Hauptschüler. The Role of Education in Exclusion Processes in Germany

Research Project (to be discussed at the Winter Academy) by Stefan Wellgraf.

Stefan Wellgraf obtained his PhD from the European University Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder. His dissertation dealt with problems of exclusion in Berlin, Germany. In 2015, he will start a research project on the affective dimension of exclusion.

The German terms “Hauptschule” and “Hauptschüler”, loosely translated as general secondary school and its students, are associated with a range of negative associations. Consequently, the learning conditions at “Hauptschulen” have become increasingly problematic and reputation of those schools has deteriorated. Education plays a crucial role in this processes. In German, the term “Bildung” has a double connotation: On the one hand, it stands for an ideal of self-development, for the deployment of human capacities and for a transformation of the relations to oneself, to others and to the world. This ideal of “Bildung” can be traced back to German Idealism around 1800 and was therefore often regarded as a specifically German interpretation of “Bildung”. On the other hand, there is an idea of “Bildung” focusing more on the acquisition of those skills and certificates which promise economic benefits. This tendency has often been linked to an “American” or “neoliberal” model of education. Both models were never neatly separated, but coexisted – both in Germany and in the USA – in diverse and historically changing constellations. Taking both sides into account nevertheless helps to understand contemporary forms of exclusion in German “Hauptschulen” and reactions to them by “Hauptschüler”. The problem of the “Hauptschule” is that it cannot live up to either of the two versions of “Bildung” and has instead become an institution of only negative selection. A transregional perspective could help to compare these phenomena and situate them in a global context of historic and contemporary politics of education and labor. The role of the state as well as transregional processes of neoliberalization will come into focus from this perspective. Such a view is particularly relevant, given that the majority of “Hauptschüler” in Berlin are migrants. In a way, they transform the schools into transnational spaces from below.

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