By Eberhard Seidel
"Schule ohne Rassismus – Schule mit Courage" [School without Racism – School with Courage] is a network of nearly 1,750 schools from across Germany (figure from 2015). It was founded by Aktion Courage e.V., its sponsoring organization, in 1995.
Barbara John, Germany’s ombudsperson for families of victims of the neo-Nazi terror group National Socialist Underground, calls this Schools with Courage network one of the "chief instruments to prevent discrimination in Germany." More than one million students in these schools are asking themselves – through events and projects – how they can best live together with others in a diverse society. They are seeking answers that strengthen solidarity, and Germany's future identity hinges on their responses.
"School without Racism – School with Courage" is a bottom-up initiative, which means that there is no obligatory curriculum for participating schools. It's the students themselves who decide which activities to pursue at their respective schools. Thus the network offers them the chance to deal with specific local challenges, to actively shape conditions at their school and to develop civic involvement on their own terms.
What equality for all really means
"School without Racism – School with Courage" stands for belief in the equality of all human beings. Its overarching goal is to dismantle ideologies that attempt to legitimate inequality.
By taking the same critical approach to all such ideologies, students learn that – at first glance – phenomena such as racism, anti-Semitism, antiziganism, homophobia, right-wing extremism, sexism, Islamism, etc., which seem vastly different at first, have something in common: They distinguish between people based on attributes, organize them into a hierarchy and use this to justify discrimination. Ideologies promoting inequality also assume that divergent elements are not equally valuable. The basic formula is as follows: x is more valuable than y. That means that x has a legitimate reason to fight against y and deprive y of rights.
Bundling the analysis of such ideologies fits a horizontal approach to discrimination, by removing a hierarchy of statuses. In this model, sexism and anti-Semitism are no more important than racism; antiziganism is no more important than homophobia. Any act of discrimination can have similar consequences for victims. Naturally, this does not mean that every type of discrimination is equally explosive at any given time and in any given society. Types of discrimination can be subdivided into how they evolved, how they are manifested and how they are structured.
Ideologies of inequality can be found in all social groups
We have discovered in our 20 years of pedagogical experience that equality as a learning objective is particularly well-suited toward addressing the many types of discrimination in a heterogeneous society with many immigrants. All people, regardless of origin or appearance, can be prejudiced. Ideologies of discrimination can be found in all social groups. Generally speaking, the dominant group in a society discriminates against the smaller and weaker one(s). But even if the discriminating group isn’t the larger one, there’s always a power struggle involved.
In a society such as Germany’s, where more than one-third of children and youths have an immigrant background, it is only possible to have a credible commitment to diversity and tolerance if we equally denounce all supporters of ideologies of inequality, regardless of their background. If this does not occur, youth – who tend to have a pronounced sense of justice – will quickly lose their commitment to tolerance, diversity and human rights.
The horizontal approach to ideologies of inequality enables us to benefit from the socially and culturally diverse student body, in our work at Schools with Courage.
In the winter of 2014/15, dozens of these Courage Schools are creating a welcoming environment for refugees. They offer German language courses for refugee children, invite these children to visit their schools and spend their free time with them. And in Großröhrsdorf in the Bautzen administrative district, students from a participating school have spent weeks standing up to village residents who have been demonstrating at the town hall against the settlement of refugees in the area (http://www.sz-online.de/nachrichten/lichter-vor-dem-gymnasium-3012117.html).
Everyone can join in and make a personal commitment
The network is open to all schools that fulfill certain criteria. At least 70 per cent of all people studying and working at the school have to sign a document committing themselves to three goals: actively opposing all forms of discrimination at their school; interceding if a conflict arises; and regularly conducting projects and campaigns related to the issue.
National and state coordinators, cooperation partners, local teachers and educators support and accompany the participants in their activities.
What happens if the personal commitment is not upheld? Will the "Courage" title be removed? Many have asked this question, and we can say:
The "School without Racism – School with Courage" title is not an award or ribbon granted for exceptional performance. Likewise, the title cannot be removed if conditions have changed in the meantime.
Further, the title does not mean that there is no bullying, racism, or discrimination at the school. We understand that these things may happen, in spite of all good efforts. But Courage Schools have committed themselves to assuming an active role in combatting discrimination. If an act of discrimination takes place at a school and neither students nor staff respond, we would recommend that critical students join together and remind the entire school of their shared commitment.
In many cases, this is all that is necessary to turn things around. Sometimes it also helps to contact the respective state coordinator for the school and to discuss how to raise awareness for the general climate in the school.
We have never removed the title from a school, even if we are aware that activities countering racism have lost momentum. We believe in positive sanctions, i.e., measures to encourage schools to renew their activism as participants in the Schule ohne Rassismus – Schule mit Courage network. We have learned that the best results come from having high expectations.
ContactSchule ohne Rassismus – Schule mit Courage
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