Some days it seems like all I do is constantly defend one nationality from another. With my Greek kids I try to tell them that the Germans aren’t all cold and cruel and racist. With my German seniors I have to say that Greeks aren’t at all out to steal Germany’s money. Etc, etc, etc…
I don’t know why I do it. Maybe it’s some weird American hang-up of mine to try and promote multiculturalism whereever I go. And I guess after all those school and college years spent listening to white people telling me it’s the bee’s knees, I’ve turned into a little melting pot evangelist.
Maybe it’s cause I’m slightly possessive and protective of my classes. They are my responsibility after all, plus I don’t like something that I’ve seen the vulnerable side of being attacked in any way.
(Oh man just had to do a quick preposition check just now. My poor brain is awash in a sea of languages and doesn’t know what sounds right anymore. Is it vulnerable side to or of? HA!)
Thursday, wow. I jumped right in with my seniors this week. They were grumbling and negative, but I care about them and teaching them a second year requires less prep work. On Wednesday we had a smaller class than normal and we had a rambling discussion about European politics, the housing market, the Euro vs. the DMark, humidity, September 11th, Germany’s former territory in Poland and then the War: the one and only that matters here.
I can’t describe it in a paragraph. I need pages and pages to tell you about the depth of my feelings when it comes to WWII and Germany. They don’t want to bring it up, they are tired of being told they’re Nazis. They were children during the war for the most part, and they are tired of being told they knew, and they are tired of having to pretend the trauma of their childhood doesn’t count for anything, because they weren’t Jews. And if we were in Berlin, many of them would hide a rape or two at the hands of the Russian soldiers.
I watched Inglourious Basterds and I expected to like it. But I hated it. It was like some glorified WWII video game; like you could just prance into a situation and it would be crystal clear, without a doubt what’s right of wrong. I turned it off after Diane Kruger shot the Nazi dad. I love Tarantino. I just wish he had chosen any other topic. It could never be a lighthearted flick for me. As if history is that simple; as if everything is so black and white. As if no one suffered anything but those deserving it. As if American soldiers didn’t go AWOL like cowards after they found a new European mistress. As if many good ol’ country boys didn’t go back home leaving bastard children to grow up without fathers. As if America didn’t follow the same old tired politics of only taking action when there’s enough popular movement not to rule out a re-election.
And we did good things in the war and we certainly sped up the process from the previous drawn-out hellhole that was WWI and brave men died far away from home.
But simple? No. Good vs. Bad? No. All Germans were Nazis? No.
And I ask myself why I get so worked up. I ask myself why I get so annoyed when I hear Americans talking about the war like it was yesterday. I ask myself why it’s so important that they see Germany is so much more than Nazis and Hitler.
But I’m convinced that this matters. I’m convinced that blurring the humanity of the Germans is dangerous. I’m worried that we’ve been able to glorify war to a dangerous level by always having them on foreign soil and leaving the mess for someone else to deal with. Why are all these men coming back from Iraq and not getting the psychological help they need? And then they go out shooting civilians and we ask why. And Vietnam vets? How did they fare?
I didn’t say anything like that to my seniors. Oh, I behave myself very well! My bf doesn’t always believe it, but as much as I can talk when you get me going, as a teacher my job is to guide the conversation, not dominate it. I only said the bit about how the American who come here for WWII have their eyes closed to everything else Germany has to offer.
The relief in their eyes, after I said that, after it was clear that I wasn’t looking at them with judging eyes I think I will always treasure. Pain is pain. It doesn’t equal holocaust atrocities. But I think the Germans have been working a long time on how to be honest and come to terms with their past. I love that about them. We will forget, us Americans, the real story first, because we won’t need to remember the little bits about taking a train to strangers to escape the bombs or eating chocolate from an American GI. We’ll forget the little details because we don’t to constantly ask ourselves what happened, who did what, what can we do now?
Later on my advanced class had to consider what would happen to society if we all lived to be 100. Needless to say, before I knew it, the class dissolved into German bashing and how German seniors citizens suck and are selfish. Of course Greek grandparents are better.
This is my life people. I try to put them all in each other’s shoes. I can’t help it. I am a frickin bleeding heart. I poked holes in their arguments. I called the out for being selfish too. I asked them to imagine being old and lonely with no close family nearby. I considered the serious arguments they offered me and asked them why, why, why?
I know one reason why the last class passed proficiency. I taught them critical thinking. That’s my thing. Cause they absolutely need that in the Speaking and Writing part. You can’t be wishy-washy with such complicated topics.
My advanced kids were happy to come in today, they gave me big smiles and I was a bit taken aback. I want it to be a safe place, where they can state they opinion as long as they have the ability to provide some logical justification when it’s too out there. They ought to question what they hear and check what people tell them. Luckily I can cut through their b.s. With the seniors, out of respect I ignore a lot of crazy statements.
I can already see these year coming to a close and I will once again have done practically nothing in terms of my personal language studies because I will have given all my energy and effort, love and patience to the kids and seniors.
Please forgive this moment of ego. I’ve worked really hard at this and I know I’m a good teacher. Not perfect, competent. Coming soon I’ll have another class to prepare for the proficiency test and I’m so excited.
There’s more that could be said. But I’ll leave you with some classroom pics. Maybe sometime I can take some individual pics of the stories students have written that I have on my door and post them here too.