Why do we teach German?
October 2-8 is National German Week, and the AATG is raising awareness about the study of German and the need for more future German teachers! As stated on their website, “TEACH GERMAN Day is designed to recognize the important role that German teachers play in our schools and communities and encourage the next generation of German teachers.” As part of AATG’s “Teach German Day” initiative, we are sharing some personal reflections on our profession.
Here are some responses from faculty involved in the “Diversity, Decolonialization, and the German Curriculum” initiative:
I had a great high school German teacher who not only taught us vocabulary and grammar, but he also introduced us to “Seeräuber Jenny” from Dreigroschenoper and some truly weird stories by Peter Bichsel. I am grateful to Herr Suchomel for creating an immersion environment in the classroom, and for his passion as a teacher. After graduation, I was a high school exchange student at a Gymnasium in Schleswig-Holstein, and discovered first-hand that Germany is much more than Lederhosen and the Alps, but in fact that there are small fishing villages and sandy coasts. I had amazing Gastfamilien and made friends who I am still in touch with today. For me, the best part about being a German teacher is the fact that language classes open students up to new worlds and challenge some of their preexisting ideas about what is “normal” or taken for granted. I’m always learning with my students and from my students! I love teaching new texts and films and get excited to go to class to see what students will have to say about them. It’s a great profession that allows you to have friends all over the world, to keep exploring new cities and landscapes, to read different authors and genres, and to learn more about the complexities of what it means to be a German speaker in the world today. As college German professors, we rely so much on the amazing work done by German teachers in the schools. If you’re passionate about German and teaching, you will be a great German teacher!
-Kathryn Sederberg, Kalamazoo College
Teaching German to students in the U.S. made me look at my personal background in the East of Germany, my first language, and the culture around me when I grew up, in an entirely new light. There are moments when we discuss vocabulary terms only to realize that there are so many aspects and histories behind each word. This experience brings me joy because these conversations can lead to a chain of other beautiful and meaningful words. One thing that seems to stand out as a common goal for my students is being able to find other ways to convey what they want to say, even if they do not know the word. For the past few weeks, we have been covering the German elections in my conversational class. One of my students wrote in a reflection paper that she is not fond of discussing politics. She was unfamiliar with a lot of words and phrases that were being used in class and then had to look them up on her own. However, when her American friends were speaking about the election in the aftermath, she was able to give them more-in-depth information on the election process in Germany. I was so proud of her for being able to be an expert at this moment with her friends. It is amazing to see the students' growth over the course of one semester, barely fifteen weeks, where they are excited, tired, inspired, frustrated, and all struggle and succeed-- each in their own way. The uniqueness of each student surprises me over and over again.
- Christin Zenker, Washington University in St. Louis
One thing I wish everyone knew about teaching German is that it is a broadening field with increasing reach beyond the classic “lang and lit” model. As someone with an interdisciplinary background who came to German Studies through the “side door,” I find this trajectory highly rewarding to teach and remarkably enriching for students. Today’s German course topics, texts and tasks require students to critically and comparatively examine diverse spheres of everyday life and culturally embedded modes of thought from several analytical perspectives. But most exciting to me is the opening of German Studies to become a space for awareness raising and activism surrounding social justice issues—racism, environmental justice, gender equality, etc.—making the study of the German-speaking world a space for critical reflection on students’ home cultures.
- Amanda Randall, St. Olaf College
Something magical (and strange) takes place when learning a new language. Students feel unsettled in the first semesters and slowly come to find a firm ground to stand on in new linguistic and cultural contexts. I feel that these moments in our German language and culture courses have great potential for transformation: that is, because they have the potential to uproot students from the way they have done things (linguistically and otherwise), they offer important chances for social change. This is why German Studies in particular and language/culture studies in general are so important to me and why I love being part of this profession.
- Ervin Malakaj, Sam Houston State University
I love to inspire my students to push their boundaries and discover that they can do much more with the language than they themselves thought possible. This can happen at all stages of language learning. In 101, students feel empowered, when, after less than four weeks of German, they are able to ask enough questions to find out a fellow student’s secret identity during an in-class game. Last semester, I challenged advanced students of German to write a DADA-style poem that they performed in an avant-garde concert on campus. The whole class was nervous when I told them what we’re going to do (including me); however, the resulting poems were fantastic and after the performance, everyone beamed with pride! In moments like these, students grow through their use of German and that’s why I love being a German teacher.
- Petra Watzke, Skidmore College
Introduction: Das Unbehagen im Deutschunterricht
Two years ago, I began in a tenure-track position in German at St. Olaf College, a small Lutheran-affiliated liberal arts college located in southern Minnesota. My graduate training in the Department of Germanic Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, together with transdisciplinary undergraduate study and master’s-level work in cultural anthropology at other institutions, prepared me well to work in a department that is beginning to transition to a content-based curriculum (CBI) aligned with the dominant foreign language (FL) curriculum design maxim: content from the beginning, language throughout (Bernhardt & Berman 1999; Byrnes 2002; Swaffar & Urlaub 2016), that is, creating a “more coherent curriculum in which language, culture, and literature are taught as a continuous whole” (MLA 2007: 237) whereby students acquire “the ability to read, and write, and speak with critical discernment about important matters in the world through and awareness of and facility with multiple languages” (Ryshina-Pankova and Byrnes 2017: 425). The formal move from the communicative method and bifurcated language-before-culture / “meal-before-dessert” paradigm to CBI resonates well with my scholarly orientation. But in transitioning from graduate study focused on researching the history of German-speaking cultural anthropology to daily and rigorous engagement with questions pedagogy and curriculum design, I felt a growing sense of unease.
This Unbehagen concerned the cultural content being taught, that is, the image of “German” culture conveyed to students in the thematic organization, text selection, and pedagogical scaffolding of beginning- and intermediate-level textbooks, but also in broader scholarly discussions of foreign language curriculum design encountered in publications, conferences and teaching workshops in the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany. True, representations of more diverse identities and experiences—especially those that are defined in hybrid ethnic terms, like Turkish German and Afro-German—have been appearing with greater frequency in both German Studies literary and cultural research and in teaching materials. But these identities still appear marginal, even tokenized, against the ethno-national norm of “German” identity.
When consulting with St. Olaf colleagues about which curricular models we might adapt from other recognized foreign language programs, I winced at the idea that the intermediate sequence for which I am responsible be framed in terms of “being German.” The ultimate point of that thematic framing—that all individuals are socialized into some set of more or less commonly held practices, institutions and beliefs—is certainly important for students to recognize and is, in fact, affirmed in the 2007 MLA Report, Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World, and the ACTFL World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages. Yet, to my ears, the notion of “being German”—or “being” any ethno-national identity descriptor, for that matter—rings prescriptive and undifferentiated. Even the compromise framework at which the German faculty arrived, “becoming German,” meant to better highlight diverse positionalities and the processual nature of identity-formation in a society, left me feeling discomfited because it still seems to retain a teleology of unreflected Leitkultur that essentializes a certain class and regional identity and precludes discussion of cultural literacy in terms of identity politics or diversity within “German” culture.
Further heightening my unease are the various strands of influence reflected in both popular and academic commentary on the current political climate in the US and Europe, where issues of ethnicity, religion, migration and integration, but also gender and ability, are at the forefront of news and politics. It has taken some time, research, and intentional conversations with likewise unsettled professional peers and mentors to articulate the core of what has been bothering me about German language and culture teaching in US higher education. And it is this: despite instructors’, SLE scholars’, and textbook publishers’ increasing awareness of and sincere efforts to better reflect in the curriculum the diversity within the German-speaking world, there persists a monolithic, ethno-national, heteronormative and ableist image of what it is to “be” and “become” “German” that colors or even overshadows the presentation of and engagement with difference—and, by extension, with critical questions of social justice—within the cultural areas about which we Germanists teach.
The “German” curriculum and the notion of “German” identity are constructs two centuries in the making that reflect a narrow image—namely, that of the Federal Republic of Germany—of what it means to “be German.” That is, the ethnic-national definition of “Germanness”—that one does not “become” German, but can only really “be” German through bloodline—that underpinned Germany’s nineteenth-century national unification and successor nationalisms persists in German Studies curricula in their tendency to eschew or marginalize both the diversity of German-speaking communities (Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, the GDR, as well as communities of German-speakers outside of Europe, both today and historically) and the diverse communities and identities (ethnic and national, but also gender, class) within German-speaking spheres. At best, diversity appears as a tokenized side-note to the main, ethno-national cultural narratives of FRG-Germanness—“cultural capsules” introducing Islam in Germany or characteristics of Schweizerdeutsch. At worst, diversity appears as a social problem requiring resolution through immigration policy, integration education, and the like.
This tendency to diversify curricula without questioning the social stratification implied in the ways the “Others” of the German-speaking world are presented (or not) suggests that committing to more fully diversifying the German Studies curriculum is not enough: the curriculum must concomitantly be decolonialized. Where diversifying the curriculum entails recognizing and engaging the real and legitimate internal diversity and complexity of German-speaking societies, not just comparisons to the outside, decolonializing entails recognizing, questioning, and destabilizing the hegemonies implicated in the construction of cultures, canons, and curricula. In a sense, decolonialization serve as a critique of existing diversification efforts, for Zoé Samudzi (2016) pointedly states, “The inclusion of marginalized identities and experiences without decentering dominant narratives is an understanding of diversity that leaves oppressive structures intact, and in fact, insulates them from criticism.”
Understood in this way, to diversify and decolonialize the German Studies curriculum does not mean simply “adding” or “replacing” cultural texts in order to include a wider array experiences and identities within German-speaking societies today, but rather a paradigmatic shift that demands 1) a new, social justice-oriented set of intended learning outcomes and organizing frameworks that, in turn, would inform both 2) the selection and articulation of themes and 3) the selection, scaffolding and articulation of texts and tasks within those themes. If the progress toward instantiating translingual and transcultural competences in our curricula in order to prepare students for living in a “changed world” (MLA 2007) has stalled, as Ryshina-Pankova and Byrnes argue (2017: 424), then perhaps the initiative to diversity and decolonialize the German Studies curriculum for a still further changing world could prove the critical elaboration to drive that mission back into dynamic motion.
One might rightly ask, how can we teach students to deconstruct and challenge the stereotypes, normativities and potential injustices underlying narratives of “Germanness” if they do not first have the chance to encounter those “standard” images and discourses? The practical and philosophical question of what texts would be displaced in order to make space for greater polyvocality and criticism is an issue I discuss later in this blog. Suffice it to say here that an iconoclastic discarding of the texts and narratives from which German Studies curricula are still most frequently built is not what I am advocating precisely because that could undermine the process of reflexive, critical learning and, moreover, could render the field unrecognizable to students whose horizon of expectations (Jauss 1970: 12) for German Studies must first be met before it can be—indeed, in order for it to be—transformed.
Rather, decolonializing the German Studies curriculum would entail both diversifying and decentering the cultural narratives within the “German” cultural content in order to unsettle the ethno-national, largely FRG-centered (with Austria, Switzerland and the GDR on the margins, but still positioned as legitimately, if erroneously, “German”) image of the German-speaking world. Connecting German-speaking Europe to other world cultures and to its own cultural politics in this way can help students to recognize themselves more readily as products of culture and occupiers of positionalities within societies that are likewise internally diverse. Confronting German-speaking world cultures in this shifted framing would provide students with opportunities to confront their own essentialized worldviews and to recover an awareness of diversity where only sameness had been seen before. Especially in a social and political climate in which isolationism, racism, sexism and other forms of individual and institutionalized discrimination appear emboldened and civil, reasoned public discourse becomes suppressed, the project of diversifying and decolonializing the German Studies curriculum becomes an ethical enterprise that is the heart of the humanities mission to instill in students attitudes and aptitudes for building and living a more connected, not less world.
My intent with this inaugural blog entry of the Diversity, Decolonialization and the German Curriculum (DDGC) web community is to identify the manifold stakes (the “why?”) and practical considerations (the “how?”) we instructors face in thinking through how to diversify and decolonialize our curricula. From the enterprise of higher education and the humanities to the “scene on the ground” at my home institution, I see potential to answer to needs of a broad, interlocking array of constituents. As for the many practical challenges that typically accompany a paradigm shift, I address these in terms of two of my primary concerns, namely curriculum redesign and conditions of implementation.
My ultimate hope for this blog entry is for it to be an invitation for further discussion, idea- and resource-sharing, and encouragement for all those seeking to infuse the German Studies curriculum with diverse perspectives and social criticism by decentering the dominant cultural narratives in our inherited materials and intellectual habits and by providing students with the linguistic tools with which to engage with social justice issues in “transcultural” comparison, not just between national communities “C1” and “C2”, but between stakeholders within a German-speaking sphere that is anything but homogeneous and monolithic.
The Stakes of DDGC for the Humanities and for German Studies
The latest disciplinary stock-takings confirm that the field of German Studies has diversified and decentered its disciplinary identity. The training, research and teaching of Germanists extends from language and literature in all disciplinary directions—from film and media studies to STEM and environmental studies to ethnography and all other configurations of cultural studies and social sciences. Institutionally, however, German programs remain housed with the modern languages within humanities faculties. In that sense, the fate of German Studies is still tied tightly to the fate of the humanities, and as we cannot help but hear in public and institutional discourse, the humanities are facing a “crisis.”
There is ongoing debate among humanities scholars about that crisis, asking what the mission and value of their disciplines are, could and should be, particularly in light of the social cynicism and economic pragmatism found in public opinion and discourse and in political and educational policy decisions concerning the value of university education in general. Such debates about the value and role of the humanities in US higher education have their roots in the 1970s and 80s (Newfield 1995, 2016; Nussbaum 1997, 2010; Smith 2015), but the political climate surrounding and especially following the 2016 presidential election has infused the discussion with a new urgency to move past the discourse of “crisis” and toward actionable imagining of possible ways forward that still recall the traditional mission of humanities education, but that recapture them for a new set of social and political realities.
In discussing how humanities fields must reshape the discourse surrounding their mission and value, for example, Gary Schmidt observed at a 2017 meeting of the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages that a goal of the humanities is to help students to become souverän—both confident and competent—when discussing and acting upon the pressing social, political, ethical questions of the day. Yet college students and all those who are invested in their futures are undeniably and understandably concerned about the value of a humanities degree, especially considering the scandalously high cost of higher education. Still coping with the economic, social and ideological aftermath of the 2007-08 economic downturn, many are justifiably more worried about what kind of livelihood one can expect at the other end of a university degree program, if one can afford one at all, than about the diversity of their own educational experiences. That the fate of initiatives to provide more equitable access to university education remains unclear and contested only exacerbates the dilemma.
Criticisms of the various exclusionary structures of higher education and the classic (and classist) notion of Bildung undergirding the humanities are valid. Yet from Humboldt to Habermas, Nussbaum to Newfield, there remains overriding agreement that the aim and value of advanced study and of the humanities’ role within curricula is to cultivate a humane citizenry and to foster the habits of self-cultivation for the sake of all humanity. In that sense, we must not shrink from, but rather double down on, the mission of the humanities as not just a public good, but as good for the public (Newfield 2016).
Despite, or perhaps as a result of the precarity surrounding access to higher education and dissenting evaluations of its purpose and value, students are caught in a paradox: they are invested in seeing and affecting social change (Fox 2012), yet driven toward “practical” educational choices. For those students, the way forward that they see might not entail a humanities major, but rather a major in the social sciences, as those fields appear to offer a way to marry intellectual rigor and social criticism with “practical” skills and methods applicable in the job market where graduates can begin immediately affecting change while also securing a more stable livelihood.
This perception has had a negative effect on humanities course enrollments, faculty hiring, and program sustainability. In response, proposals for reframing the value of the humanities range from shoring up the traditional core of aesthetics and hermeneutics in order to rescue the humanities on their own terms, to finding transdisciplinary alignments with STEM fields, social sciences, and business in order to reposition the humanities not as a support (and hence ancillary) to those fields, but rather at the core of all human enterprise because the humanities are the disciplines articulating the questions of what it means to be human and humane, and eliciting diverse answers to those questions.
One finds these same dilemmas and strategies debated within the fields of modern languages, most recently in “The Issue” section of the The Modern Language Journal (Summer 2017). There, Marianna Ryshina-Pankova and Heidi Byrnes (p. 424) remind readers not to lose sight of the core contribution of foreign language studies within the humanities: “the issue is not about disciplinarity,” they argue, but is rather “a sophisticated linking of best knowledge about instructed language learning for literate adults with content that is both possible from the standpoint of emerging L2 abilities and desirable as learners engage with the other culture(s).” Yet the question of what content is “desirable” has clearly been influenced by outside pressures, including students’ (and education funders’) economic concerns and program survival fears. In German Studies, initiatives to incorporate and collaborate with STEM fields and international business programs are beginning to flourish and receive ample support from organizations like the Goethe-Institut and AATG. These are positive developments in the sense that they are successfully addressing the question of “relevance” of our field. Nonetheless, the argument for caution and moderation must be taken seriously, lest in our strivings to make German “relevant” to undergraduates we acquiesce to the pragmatist paradigm of higher education and ultimately undermine our holistic intellectual mission and identity by recasting German language and cultural learning as a “soft” career tool.
By the same token, the strategy of shoring up programs strictly along the lines of philology and aesthetics in the hopes that students will recognizes, as we do, that common human experiences and concerns can be enlightened through the study of linguistics and literature also can falter if a greater balance of voices and perspectives in the texts from which we build our canon is not attained. Too often, these texts are still couched in terms of canonicity and/or correctness, rather than as windows into still-current questions about the relations of a cultural hegemony and those living it. As German Studies moves ever further into an interdisciplinary identity and practice, it may be in our best interest—for our own survival and for the sake of social justice and humanity—to find a path between the conservative and the collaborative positions, to reform the field so as to teach young citizens via critical, comparative study of German languages and cultures how and why to think and act humanely in a diverse, globally connected, yet in places highly unjust and inhumane society.
In his interpretation of the Humboldtian vision, German education reformer Hartmut von Hentig lists as the first of six constituent criteria for a comprehensive understanding of Bildung: “Abscheu und Abwehr von Unmenschlichkeit” (Hentig 2009). This is Bildung not as a kind of acculturation mission or a matter of canonicity aiming at a social norm, but rather as clarification of what is acceptable and unacceptable in relations between human beings and nations. More poignantly, John McCumber (2016) captures the stakes of strategically repositioning the humanities when he asks, can you imagine a “society full of young people who are creative energetic, entrepreneurial, technologically informed--and wholly comfortable with mass slaughter? I can, I’m in a German department.” Captured in this pithy remark is the special role that German Studies can play in educating a humane and just citizenry.
If we are to successfully confront the manifold social, political and economic pressures on our field, on the humanities, and on higher education, we must recognize and critically reevaluate the ethical implications of our teaching. In order to connect the value of canonical works and key cultural narratives of the German-speaking world to the mission of the humanities, our field must broaden its vision beyond "teaching" the history and implications of National Socialism, for instance, to illuminating the cultural, personal, and social stakes that moved individuals to question, to embrace, or to reject these politics—not as heroes or villains, but in terms of lived, everyday experience. Such a broadened vision also entails problematizing and transforming the artistic canons and cultural narratives themselves. The diversification of today’s German Studies curriculum with the introduction of content concerning migration, racism, gender bias, and colonialism is an important starting point. Admirable progress in this direction is already being made at the curricular level, even if much of that work is not yet published in academic sources. But such efforts to diversify the cultural narratives will prove inadequate to the mission of the humanities if those texts are not scaffolded with a more critical intent to decolonialize, that is, to decenter ethnocentric cultural narratives, to de-tokenize identities, and, ultimately, to place questions of social justice at the center of the curriculum. Diversification alone will not suffice to transform the German Studies curriculum at all levels into an enterprise of cultivating a humane, empathetic citizenry.
The stakes associated with diversifying and decolonializing the German curriculum today are the same for the field of German Studies as for the humanities and for higher education. For institutions, divisions and programs, the matter comes down to articulating and actualizing a mission for the sake of survival: to reform the image and work of the humanities in order to continue forming a humane humanity. In this way, the project of diversifying and decolonializing the German Studies curriculum has very tangible implications when it is understood as aligned with a transforming humanities mission. Curricular reform has implications for students, who do, could, and many argue should reflect a broader range of identities, experiences and motivations for learning German language and German-language cultures as attested at various sites and eras; for German Studies departments under pressure to increase enrollments or else see their programs reduced or closed; for colleges and universities under pressure to balance budgets, affordability, more equal access and mission; and for the humanities under pressure to prove their value to society vis-a-vis career outcomes and cultivating a humane citizenry.
Before I turn to the question of how we can realize this mission in German Studies classrooms, departments, and professional organizations, I would like to share how my commitment to this project evolved in response to recent events at my institution. The stakes of DDGC reach to every level in which our field is implicated. But it was when I witnessed how my college came face-to-face with racism on campus that diversifying and decolonializing the German curriculum truly shifted for me from a lofty ideal to an ethical imperative.
DDGC at St. Olaf College: My View from “The Hill”
Across the country, colleges and universities are encountering and working to address campus incidents of racism, sexism, and other forms of institutional and individual discrimination and injustice. Such concerns and conflicts are arising at my institution, too. This on-the-ground reality makes the humanities mission to play a leading role in helping not only individuals, but institutions to commit to equitably and respectfully cultivating a humane, civil citizenry more pressing than ever. I do not wish to suggest that St. Olaf College is not exemplary of what happens when college campuses face these issues; rather, I recount a set of recent events concerning racism at my institution because it has been for me the most intimate, grounded example of why the DDGC initiative is so important.
In writing about the conflict over racism at St. Olaf College, I endeavor to practice the ethics of ethnography: acknowledging the authors’s positionality (reflexivity), providing for polyvocality and double-voicing, and resisting the aura of linear narration and the redemptive ending. To write this section, I consulted members of the St. Olaf community who occupy different positions concerning these events, but ultimately, the experience I describe and the positionality most strongly reflected is my own. My account is not representative of the whole St. Olaf community, nor is St. Olaf representative of US colleges. I cannot offer a complete account of everything that happened nor can I generalize the experiences and perceptions of the students, faculty, staff, administrators, and other community members. I do embed a number of hyperlinks and encourage you to read, watch and listen to accounts from A Collective for Change on The Hill, St. Olaf College, and local, regional and national news media to assemble more viewpoints. Let me stress that what happened at St. Olaf was a serious, intense conflict that is still unresolved and continues to provoke ambivalence, frustration, hurt, and anger among different parties concerning different aspects. Across the spectrum positionalities, I think I can safely say it was an overwhelming experience for much of the community.
When I began teaching on “The Hill,” as St. Olaf is nicknamed, my first impression was of a largely homogeneous student and faculty body. The St. Olaf community is predominantly white, middle-/upper-class and midwestern (myself included). This is not to say that economic, racial, gender, ability and national diversity are absent or undervalued here. Still, there seemed to be a certain innocuousness to diversity’s appearance and representation at St. Olaf. The more I engaged with and observed students and colleagues, however, the more I realized that there is, in fact, more diversity here than meets the eye. Not only did various more “visible” diversities become more apparent to me, the ideological diversity within the St. Olaf community—including within its constitutive, ostensibly visible “communities”—did, as well. In this regard, the St. Olaf community mirrors more closely the range of social positions and political perspectives found in the US as a whole. This particular kind of diversity became poignantly clear in the run-up to and wake of the 2016 presidential election through the public emergence of conflicts over politics and identity, and racial identity in particular.
If the mission of higher education, and the humanities in particular, is to teach young citizens of a diverse society to examine evidence carefully and critically and to articulate their positions respectfully and effectively so that, even if there is not complete consensus, there may be humaneness and civility that are prerequisite to the pursuit of systemic justice, then diversity of experience, identity and thought can and should be considered something valuable for teaching. As teachers and models for our students, we must be cautious not to tokenize or marginalize certain experiences for didactic value. I ask myself, how can I cultivate a sense of community among students as a whole and among students in my classes in particular and still take adequate account of differences?
What we can try to convey is that individual and group identities are not only diverse, but also complex. Recognizing and comprehending the complexity of identity can be uncomfortable for some and empowering for others. As a member of the St. Olaf faculty and community, I believe it is my responsibility to model for students how they can engage respectfully and critically with divergent perspectives without retreating from discomfort when a matter is complex or when it becomes explosive. At the same time, learning how to understand and respond to complexity is a challenge that also extends to faculty, staff and administrators, especially when tense situations like the one I describe throw into relief our positions on spectrums of privilege and power. Factors like employment or tenure status, race and gender identity, seniority and administrative level affect individual choices about engagement, including considerations of self-presentation and even self-preservation. The recent events and debates surrounding racism at St. Olaf caused me to confront and contemplate both the importance and challenge of living, witnessing and teaching complexity and how my own positionality affects how I respond to and engage with complex social justice issues (including how and what I write about my institution in this blog post).
This past academic year, the St. Olaf campus was shocked into attention by the anonymous appearance of racial epithets scrawled on whiteboards and post-it notes in classrooms, dorms and the library. Through the efforts of engaged students and faculty members, the stories of students of color confronted with micro-aggressions and tokenism, and even by existential threats, were brought to public forum. In order to raise the issue of racial discrimination and threats on campus to community awareness and administrative priority, a movement of students of color, “A Collective for Change on The Hill,” organized a set of peaceful protest actions—teach-ins, building occupations, class boycotts, confrontations and conversations with administration, all with social media, campus media, and eventually national press coverage. The students of The Collective found much student and faculty support, but overall student, faculty and administrative perspectives on the matter remained divided.
Some interactions became confrontational. The atmosphere became extremely tense. On May 1, the day of the class boycott and sit-in in Tomson Hall—coincidentally where my office is located—in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the situation, I alternated between joining the bursting atrium crowd to watch the speeches and discussions; watching the live stream of the teach-in and meeting with administrators happening in a large, overfilled lecture hall; and following the coverage on social, regional and national media. I felt torn when the administration’s invitation to go chapel to hear Prof. Paul Briggs, a person of color and pre-tenure faculty member, speak became a point of contention. Many community members (ultimately, myself included) chose to leave the Tomson sit-in to go to the chapel service, but many others chose to stay there in solidarity, since an agreement with the administration concerning The Collective’s demands had not yet been reached.
At chapel, I listened to Professor Briggs talk about our current situation in terms of “a family trying to find itself,” about patience, about “trust[ing] the messiness of the process,” about individual fears about where to join in—“but do join in,” he encouraged. Later that day, as the dialogue between administration and students was nearing resolution, Professor Briggs gave another public address. He reported feeling torn, wishing he could have been with the students and at the chapel at once. I am still not sure how to resolve his profession of regret with the fact that his chapel talk resonated with me. In reflection, I recognize that how one chooses to respond in such moments is a function of positionality and relative privilege. I imagine many others also felt and still feel torn—about chapel and about the situation as a whole—but our ambivalence is not all the same because our positionalities are not all the same. I noticed this identity-tied complexity of reaction in classes later that week, as I, like many of my faculty peers, made space for students to write and talk with each other about what they had just experienced. There again, I witnessed St. Olaf’s philosophical and political diversity, including among students of color, and admonished myself not to make assumptions about the definition and make-up of any social group or individual.
The afternoon of the Tomson Hall sit-in, President David Anderson signed a modified list of The Collective’s demands. Watching the final exchange on my computer screen, I was proud of our students and of my institution. Still, from all that had happened, it was clear this was not a resolution, but only a beginning. Like many US colleges and universities right now, the St. Olaf community is taking steps to address the issues of racism and social justice on campus and in the education we offer. At the administrative level, dialogue is continuing between students and the President’s Leadership Team (PLT) and a Task Force is being convened. The administration has also arranged large and small workshops for faculty and staff to learn how to better understand and talk about identity, power and privilege. These are not huge strides, but baby steps: uncertain, exuberant, awkward, anxious and a cause to celebrate. But there is still a long, difficult road ahead; there have been and will be falls and injuries.
In faculty forums, I have heard poignant expressions of concern and support for students and faculty members of color. I remember especially how one colleague described the St. Olaf community’s sincere, yet awkward effort to affect change and effectively teach social consciousness and justice. Faculty, staff and students—myself included—are still afraid of saying or doing the “wrong thing,” of alienating others and of exposing ourselves to judgment. I am endeavoring to overcome my fear and “join in,” in my life and in my teaching. Recognizing, confronting, and learning how to respond to social justice concerns and incidents and systems of injustice is something I am learning how to do and how to teach. I believed in the movement to diversify and decolonialize the German Studies curriculum before these events occurred; witnessing this situation on the ground on my campus has confirmed that conviction and sharpened my focus. This spring, I happened to also be writing my first comprehensive review statement. In it, I doubled down: stating my intentions to diversify, decenter and decolonialize my teaching—because it matters to German Studies; it matters to the humanities; it matters to US higher education; it matters to US society; it matters to humanity; but most immediately, because it matters for my students and my institution.
My department chair and mentor, Wendy Allen, reminded me in discussing this blog post that in our role as teachers, we can insist on habits of mind, not habits of heart, but that does not mean we should not try to connect critical aptitudes with empathetic attitudes. In the next section, I examine considerations and questions for how to affect students’ habits of mind through the German Studies curriculum, with an idealist humanist’s hope that if we cannot provoke concern for social justice, then we can at least offer students a framework for understanding culture—their own and that of others—that includes recognition and critical consideration of social justice concerns.
Habits of Mind, Habits of Heart
To this point, I have discussed “why” the German Studies curriculum should be both diversified and decolonialized by painting a picture of the multiple, interlocking stakes of the initiative for higher education, the humanities, and German Studies, and by recounting an example of the crucial importance of this paradigm shift in the context of my own institution. Now to the question of what we Germanists can do immediately and concretely in our own classes, departments and institutions. As with the process of addressing social justice issues on our campuses, in our country, and in the world, affecting change within individual German Studies programs will be a matter of baby steps—ones that need the support and investment of whole programs, not just individuals, in order to begin and to gain momentum.
This section is not a “how to.” Rather, it outlines the practicalities and nuances surrounding two central concerns: the process of curriculum design and the challenge of addressing resistance from those discomforted by or otherwise not convinced of the value of this shift. To ground the exposition, I want to first reiterate and elaborate how I see how the concept of decolonialization could be operationalized within German Studies in a way that implies more than the intuitive connotations associated with discussions of British and French colonialism specifically and with confronting racial injustice by including excluded groups and sites more generally. When I returned from the 2017 DDGC conference in Asheville, NC, and reported on what I learned there, my colleagues asked me what I meant by “decolonialization” and what it has to do with what we do in our department. I explained my understanding this way: diversifying and decolonializing the German curriculum entails:
These are the concrete points of intervention for curricular change. In short, decolonializing requires a fundamental reorientation of how we approach teaching students how to question the cultural content they encounter, rather than simply absorb it.
But the overall shift must first be conceived of in terms of the full range of pedagogical work that prioritizes decolonialization as the telos and framing of diversity in the curriculum. This reform process entails, in this order:
1.The Question of Design
All curriculum design rests on the selection, articulation and scaffolding of themes, texts and tasks. To design for diversity and decolonialization, this work should be aimed at helping learners acquire the desired new socially conscious, critical framework and the set of intellectual and linguistics habits that undergird it. For the many instructors trained in graduate programs that themselves have not or have only barely begun to diversity, let alone decolonialize, this kind of design work can seem an enormous, intimidating challenge. As difficult as those baptized in the classic canon may find the task, identifying new, more diverse texts is perhaps one of the more straightforward issues to solve, as ideas for new texts reflecting more diverse identities and experiences in and of the German-speaking sphere are circulating more widely than ever, and we must continue that work of resource sharing. Selecting and scaffolding course elements and sequences in a decolonializing frame is the more challenging task, but as this movement grows at the grassroots level, theoretical proposals and concrete examples of successful models will likewise proliferate in circulation to establish a more visible, accessible community within our field (see subsection 2 below).
As stated, we must begin by articulating the intended end points of study and a critical framework within which to design a cohesive curriculum. But when we only have so much space in a syllabus, only so many contact hours, only so many foreign language semester and major course requirements, only so much individual control over a shared curriculum, the task of redesign implies many more basic strategizing questions, the answers to which will necessarily vary by program capacity, orientation and institutional context. Questions and concerns that have occurred to or been suggested to me include:
What I would like to propose is the addition of a framework from outside the present scope of established FLE research and practice. That is postmodern ethnography, which I referenced in my discussion of the situation at St. Olaf. While the field of foreign language education has productively adopted and adapted several anthropological concepts for the development of means and measures for integrating culture with the language curriculum, I have noticed that the postmodern turn that took hold in the 1980 in dialogue with postcolonial theory and that now undergird the mainstream of cultural anthropology has not made that transfer. Perhaps adapting some of the central elements of the “writing culture critique” could offer the missing link between efforts to instantiate transcultural competence and a framing a decolonializing curriculum. These elements include:
In considering all of these issues of pedagogy and their potential theoretical underpinnings, we should bear in mind that although we are dealing with young adult learners at the college level, we should not be too quick to assume that most students enter our German programs ready and able to identify and confront paradigms that bracket off or exclude diverse voices (class, gender, ethnicity) and that reify structures of social stratification, marginalization and exclusion. This is why drawing the key critical frameworks through the whole curriculum, from first semester to senior capstones, is crucial.
Even if students are able to quickly grasp and operationalize the basic dialectic of constructing-deconstructing a cultural text—a first-year task you can do in the target language—opening a space for cultural criticism can provoke anxiety for some students as the affective filter of language learning becomes compounded with the affective filter of perspective sharing concerning complex and contentious social issues that might challenge or set in conflict learners’ different positionalities. Moreover, if a fundamental function of this new framework is to guide learners to critically examine their own cultural situatedness in order to create a base for empathy and receptiveness to complexity in a transcultural understanding transferable to all interactions, not just between the “C1” and “C2” of their German courses, then the core of the decolonializing frame may actually provoke resistance among some learners. It would be no surprise, then, if many students (and instructors) would feel more comfortable with the familiar ethno-national narratives even if they recognize that those are not fully or fairly representative of the diversity and complexity of culture in German-speaking spheres.
Not only can difference and complexity be uncomfortable to engage and hard to grasp, each learning community is composed of a different spectrum of positionalities that may be less obvious and cohesive than they appear, some of which may be less receptive or outright resistant to engaging culture in these ways. What do we do when habits of heart hinder the formation of new habits of mind? What do we do when students (or we instructors!) are reluctant to express critical thoughts plainly out of fear of offending or being judged? How do we address the question of what “authorizes” German Studies faculty members, supposedly responsible for teaching German language and “German” culture, to be arbiters of social justice thinking and dialogue? And, how can we respond to divergent habits of mind at the faculty level? The intellectual community of German Studies is richly diverse in its constituent areas of expertise and paradigm commitments. What if department colleagues are not convinced, for whatever reason, of the value of diversifying and decolonializing the curriculum?
Paradigm shifts are not simply a matter of the abrupt swelling and quick spreading of one individual’s disruptive idea, as Kuhn (1962) would have us believe. Paradigms evolve in and between communities of knowledge in response to external and internal pressures. They are more often non-linear, non-cohesive, rhizomatic, and best identifiable in retrospect. That the movement to decolonialize curricula and scholarly research was happening earlier in neighboring fields—English, Spanish and French, in particular—suggests that we in German Studies might have seen this movement coming. But recognizing potential change on the intellectual horizon is not sufficient to make an idea take root. I mentioned earlier that diversifying and decolonializing the German Studies curriculum cannot be achieved if only undertaken by individual instructors or through individual courses. Nonetheless, that is the grass roots level at which most of us must start. How, by whom, to what extent, and at what speed such critical redesign can be accomplished depends on one’s departmental and institutional context (as well as one’s tenure and employment status).
If you are creating a unit or a course on sustainability, include texts and scaffolding that provoke discussion of environmental justice. When covering migration, upset the practice of bracketing off “minority voices” or setting migrant voices as respondents to mainstream public discourse and policy, rather than the drivers of discourse speaking from the primary site of experience. At all course and design levels, resist the neat social categorizations of and within the dichotomous “C1” and “C2,” for this reorientation pushes beyond recognizing and engaging a “third space” (Bhabha 1993; Kramsch 2009: 239) to decentering and destabilizing the images of C1/L1 and the C2/L2 through which their respective (and sometimes shared) “Others” are imagined.
There will be failed experiments, rejection by students, and even suppression by fellow faculty or administration. But there are many modes of intervention and avenues for idea and resource dissemination and discussion. If it is not feasible yet to diversify a curriculum, one can still begin introducing a decolonializing perspective, for instance, by raising the issue of canonicity as theme for critical analysis, not a tacit given. Ask students why they think a given literary text has become standard reading in German-speaking schools or US college German programs; ask them to come up with comparisons within their own schooling background; invite them to speculate about who makes decisions about which works become canonical and why; introduce them to the history of Germanistik and German Studies, not just the authors and text that have ordered the field in order to let students challenge the seeming naturalness of it shape. This line of inquiry can extend to the question of power and authority, and the dynamics informing how and why other works or voices and narratives are relegated to the margins. Bringing in works reflecting more diverse perspectives to be read against canonical pieces under a shared theme could then complete the diversify-decolonialize process, in this case in reverse. One can also begin introducing a social justice orientation within the standard cultural narratives of German Studies. For example, when teaching the film Sophie Scholl—die letzten Tage (2005) for fourth-semester German, I include discussion of the notion of Zivilcourage (inspired by the Goethe-Institut) in order to connect the history of grassroots resistance to National Socialism to what one could do today, as an individual or as part of a larger movement, to confront inhumanity and injustice in one’s own communities.
I mention these sample strategies to highlight the importance of shifting, first, the intellectual goals and foundational analytical frameworks of a curriculum. This is not to say that infusion of diversity should be secondary or could be left aside, but rather that, in cases where we find ourselves unable to immediately or robustly diversify the texts we use, beginning to shift habits of mind in a direction of decolonialization in the sense of raising awareness of the existence and implications of complex positionalities, power differentials, and social justice concerns is still a possible and valuable turn within the fuller paradigm shift.
In addition to direct curricular interventions, to change habits of mind within our field, we also must disseminate successful ideas and resources through the channels that serve to legitimate scholarship and teaching practice. There are, thankfully, in our field ample outlets for publishing and presenting foreign language pedagogy research: Die Unterrichtspraxis, Foreign Language Annals, ACTFL, AATG, MLA and regional MLA divisions, CARLA and the Goethe-Institut, to name only a few. Also consider submitting an abstract for the planned DDGC edited volume (deadline September 15, 2017! Though we are all positioned at different kinds of institutions that value teaching scholarship in uneven ways (as do the modern languages fields often themselves, lamentably), dedicating space within our scholarly work to design, present, and publish empirical research and theoretical interventions will be crucial to substantiate the legitimacy and viability of this turn. In the following, final section, I present further concrete steps individual Germanists can take in different spheres of engagement to help to continue expanding the movement.
Ruhe nicht bewahren. Weitermachen!
The world has changed since the 2007 MLA report and is changing constantly. And so, we must broaden learners’ perspectives beyond the facile dichotomy of “C1” and “C2”—we must diversify the German Studies curriculum. As we broaden student horizons for what “learning German” covers and conveys, we also must adjust the stance—the attitudes and analytical abilities—we want students to take vis-à-vis other cultures and their own. That is the decolonializing project that activates the value of this paradigm shift as it aligns with a reinvigorated humanities mission.
This is the beginning of an enormous undertaking that cannot be accomplished only by individuals, all at once, or on a grand scale. But there are nonetheless many ways to contribute where we each stand on the ground. Besides intervening directly in curricular design at your institution and publishing empirical case studies and theoretical expositions, we can support and develop diversity and decolonialization in the field German Studies by:
 My heartfelt thanks to Katherine Arens, Janet Swaffar, Dillon Cathro, Ervin Malakaj and Regine Criser, and to the anonymous reviewers, for your comments and suggestions for the preparation of this essay. The ideas recorded here draw together my own reflections with the many insights I gained at the 2017 DDGC conference and in previous conversations with some of its attendees in other forums. I must especially acknowledge Jennifer Redmann, Brett Sterling, Emina Musanovic, Karin Maxey, Holly Brining, Kathryn Sederberg, Feisal Kirumira, Petra Watzke and Ashwin Manthripragada. I also must acknowledge Wendy Allen for our extended dialogues about how to effectively articulate these notions in the more familiar terms of foreign language pedagogy.
 Quoted in Ryshina-Pankova & Byrnes 2017, p. 424.
 Strikingly, the notion of Leitkultur is reentering German public discourse as a possible policy direction—an unsettling development that is ripe for critical analysis by students of German in a diversifying and decolonializing framework. See for instance.
 Here we recall Vicki Galloway’s (1999) adaptation of Lévi-Strauss: “It is the assumption of sameness that triggers facile interpretation, immediate judgment, an turgid culture-ranking criteria” (p. 152). Paraphrased: the presumption of sameness is the end of cultural learning.
 See especially Halverson & Costabile-Heming 2015 and the GSA Fortieth Anniversary Issue of German Studies Review (2016).
 A quick Google search of “humanities crisis” yields a plethora of discourse on the topic. On the crisis for foreign language departments in particular, see Berman 2011 and “The Issue” section of The Modern Language Journal 101 (2), Summer 2017.
 See especially Marianna Ryshina-Pankova and Heidi Byrnes’ (2017) commentary, “Embracing the Language-Educational Challenge of FL Departments: Reflections on Ways Forward.
 See, for instance, the University of Rhode Island International Engineering Program and Northern Arizona University’s Interdisciplinary Global Programs. See also the STEM/MINT initiatives of AATG and the Goethe-Institut.
 Among the German programs reduced or closed in the last decade are those of the University of Nevada, Reno; the University of Southern California; SUNY-Albany; Washington State University (Halverson & Costabile-Heming 2015: 91). Close to my home in Minnesota, Concordia College’s German major was recently eliminated.
 I would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the serious and likewise ongoing conflict over sexism, sexual assault and gender discrimination that arose on campus in 2015-16, my first year at St. Olaf. Though those events took place before the DDGC took hold in my conscience, they are no less relevant in terms of the need for this paradigm shift.
 Rice anthropology faculty members George E. Marcus, James Faubion, Julie Taylor and Christopher Kelty were particularly influential for how I conceptualize and describe the method and ethic of ethnographic writing here. See footnote 19 for exact publication references.
 One way St. Olaf College helping faculty and staff to think and talk about racial identity, racism and social justice, and how these issues affect our students is by connecting with the Sustained Dialogue Network. Learning opportunity have included large workshops with Managing Director Rhonda Fitzgerald and ongoing smaller discussion groups that capitalize on the expertise of St. Olaf faculty and staff members. Other universities, such as the University of Southern California, provide their own free “toolkits” online. For me, the stages of racial identity development and the “Privilege Walk” activity have been particularly enlightening. Please share more such resources in the comments section!
 This tendency to avoid conflict may be, at least in part, an effect of midwestern, “Minnesota nice” culture.
 Ryshina-Pankova and Byrnes (2017) likewise emphasize the need for meaningful curricular change to be a program-level effort: “To respond effectively to the external societal and internal institutional pressures…changes cannot be limited to a specific course taught by a specific faculty member, no matter how exemplary it might otherwise be…. Rather, change will need to occur across these three fundamental and interrelated areas of educational practice: (a) a programmatic mission statement that is anchored in collegiate humanistic learning, (b) an intellectually stimulating content- and language-integrated curriculum sequenced to enable the attainment of the specified goals over the 4 years of the program, and (c) language- and content learning-oriented assessment to provide publically available evidence for student achievement and advocacy for the program” (p. 425).
 See also Anderson & Sosniak 1994.
 See also the ACTFL “can-do” statement performance indicators.
 See Redmann and Sederberg 2017 for a recent example of how to scaffold a thematic unit within the multiliteracies model that drives in the direction of critically identifying complex positionalities.
 For an example of holistic rubric grading that based on movement through Bloom’s taxonomy to high-order criticism, see Hammer and Swaffar 2012.
 Foundational texts of the “writing culture critique” include Clifford and Marcus 1986, Marcus 1998, and Marcus and Fischer 1986. Please email me if you would like a list of exemplary postmodern ethnographies to read!
 View a comprehensive list of SLA research journals at https://linguistics.georgetown.edu/sla/resources/research-journals.
 See, for example, Ervin Malakaj’s “Decolonialist Pedagogy” and Karin A. Maxey, Ph.D.
Editors: Regine Criser (UNC Asheville) & Ervin Malakaj (Sam Houston State University)
The volume addresses questions of access and inclusion as they relate to student outreach, program advocacy, pedagogical and curricular models in the context of German language and culture instruction at the collegiate level. We seek to bring together scholars critically evaluating German Studies curricula against the backdrop of discourses on diversity and decolonialization.
Contributions can draw on research in critical race, gender, feminist, LGBTQIA, disability, and/or ethnic studies and should be situated within current research in applied linguistics/pedagogy in German Studies. We are interested in both quantitative and qualitative approaches.
To be considered for inclusion in the volume, send an abstract (300 words) and a cv to both Regine Criser (email@example.com) and Ervin Malakaj (firstname.lastname@example.org). Deadline for abstract submission is September 15, 2017. Final chapters (6500-7000 words) will be due February 2018.
Following our successful DDGC conference March 2017 at the University of North Carolina, Asheville, we set out to find ways to share the rich discussions in which we partook and approaches we developed. This blog is intended to be a space in which we can carry forward the discussion since our conference, engage with ideas by people unable to attend, and to promote the work we do among a broader audience.
If you would like to submit material to be considered for inclusion in the blog, send a brief email to Dr. Regine Criser and Dr. Ervin Malakaj outlining your ideas. We hope to provide a peer-reviewed process within reason.