Leaving Germany Again: Something about Bildung, Auschwitz, and Dresden

I’m leaving Germany after a two month long teaching gig at Leuphana University in Lueneburg, which is near Hamburg. Again I was impressed with the version of a university education that is being developed there—it values learning and investigation.

Here is a blog I wrote about German Bildung, the philosophy of education, two years ago: http://www.ethnography.com/2013/02/building-bildung-and-other-improbabilities-among-german-university-undergrads/

As a going away blogs, I’m also leaving you with two of my favorite Germany blogs, both having to do with Germany during World War II. The first was written last month after I attended the war crimes trial of Oskar Gröning in June 2015. Gröning is the “The Bookkeeper of Auschwitz.” He is on trial as an accessory to 300,000 people in Auschwitz in 1942-44 I the summer of 2015 in Lueneburg where I was teaching.http://www.ethnography.com/2015/06/the-last-auschwitz-trial-moral-guilt-and-criminal-guilt/

The other was written in 2007, after I met a man on a German train who told me his childhood memories of the Allied fire-bombing of Dresden.  He watched the same bombing that Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., “documented in Slaughterhouse 5.  .http://www.ethnography.com/2008/01/a-baker-from-dresden/

The Problem With “Teaching Like You Do in America” While Abroad

What are the limits to globalization? Does it apply to the university systems of the world, or is one university system just about the same as every other?

My experience is that at least for sociology, it is not “always just the same. I have taught abroad in Tanzania and Germany, and in each place, I ran up against different cultural expectations about what a university education involves. Recently, Palgrave Communications published my article explaining why it is in fact difficult to teach abroad. The paper is open-access, and can be read here. Here is a brief excerpt from the introduction and conclusion respectively:

…after 20 years of trying to teach internationally, I find that despite policies supporting internationalization and inter-disciplinary efforts it is in fact exceedingly difficult to teach across borders, a result of deeply embedded national disciplinary habits. Fans of globalization try to pretend this does not exist, and that sociology, chemistry, literature, business and engineering are taught the same way everywhere in the world, which is why I was told in Tanzania and Germany that I should just teach sociology “like you do in America—it’s all the same”. But in fact when I did teach like I do in the United States, I inevitably bumped into local academic cultures that see the university differently. This happened repeatedly in Tanzania and Germany where I taught for 1 and 2 years, respectively, and even during a brief but cold week in December 2010 when I taught in a Chinese “social science” classroom in Linyi, Shandong Province, where the students wore parkas in poorly heated classrooms…..



….What can Tanzanian and German universities teach universities in the United States? I think that the American Ivy League, gold standard or not, needs a deeper appreciation of the human condition, which is found in the vibrant but cash-strapped UDSM, the intensely inter-disciplinary approach of German Cultural Sciences and Bildung. I am not particularly a fan of violently shutting down universities a la the student strike at UDSM, but I do sometimes wish that the careerism of American students would be tempered by at least a little bit of the social awareness that my … UDSM students had.




Waters, Tony (2015). “’Teach Like You Do in America’ Personal Refelctions from Teaching Across Borders in Tanzania and Germany.” Palgrave Communications. http://www.palgrave-journals.com/articles/palcomms201526

Day 2 of the German Conference on General Education Reform

The conference took interesting turns. Homage was paid to Goethe, Weber, Marx’ Theses on Feuerbach, and Bourdieu on the habitus of academic silos. Not the sort of thing that would have happened in our GE meetings at Chico State where the Engineers, Soil Scientists, and Business Profs would have shook their heads in bewilderment. Here in Geramny they did not. In CHico, I think that only the Sociologists and Anthropologists likely would be smiling at such references!

This was followed by a presentation about German “Bildung” a concept which is sometimes translated as “education”, but really means something like “cultivation of the human being.” This was done by teacher who is somehow between art and psychology. He had prepared an engaging presentation using art to represent the General Education curriculum and society. Wow, that was a stretch!