GERMANY is a wreck. In a recent visit to Munich, for example -- a city which I knew as well as I know New York -- I could not tell where I was. But the schools are going full blast. If you get up early enough you see the streets full of boys and girls with book knapsacks on their backs, and late in the afternoon you see them going home. They are not so badly dressed and they look pretty well fed. Not many school buildings escaped damage. Paper and pencils, pen and ink are scarce, and there are not many books -- but the Germans never depended much on textbooks anyway. Non-Nazi teachers have been found, principals and superintendents have been appointed, and the Germans are going at the business of education in their thorough way, with all children in school for long hours and about 25 percent more school days a year than we have in America.

Among the German school people there is a good deal of talk of school reform, and no little evidence that the interest is genuine. The superintendent of schools in Munich showed me a chart of a new organization and explained that all children now study together up to ten years of age before being divided into what we would call vocational and college preparatory groups; all must stay in school until the age of 14, and then for some there is part-time school and part-time employment. School committees in Wiesbaden and Berlin told me in detail how they were "democratizing" their education to avoid errors of the past. In Stuttgart, rubble was being ground to make concrete blocks for a new Teachers Institute, which was to combine some five former normal schools and would train teachers of elementary schools and teachers of high schools in the same classes under identical conditions. This is a radical reform for Germany, where teachers for the well-to-do have always kept apart from the teachers of the common people. And there are new-type tests specially constructed for German pupils, modern educational films for the villages, committees for the revision of the curriculum and textbooks, and so on.

There were sporadic efforts to change German education in the past, and just after the last war various experiments were tried; indeed, there is hardly an innovation for which a precedent could not be found in some German school or in the writings of some German educator. But the fact is that the current reform was started not by Germans but by the American Military Government. The Germans seem to be taking it up. The question is -- what will come of it?

Even in the first enthusiasm of V-E Day it was apparent that all too much of the talk about wiping out war and hatred by changing schoolbooks and teaching international peace and good will was optimistic, to say the least. There were plans for sending thousands of American teachers to Germany to exorcise the devil of militarism from the German soul; there was talk of bringing thousands of German teachers to the United States. UNESCO stated confidently that "wars begin in the minds of men;" and from that premise the path ran straight to the conclusion that we can have peace by teaching it in the schools. Some went on to plan for one single history book, to be translated into all languages, and taught in all schools of the world. Admirable hopes -- but not a basis for our national safety. Certainly Germany's neighbors will not entrust their safety to such plans -- and I think it is correct to say that no one in AMG has any intention of doing so. The top men in the program of German education of AMG know Germany and know their business. They include the President of the University of Indiana, the Commissioner of Education in Connecticut, a professor of Teachers College, Columbia University, who for 30 years has specialized in German education, the former superintendent of schools of Madison, New Jersey, and the principal of the high school of Portales, New Mexico.

AMG is in Germany for three main purposes: 1, to keep order; 2, to put Germany sufficiently on her feet so that she can carry on without subsidy from the American taxpayer; and 3, to change Germany from a country that has been a menace to the world into one that can be lived with in safety. So far as education goes, fulfilment of the first aim merely means keeping the children off the streets and occupied. The second and third are the important ones. What part can "reëducation" actually expect to play in the attainment of these objectives?


Prior to the war, Trizonia produced food enough to provide only from 1,000 to 1,200 calories per person. Immigration from the Russian Zone and the countries to the east has greatly increased the population. Western Germany will be able to feed herself only if the population is greatly decreased, or if agriculture is greatly improved, or if sufficient raw materials and manufactured products are exported to match imports of goods. It is unlikely that large-scale emigration will be encouraged; increased agricultural and industrial production provides the only acceptable solution.

Increased agricultural production is possible. Agricultural experts in AMG were greatly surprised to find German agriculture so backward. For instance, it is the habit of the peasants to harrow the oats only once, whereas by harrowing twice the yield could be increased 40 percent. German farmers habitually plant tiny potatoes whole, and refuse to slice large potatoes for seed, though this would greatly increase the yield. The German Higher Agricultural Schools and Experiment Stations have long known how to improve German farming, but their knowledge is not used. AMG is on the right track in its encouragement of agricultural education, farm extension work, adult education in the villages, youth work along the lines of the 4-H Clubs and Future Farmers of America, community forums, traveling motion pictures. Its short and resident courses in agriculture for young farm men and women along the lines of the University of Wisconsin People's College and the Danish Agricultural Schools are also promising.

Increased industrial production is likewise possible. Here again, AMG experts in industrial education were surprised to find that the vaunted mechanical skill of the Germans is little in evidence. Americans in Germany have difficulty in finding mechanics who can repair an automobile, a radio or a piece of household equipment. A high degree of technical ability is found among a few skilled workmen, but apparently the ordinary workmen have had very limited training. Thus AMG is properly emphasizing industrial education and trade training, and gearing the type and quantity of this education to future industrial needs. Hesse is now developing the fur industry which formerly was centered in Leipzig (now in the Russian Zone) and youth are being trained for this trade. Many other industries are being developed and appropriate training provided. The programs in home economics, nutrition, child care, public health and public health nursing, dentistry and social service help promote economic welfare by cutting down absenteeism and by ensuring better use of available food and equipment. These services could profitably be augmented.

It may be that in time it will prove profitable to tie American efforts closer to the German universities and the higher technical colleges, but at the moment the value of such action appears to be doubtful. It was discouraging to note the attitude of many of the university rectors, deans, professors and leaders of the higher technical institutes in Germany, whose sense of social responsibility seemed to be bounded by the ambition to develop erudite learning and pure research, with little or no concern for the needs of the people. The educational theories popular in certain American university circles foster this aloof attitude and taken in the German complex of ideas are likely to do harm. For many years to come, it would seem wiser to center attention on agricultural and industrial education in the schools, on adult education and extension work, and on every means of applying the advanced techniques already known.


The second major objective is much more ambitious. For the third time in about a century and a half the Americans are trying to build a new social order. That was the goal within our own country at the time of the formation of the Constitution -- witness the motto on the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States: Novus Ordo Seclorum, a new order of ages. It was also the goal of the occupation of the Philippines, 47 years ago when the first American teacher landed in Manila. It is now the purpose of our occupation of Germany. I suppose that I have recently talked with some 500 Germans either individually or in groups. They seem to be as civilized and charming as any people you would meet anywhere. A group of 30 advanced German students, with whom I met for an evening in Berlin, had not the slightest idea why anyone in the world could possibly fear people like themselves. Professors, school people, government officials and their wives were equally puzzled. They had nothing to do with starting the war. "It was the American bankers who had loaned money to Hitler." Not one felt any personal responsibility for what had gone on. People in Munich -- only ten miles from Dachau -- claimed to know nothing about the atrocities. They had had nothing to do with the Nazis. Some of these people were obviously telling the truth; and others, possibly, were saying what they had come to think was the truth.

Nevertheless, we Americans know that equally charming and irresponsible people approved the Reden of Fichte, were led by Bismarck, followed the Kaiser, and sank to the depths of cruelty and sadism under Hitler. You have only to stand in the gas chamber of Dachau, look at the incinerators, regard the evil paintings on the walls, and stand over the ashes of 238,000 martyrs to know that a new social order has to be built in Germany before her people can be set free.

Why is it that charming, educated people can collectively and periodically go crazy, set the world in flames, invade, conquer, and enslave their neighbors? That is the critical question.

This tenderness to despotism is a product of the political cast of mind and habits of the German people, and of their sheep-like psychology. The Germans seem to have no political idea other than of a government and society so centrally controlled that if a mad man, or an evil man, or even a Utopian, gains power in it, he has all the agencies of social control immediately at hand. It is true that the American Zone in Germany is divided into five states or Länder; but the constitutions of the five are almost alike, and orders go down from OMGUS to the five local organizations. Hesse is the size of New Jersey and Bavaria of Virginia; and on the local level there is no local rule and community spirit.

The Germans live in villages; no farmer lives on the land that he tills, and I am told that except for the church and activities associated with it, the peasants might as well be living in the isolation of a ranch country. AMG officials say that it is extremely difficult to stir up local interest. If anybody wants anything, he thinks immediately of going to the state. Schools are run by the state according to state laws. Taxes are collected by the state, and teachers' salaries and all other school expenses are met by the state. I did meet with some school committees, especially in Wiesbaden, Munich and Stuttgart; but each meeting resembled an American school superintendent's staff conference rather than what we know as a "board of education" meeting representing parents and local citizens.

We must begin with the fact that the Germans lack fundamental ideas of political science. They have no glimmering of the idea of government of checks and balances, with certain delaying processes. Americans have learned that sometimes evil men come to power, sometimes weak men, sometimes hasty dreamers, and that it is better to have powers so divided, and processes of government sufficiently time-consuming, that the wicked and the visionary cannot quickly exercise great power. The objective of the framers of our government was a system that would be as efficient as possible under a good man, but not easy for a bad man to run away with.

It is unfortunately true that this idea of decentralization has never taken root among the Germans. Indeed, the theory has eluded some Americans. Following my lectures to university and school audiences in a number of German cities, I was regularly asked the same questions, which were based upon certain articles that had recently appeared in American magazines. Apparently the Germans had heard a good deal of the shortcomings of American education, and I was asked searching questions about the shortage of teachers, the sub-standard educational conditions in Mississippi and Arkansas, unequal conditions among the states and within certain states. I took a good deal of time to answer these questions carefully, pointing out that it was easily within the power of the American people to correct such conditions and make educations equal from North to South and East to West. I explained the discussion of education in the Constitutional Convention as revealed by Madison's Journal, pointing out that apparently the Founding Fathers considered education to be properly included in the General Welfare Clause, that most of the early Presidents had included in messages to Congress a federally supported -- and possibly controlled -- system of common schools, but that the American people had never chosen such a course, preferring, unconsciously perhaps, to sacrifice some equality to liberty. I tried to make clear that even today we are still searching for a formula which will permit federal subsidies to education upon some basis which the people believe will keep the minds of their children free from the possible control of a tyrant. Unlike an American university president who had recently told the Germans that American education was a poor example for Germany to follow, I insisted that we are proud to have such a system. My German audiences listened with courteous attention and, perhaps, real interest to this doctrine that decentralization is a source of strength. Unfortunately, the practice of local self-government was no part of their experience.

Would the Constitution of the United States have worked had the American people not previously been accustomed to self-government? As it was, at any rate, the American people had run their own local affairs for a century and a half prior to the adoption of the Constitution -- about the same amount of time that has elapsed since. They had built roads, drained the swamps, educated the young, cared for the poor, ill and aged, and kept the peace. This experience in local self-government had given reality to the provisions of their constitution.

The German people must acquire a habit of self-government before they can safely be set free. It is sometimes proposed that the way to accomplish this end is to put courses on government in the school curriculum. Some think that the critical need is university lectures on government, and even an Institute of Political Science. If, however, our American experience points the way, it would seem more promising to begin by helping the German people set up habits of self-rule in their small villages and towns, and in communities within their cities. This would provide a point of view from which, at a later date, the idea of a non-authoritarian central government might be grasped.

It will be exceedingly difficult to start local self-government in Germany, and many years will be needed before the idea takes hold. But this is the time to begin the effort. AMG is on the right track, I believe, in its emphasis on community councils and its attempt to stimulate local initiative. It is trying to enlist the interest of parents in such activities as school lunches, playgrounds, recreation activities, service to displaced persons, care of children, the ill and the aged, community choral and dramatic societies, music, repair and expansion of school buildings, pupil aid, clean-up drives and the like. The objective is to make parents come to realize that by their own collective and organized efforts they can influence the progress of their children, and that they are responsible for the kind of education the children receive.

Examples of local initiative in school problems in America have relevant suggestions for AMG's task. For instance, the public schools around New York City, a few years ago, started the Metropolitan School Study Council. Some 50 to 60 school districts decided to pool their resources and make a joint study of ways of improving their schools. Board members meet with board members, superintendents with superintendents, principals with principals, and specialists on particular problems with their opposite numbers. A headquarters staff is now maintained, and a large number of research studies and local programs of action have been undertaken. Similar School Study Councils have been formed in other cities. Such councils could be started in Germany, and possibly some German communities could be associated with some of the American Councils. Close and practical contact with some American schools might be a stimulus to the actual practice of self-government -- which is the only way to learn it.


The final object of attack of the American effort must be the sheep-like psychology of the Germans. Nearly a half-century ago, Dean James E. Russell, in his book "German Higher Schools," pointed out that the Germans were directing the bulk of their educational effort to the production of God-fearing, self-supporting, obedient subjects of the Reich. He showed that the method and spirit of all schools below the university level were intended to produce conformity: the need for a leader. He showed that the few -- mostly the children of the classes -- then had a chance to learn to lead in the university and other high schools (in the German sense of the term), but that the majority were supposed to be obedient followers and nothing more.

A generation later, Dr. Thomas Alexander, now the able head of education in OMGUS, recorded the same situation in his book, "Prussian Elementary Schools." He made extended visits and took stenographic records of many hundreds of lessons. He found the same formal, disciplinary, memoriter type of teaching, with all power vested in the teacher and the pupil drilled only to follow and obey. He reported that he visited nearly 400 classes before he heard a pupil ask a question, and then it was something like "What time is it?"

The German people are noticeably self-disciplined. When something is verboten it is verboten. It is doubtful that one would see fingerprints on a wet-paint sign in Germany. But the trouble is not that the Germans obey; other people obey, as is witnessed by the orderly conduct of the British in a queue. The difficulty is that part of the German people are taught only to obey, never to vary, never to lead; and these people, the greater part of the nation, come out of school looking for a Fuehrer and are uncomfortable and unhappy if they cannot find one.

No one objects to obedience and discipline. The danger comes when that is the sole purpose of the school. The particular problem of reëducation is to break the school lockstep. This cannot be done by exhortation; it can take place only if different educational practices are substituted for those now used. As long as the teacher gives a sentence and the pupil must repeat it, as long as lessons are assigned and pupils must learn them verbatim, as long as all pupils march in line and stand when the teacher enters, as long as a pupil tips his cap to the teacher as to his superior officer, you will in that country have the psychology of leader and follower. The prospects for self-government will be poor.

It is unfortunately true that if many Americans were to go into a German school -- or an old-style Japanese school, or a modern Soviet school (assuming they could get behind the iron curtain) -- they would say, "This is the kind of school that I should like to see at home." For just as it seems reasonable to some people to regard the world as flat, it seems sensible to think of the mind as a muscle, which can be "strengthened" by exercise in some hard and preferably useless task. The results of science are slow in their effect on "common sense;" the work of modern psychologists and educational researchers has not penetrated the educational thinking of many laymen. We know from the research of Thorndike -- and others among his followers -- that little general effect results from teaching. In good teaching you aim at a particular and specific result. There are special ways to achieve obedience and conformity, and there are other special ways to develop a critical faculty. People able to govern themselves must learn not only to obey but also to reason and judge for themselves. In a society safe and worthy to be free, teaching which produces a willingness to lead, as well as a willingness to follow, must be given to all.

Germany does not need a lot of lectures on modern teaching procedures. She needs experimental work in her schools, in order to see what aspects of modern educational procedures can best be applied to the concrete circumstances which exist in Germany. There must be trials of many types of school methods and procedures, with careful measurement and assessment of results. A pattern tailored to fit the Germans must be evolved.

American education can be of service in this phase of the work. Experimental work has been carried on in various school systems in the United States, under practical conditions in typical situations. There is no reason why similar experimental work could not be started in certain schools in Weisbaden or Stuttgart, with interchange of experts, and comparison of results. The results of such experimentation could then find their way into the Teachers Institutes and into the programs of retraining teachers in many places in Germany. The program would take time, but obviously a new social order in Germany cannot be built in a day. Lectures in universities might give the illusion of rapid progress, but work in the schools themselves will give quicker results in the long run.

If this analysis of the German problem is correct, then, as I have suggested, there must be some modification of the ideas that a good many Americans hold regarding the nature of the task of reëducation of the Germans. Such projects as textbook revision to eliminate "hatred" and promote "understanding," teaching of good will, development of world citizenship, interchange of students and so on, while worthy are not central to the problem. The two major objectives of education are to teach the Germans to use better methods in the shop and on the farm, and to train them to accept individual responsibility. Improved agricultural and industrial production can be obtained by educational work in the communities. Individual responsibility can be fostered by the development of local government and local initiative. The schools can play an important part in both efforts. Educators in Germany will profit greatly by closer ties with the American agricultural and industrial colleges. School systems in German localities will know better what local self-government means if they can establish ties with individual American town and city school systems, and German schools can gain much knowledge of how to break down the formality of their schools by coöperating in projects of the type now carried on by many schools in our country.

The crux of the problem is to encourage communities to control and operate their schools. The establishment of local initiative and responsibility is more important than anything else. If local self-government is practised on the schools, it will normally be taught in the schools. That is the way to produce a generation which will know that it cannot hand over its mental, moral and political responsibilities to a Fuehrer.

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  • WILLIAM F. RUSSELL, Dean of Teachers College, Columbia University; author of many works on educational and socia problems
  • More By William F. Russell