By Todd Heidt (Knox College)
In this post, I’ll argue that inclusive pedagogies and curricular design at the introductory level must become the norm in German Studies so that we can accurately represent German-speaking cultures and serve our students. Inclusive pedagogies should be thoughtfully crafted to not exoticize or tokenize, but to normalize the representation of minoritized individuals in German-speaking cultures in each of our classes and throughout our curricula.
I’ll frame this argument with reference to two key demographic realities which will shape German Studies classrooms now, in a few years, and over the coming decades. On one hand, German-speaking Europe will only become more diverse as long-present (yet largely invisible) residents with a Migrationshintergrund and newcomers migrating in our global era make these German-speaking spaces their home.[i] On the other hand, the demographic make-up of the United States is rapidly changing, and higher education is finally seeing significant change in enrollments by traditionally underrepresented students. These changes provide a tremendous opportunity for Germanists teaching in the US context, but failure to address these developments poses, I argue, even greater risks for the future of our discipline. While my examples focus on the introductory level, I believe these conclusions could be extended to intermediate and advanced coursework as well.
Diversity and Inclusion in the German Classroom
I fully acknowledge that first “diversity” and later “inclusion” have been ongoing concerns in our field for at least 30 years. In 1989, the AATG established a Task Force to formulate recommendations on promoting minorities in German Studies (Peters 5), resulting in an issue of Unterrichtspraxis dedicated to this topic in 1992. Today, this work has been taken over by AATG’s Alle lernen Deutsch initiative. The GSA inaugurated a Black Diaspora Studies Network in 2016. This group of scholars, as well as the scholarly collective Diversity and Decolonization and the German Curriculum, have worked through informal channels such as social media, as well as in formal channels in established conferences and by organizing their own conferences. Yet, when I poll colleagues informally at the GSA and ACTFL, even those colleagues at highly diverse institutions very often report that student populations in German courses remain overwhelmingly white. While I applaud the initiatives of the last 30 years, I must also acknowledge that their effects on the field have been quite limited. We have much more work to do to make fundamental changes to German Studies in the US. Student bodies have become more diverse on our campuses and German-speaking cultures have become more diverse than ever before However, our courses continue to attract a smaller and smaller proportion of our campuses, a proportion which is also demographically quite homogeneous. Why could this be? I believe the answer lies in our curricula.
Our curricula, from elementary language books to advanced seminars, have too often featured examples which have treated diversity or multiculturalism, in the words of Priscilla Layne, “perfunctor[ily], like one is just trying to get in their mandatory two servings of diversity for the semester” (Layne 2019). I wouldn’t argue that we as a discipline consciously and purposefully treat diversity in this manner, and I certainly didn’t mean to exclude voices in my own classes. Yet, I ultimately found that I was excluding groups; moreover, I was doing so despite factual evidence of the diverse nature of Germany’s past and present. I had become acculturated to a vision of German Studies which was an artificially limited and carefully curated presentation of “German Culture.”
The problem this poses is that such prevailing norms (and perfunctory treatment of minoritized identities) in our curricula can and do reiterate the trope of German-speaking Europe as normatively white and culturally monolithic, rendering non-white individuals as “eternal new-comers” (xx) and non-white speakers of European languages (such as German) as people who “again and again appear as a curious contradiction, never quite becoming unspectacular and commonplace” (xxv) as argued by Fatima El-Tayeb.
This takes place in a particularly pointed fashion at the introductory level. For those interested in putting hard numbers on these trends, you might see Darren Ilett’s 2009 article in Die Unterrichtspraxis, “Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Textbooks.” While Ilett finds trends toward diversity as a problem on one hand, and diversity as a given on the other, his analysis provides insights into quantitative (i.e., number of images) and qualitative (i.e., analysis of images, culture notes, etc.) presentation of Others. Ilett found that minoritized individuals are often highlighted in the context of culture clashes or problems “caused” by the arrival of migrants. Even in images, Ilett notes that individuals visually marked as Muslim and Other are spatially separated in the composition, for example, appearing as a homogeneous group of Muslim women in headscarves who are physically separate from the larger, “German” crowd behind them (55). I am unaware of similar studies analyzing the representation of women, LGBTQ identifying individuals, able-bodied individuals and others, but I would venture to say that the majority of our books primarily represent white people of a certain socio-economic class and physical ability. (Ironically, it is often the very point of our upper-level culture courses to problematize such cultural trends and representations. However, this self-critical perspective seems to only recently have significantly impacted the publishing market for US German language textbooks with projects such as Grenzenlos Deutsch and Klett’s Impuls Deutsch.) Generally, introductory textbooks tend to not address debates around such recent cultural debates as gendered pronouns in German. Families are often presented as the heteronormative family unit and we must supplement even with information such as “sich scheiden lassen,” “Halbgeschwister” or “gleichgeschlechtliche Ehe.” Treatment of minoritized racial and ethnic groups is often completely overlooked, with no attempt to present appropriate vocabulary or discuss racial dynamics. This sends a clear signal to students as they enter the German curriculum and likely is the beginning of an exit-ramp out of our programs for minoritized students.
More Accurate Representation Offers Key Opportunities
By including diverse groups in our cultural history, and in all of our teaching materials, we can achieve a number of key goals.
Engaging with such topics not only more accurately reflects the complexities and identities often simplified under the monolithic rubric of “German culture,” but also provides us with an opportunity to make our own relevance more clear to students, colleagues, and administrators. In the coming years, this will only become more important.
The Future of Our Classrooms
Historically, we have been an area of study for white students, often with a heritage connection. That heritage connection is frequently quite tenuous: a last name, yet neither a familiarity with the language or culture from home, as in my own case. But reliance upon a white student body (pun intended) for our classes will in the very near future mean excluding a plurality of student identities on our campuses. Nathan Grawe, an economist who focuses on higher education enrollment, predicts that a combination of fertility decline around the time of the 2008 financial crisis and migration patterns will make the US college-going population less white in just a few years’ time (Grawe 2019). The National Center for Education Statistics agrees, projecting significant increases in enrollments for students of color. Their 2018 report, “Projections of Education Statistics to 2026,” charts the following trends. Between 2015 and 2026, enrollments in US institutions of higher education can be expected to change as follows. Enrollments will:
Now, given the historically stark imbalance in enrollment between whites and other races, we could choose to minimize this. However, enrollment by Black and Hispanic students is predicted to exceed 40% of the entire US higher education enrollments in the next several years. Hard numbers like this are much more difficult to come by for the LGBTQ community. We already know that the majority of those enrolled in higher ed are women, not men, a trend now deeply entrenched in the US. In our current cultural climate, even our majority students are increasingly passionate about discussions of gender, sexuality, race, religion, ability, and more.
There are, essentially, two ways in which to interpret these realities. The first may strike some as rather self-serving and cynical: Given these coming realities, if German studies fails to become relevant to the lived experiences of a broad spectrum of student identities, we can only expect falling enrollment numbers. We further imperil the state of German studies. We will see further closures of departments and programs. Such arguments, of course, center the importance of tenured and tenure-track faculty and decenter the importance of German Studies as a vibrant field of inquiry with which we would like students at post-secondary institutions to engage. In our current era, I feel more compelled than ever to argue for the tremendous importance of language and cultural study. I believe that should be our guiding force.
The second interpretation is less commonly articulated, but I think cuts more to the core of the issue. If German Studies fails to teach a broad range of identities in German-speaking Central Europe and beyond in our curricula, and if our classes fail to enroll a broad spectrum of student identities here in the US, then we must accept two obvious conclusions. First, German Studies would be teaching an artificially monolithic image of “German culture,” one which we actively choose not to problematize in spite of our Cultural Studies training, and one which frequently omits People of Color in German-speaking Central Europe in direct contradiction of fact. Second, we would accept the fact that we as a discipline are not interested in teaching 40% of the students in our nation — a 40% which consists of non-White students. We would have to face the reality that we as educators would have chosen to reach out to, educate and mentor only White students.
Ultimately, each of us must decide which culture(s) we teach and which students we reach out to, recruit, and work to retain. And we must make a sober assessment of those choices and our motivations for them. As humanists, we have been trained to uncover truths which have often been obscured by cultural prejudice, power relations, and the power of an inertia-driven status quo. These are some of our highest ideals and greatest motivations. I think it is time we apply precisely that training to our curricula, especially at the introductory level, more thoroughly.
de Brey, C., Musu, L., McFarland, J., Wilkinson-Flicker, S., Diliberti, M., Zhang, A., Branstetter, C., and Wang, X. “Indicator 20: Undergraduate Enrollment.” Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2018 (NCES 2019–038). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. February 2019. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/raceindicators/indicator_REB.asp. Accessed March 1, 2020.
El-Tayeb, Fatima. European Others. Queering Ethnicity in Postnational Europe. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 2011.
Grawe, Nathan. “How Demographic Change is Transforming the Higher Ed Landscape.” HigherEdJobs.com, February 18, 2019. Accessed March 1, 2020.
Hussar, W.J., and Bailey, T.M. Projections of Education Statistics to 2026(NCES 2018–019). U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. April 2018. https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018019.pdf. Accessed March 1, 2020.
Ilett, Darren. “Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Textbooks,” Unterrichtspraxis 42.1 (2009): 50–59.
Layne, Priscilla. “Keynote: Diversity, Decolonization, and the German Curriculum Conference,” St. Olaf College. March 1, 2019. https://www.stolaf.edu/multimedia/play/?e=2655. Accessed March 30, 2020.
Peters, George F. Ed. Die Unterrichtspraxis / Teaching German. Special Issue Focus on Diversity 25.3 (1992).
—. “Dilemmas of Diversity: Observations on Efforts to Increase Minority Participation in German.” ADFL Bulletin 25.2 (Winter 1994), 5–11.
[i]The German government does not track race in its statistics due to the history of violence and genocide against minorities. However, trends in migration are tracked by the Statistisches Bundesamt here: https://www.destatis.de/DE/Themen/Gesellschaft-Umwelt/Bevoelkerung/Migration-Integration/_inhalt.html.