A Touch Of *Elitism* In German School Policy For The Disabled

Disabled kids can be integrated in regular classes, but only if they are on the university track.

A UN convention stipulates that disabled children have a right to be educated with non-disabled children
A UN convention stipulates that disabled children have a right to be educated with non-disabled children
Yannik Buhl

WALLDORF — Things seemed clear to Kerstin Ehrhardt: Next school year her son Henri would be attending high school in Walldorf in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg.

Henri has Down Syndrome, but at his school he was part of a model experiment with two other mentally disabled children, all three of whom attended regular school classes. But while the other two children have been accepted into high school because they had chosen the program to prepare for the Abitur exam, which puts students on the university track, Henri is not. The powers that be at the high school thus refused him admission because it would require a separate pilot project.

Since then controversy has broken out about the question of inclusion — non-disabled and disabled children learning together in the same classes — in higher school. Henri’s mother, Kirsten Ehrhardt, believes that "no differences should be made with regard to the children." She has the state school board in Mannheim and the education authority in the town of Walldorf on her side, with the school providing the specialized teachers offering to follow Henri on to high school. Moreover, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that disabled children have a right to be educated with non-disabled children.

If the pilot project comes through Walldorf would be the first high school in Baden-Württemberg with a fully inclusive class. For all parents, a fundamental issue is at stake. "It has to be absolutely clear that the principle of inclusion is something that concerns all kinds and levels of schools," says Ehrhardt.

The mother says the risk is that more special systems, for disabled and otherwise, continue to be created. Ehrhardt finds it particularly important that no exception be made for the high school “elite” pursuing the road to university.

The high school principal, Marianne Falkner, told Süddeutsche Zeitung that her school always accepted disabled kids so long as they intended to go for the Abitur. "It hurts a lot to find ourselves pushed into the category of being against people with disabilities." But Falkner also defended the decision not to accept Henri, saying that there presently is no legal framework for dealing with a case such as his.

Fast solution

Falkner added that she didn’t think they could presently provide the kind of support to kids like Henri whose goals for his high school education differed from the norm and observes that his non-acceptance only concerns the coming school year.

Meanwhile Gerd Weimer, the state’s commissioner for matters regarding people with disabilities, is urging a quick solution to the dilemma because despite the clear guidelines in the UN convention "the fact that the entire faculty of a high school believes that inclusion doesn’t concern their school is a fatal sign." Implementation of the inclusion idea is taking more time than expected, Weimer said, while "people with disabilities want an inclusive approach right now."

The case has also created a stir beyond state boundaries. Associations for the disabled all over Germany are protesting the high school’s decision. "The UN convention specifically addresses all the parts of a state, so how can a high school take it upon itself to make an exception like that?" asks Dorothea Terpitz from the Verein Gemeinsam Leben in Hesse, an association that supports inclusion for all.

Both the parents of the three disabled children as well as Walldorf high school see it as the duty of state Minister of Education, Youth and Sports Andreas Stoch to clear the matter up. But his ministry is reluctant to lead a pilot project and prefers negotiation.

"The Ministry is in discussion with all concerned in order to try and find a solution," it said in a statement.

Stoch stressed the need to make schools understand the degree of support they get from the specialized teachers that work with the disabled children. He also pointed out that the decision with regard to the pilot project was still pending.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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