take action against Antisemitism in schools, he has to take into account different subjects from the curriculum and different types of schools. One thing has become clear: successful school-based intervention against Antisemitism can only be guaranteed through a combination of advocacy, prevention, intervention and suppression.

A direct confrontation based on facts, with issues such as Antisemitism, Nazism and the State of Israel, as well as Jewish religion, culture and history as included in the subjects being taught in school as part of the humanities and social sciences, is indeed required and is already planned in many curricula. But the indirect addressment of the issue, through which the cognitive and emotional core which is inherent to Antisemitic actions, may be removed, is also relevant here. This means that the inculcation of abstract thinking and concrete sense/ identification within the teaching of the arts, sports, and natural sciences may contribute decisively to the prevention of Antisemitism among young students.

Alongside university training and challenges for school principals and school supervisors, the overview also provides insight into the steps undertaken so far and those planned by the specific district states of Germany. The culture ministries of the regional states, as well as the Conference of the Ministers of Culture (KMK), have already recognized the problem in principle, but according to the overview it is still possible to considerably expand and develop this recognition into concrete measures and structural changes.

The attitudes of the cultural ministries have been revealed to be very differing from one another”- this according to Antisemitism researcher Samuel Salzborn. While the state of Reihnland-Pfalz has its focus almost exclusively on a range of activities outside the school that are voluntary, such as trips to memorial sites, where there is no reporting procedure for antisemitic incidents – Berlin has a statistically accurate system for collecting data and reports, and it has concrete contact persons within the relevant authorities. In order to avoid narrowing down Judaism to Nazism alone, the study program in Berlin and Brendenburg for grades 7 and 8, for example, included within its history curriculum a lengthy module program entitled “Jews, Christians and Muslims.” The Bavarian and Hamburg states, meanwhile, did not provide any information about measures taken as part of the combat against anti –Semitism in the classroom.

According to the overview, Antisemitic incidents cannot be solved solely through pedagogical measures. Moreover, it is necessary to determine that questionable and dangerous trends are prevalent within the pedagogical field: on the one hand, when the orientation directed at nurturing skills is prioritized above learning facts, and on the other hand, when a multi-faceted perspective is being misused and misunderstood so that Antisemitism is, in effect, being tolerated. It is precisely in terms of the cultural offices of the regional states in Germany that there is a concrete need for action in the structural political sphere, if not always simply to respond to Antisemitic incidents, but to prevent them in advance, and to allow students, teachers and school administrators to reduce the extent of Antisemitism in schools on an ongoing and indeed long-term basis.

In addition, at the heart of the problem are textbooks, which often fail to meet the requirements and lag behind the framework of the guidelines and curricula, and so significantly cut down on the taught scale of these subjects. According to Professor Salzburg and Dr. Kott, the absence of licensing and approval procedures for textbooks in many states of the German district should be revaluated, as it is argued that school administrations, professional conferences and often authors of textbooks do not have the competences and skills in the domains of Antisemitism, Judaism and Israel, which are necessary in order to provide qualitative teaching materials.