Friday, January 27, 2006


The boys brought home their first term report cards today and the news is not all that good. Boy12's marks are passable, he'll have to apply himself a bit more in Math and French, but I know he's got it in him. Boy9's report, however, was quite depressing. I don't know what I had been expecting, but it wasn't that. So today I'm p*ssed off at three things: at Boy9 for being lazy and sloppy in his schoolwork (even though his is incredibly cute and smart and wonderful), at myself for not being on the ball and catching this sooner, and at the German school system for basically sealing a child's academic fate when he or she is not even 10 years old.

You wouldn't think that mediocre marks in the 4th grade would make that much of a difference, but in Germany they do. Especially now that the school system in Lower Saxony has gone though some changes. It used to be that after elementary school, which encompasses classes one through four, the children would go on to a two year "orientation level", a kind of transition between elementary and high school. At the end of this time, they would get a 'recommendation' from the school as to which one of three form of secondary school they should attend.

The Hauptschule is the least academic school form and is for students with poor marks who will later go on to do part-time vocational training or an apprenticeship. The Realschule is designed for average to good students who may later do an apprenticeship in a bank or office setting. The highest form is the Gymnasium. Upon successful completion of the final exams, a student receives his diploma, the Abitur, which allows him to attend university. But many other jobs also require the Abitur these days and it's a very desireable goal.

So...a couple of years ago the orientation level in our state was dissolved, and children are now starting secondary school in the 5th grade instead of the 7th. That means that they are already being separated into three groups at such an early age. This appalls me. I think it is far too early. How can you judge the academic performance of a child who has only had four years of schooling? Ridiculous if you ask me.

Anyway, today Boy9 got his preliminary Empfehlung - the recommendation, and it was for the Realschule. We're not pleased with that for two reasons: 1) We KNOW he can do better and just needs a chance to prove himself, 2) We would prefer that he attend the same Gymnasium as Boy12. It's a challenging school, but a good one and we think Boy9 would thrive there. He's a smart boy who just needs a push now and then. He's also just a little 9-year-old who needs more time to be a kid before the academic pressure starts.

In Lower Saxony the final decision lies with the parents, thank goodness, so we do still have the chance of sending him to the school of our choice if his marks improve between now and June. I think the German system is archaic (check out the most recent PISA study if you want to see how poorly Germany placed in world-wide school comparisons) and unfair to those students who may be late bloomers.

So there. (please visualize me sticking out my tongue)


At January 27, 2006 3:16 p.m., Blogger CanadianSwiss said...

Gosh, that's horrible!! He's only 9! It's much too early to judge. And I saw the most recent PISA study... Not good for the German. I can understand how you're feeling. But I'm sure that with a little push, he'll make it.

At January 27, 2006 3:22 p.m., Blogger christina said...

Thanks, CanadianSwiss - we think he'll make it too, but it's going to be lots of work. I may just have to cut down on my blogging time so I can nag him some more!

At January 27, 2006 3:27 p.m., Blogger Sandra said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you. The academic pressure my kids are under makes me sick. It's hard for me to push them when I just don't believe in the system and I know I never had to work that hard when I was their age. When I try to help them with their schoolwork, their deadly dull textbooks nearly put me to sleep. Back in my day, we used to do lots of book reports, diaramas, oral reports, and poster boards, maybe write an essay now and then (excellent preparation for working on a blog, now that I think about it).

At January 27, 2006 3:42 p.m., Blogger christina said...

Sandra - Exactly! We also used to do way more independent learning and hands-on stuff when I was in school. Here there's so much rote learning going on and it's dead boring. They also put a lot of emphasis on oral participation in class, but they don't show the kids HOW to participate - oral reports, drama etc, as you mentioned would be wonderful for that.

At January 27, 2006 4:14 p.m., Blogger woman wandering said...

Lol, tongue visualised ... I've been a mum with a bright kid who just needed a push every now and again ... Hey, your pork hock looked incredible. My Belgian man made me Sauerkraut and sausage last night ... interesting. I think I would have enjoyed it more if he hadn't told me about how the cabbage is 'made'.

At January 27, 2006 4:20 p.m., Blogger christina said...

Hi wandering woman - Thanks for stopping by. Yes, knowing how saurkraut is made can put you right off it. Luckily I have a short memory :-)

At January 27, 2006 4:23 p.m., Blogger Ms Mac said...

Christina, I think you know I am in the same boat as you except that my oldest who is under pressure is 12. I can't imagine my wee Ewan (nearly 9) in the same situation as Boy9, how ridiculous.

I identify with you not wanting to push them because you don't believe in the sytem WHOLEHEARTEDLY!!! And imagie if you hated Boy9's teacher as much I hate Patrick's teacher!

So we can sit and whine together about the archaic school systems our children are in. I will listen to Ewan reading books written when Native Americans were calle Red Indians and I will listen to patrick singing a song about sharing a cigarette with Jeanette but I will hate every moment of it.

Can't we stage a revolution or something?

At January 27, 2006 4:35 p.m., Blogger christina said...

Ms. Mac - I think I'd enjoy a good revolution right about now!

I actually loooove Boy9's teacher. As a person she's fabulous. As a teacher - not so much. Too wishy washy. Her personality is great for him, but her teaching methods are not. The things we have to put up with, eh?

At January 27, 2006 4:37 p.m., Blogger swissmiss said...

Christina, I'm sorry to hear the pressure is on for Boy9. The swiss system is very similar - it has always driven me crazy even before Small Boy was in the picture. It's ridiculous to track them so early and the tracks are so rigid and they follow you around forever. At least you have the final say. Here,(at least in my Kanton, since it differs from Kanton to Kanton) if I understand it correctly, parents have the right to appeal the school/teacher's recommendation twice, but in the end can be over-ruled. Just ridiculous.

At January 27, 2006 4:40 p.m., Blogger Angie said...


I think you may be blowing this out of proportion. He's gonna be a gangster, remember? Those grades aren't going to remember when he's wearing that pinstriped suit, picking up chicks in his Lamborghini Diabolo. ;)

There is still hope. My little brother was a perpetual underachiever in grade school and high school -- except on the track and soccer field, and he was senior homecoming and prom king. Now he's in undergrad with law school aspirations, pulling in a 3.9 grade point average. We never knew he had it in him! I always justified my dorkiness in high school by the fact that I got great grades, but now he's making me look bad because he has beauty AND brains.

But of course, that is the American educational system, where any schmuck can grow up and be president. Let's hope the German system shapes up!

At January 27, 2006 5:12 p.m., Blogger Katja said...

Okay, here is my opinion and I have a lot of hands-on experience with the german school system (I attended school here for 13 years). My brother and me went to a Gymnasium and never had any real problems there so my parents decided, that my sisters should attend the same school. They are both very smart, but their strengths are in a different area. They are more social and outgoing and creative and not as "academic" as we were. Bottom line: it did not work out. They were miserable and always had really bad grades. A lot of that could have been avoided, if they'd attended Realschule (probably). And you can always go up in the school system! A lot of my friends moved on to the Gymnasium after finishing Realschule and it took them the same nine years!
(this is the second time I posted this comment, blogger ate my first one)

At January 27, 2006 6:10 p.m., Anonymous mar said...

I agree with you. It is too much pressure on the kids at a too early age. "We" are on our Abi year...we've almost made it. I will be so happy when it is over! Have a nice weekend anyways!

At January 27, 2006 6:20 p.m., Blogger Expat Traveler said...

Today they were talking about how kids have too many activities. The girls I tutor have just that (too much pressure to do too much). They are just like your boys and the same age.

When I was growing up, my parents just told me that I had better get good grades because I was going to University. IF my grades weren't good, I had to go to special tutoring. My parents grilled in me that it would be nice to get a scholarship so by the time I was in gymnasium equiv I was so ready to do just that.

I think talking to them both and really explaning to them why school is important for their future might help a lot. Maybe they need to be explained why they go to school and why they need to do well in it. I guess you've got a few days now to do just that.

Good luck and I do hope things turn around for the better. Maybe a reward can help keep boy 9 on track???

At January 27, 2006 8:05 p.m., Blogger Just another American Expat said...

Well, I stayed up until 3 am yesterday morning helping Boy18 with his Faharbiet for Gymnasium which was due today. I told him 2 months ago to start working on it. What made me think he would?

Boy15 is in Hauptschule. He was an “under achiever” in grades 1-4. At 15, we are currently trying to find an apprentice position for wife is. It is my suggestion that he go to the States where he may finish High School, and graduate at a proper age.

The German educational system is outdated and to a certain extent, ridiculous. How many 4th graders do you know who are already considering their career paths at 9 years of age! You should move back to Canada Mausi. It is my understanding according to the PISA results, that you guys have a kick ass school system.

At January 27, 2006 8:16 p.m., Blogger Berlinbound said...

This is scaring me ... HH is only two but already I have him enrolled in three kindergartens just to cover the bases ... and worrying about the future and where he should be attending school ... I feel your pain!

At January 27, 2006 8:57 p.m., Anonymous Wendy said...

I AM glad we're not in Germany.

I quite like the French education system - it's hard - the standard is high - and I DO think they give the kids way too much homework (I flipping well never had that kind of homework when I was 8) - but it's a good system and Nathan is doing so well the school wants to jump him up a grade next year..which I'm hesitant about because I don't want him under more pressure...the only thing I don't like is the arrogance of the teachers towards the parents. They act like they are 'gods' and the parents are ignorant freaks me out. One day I'll open my mouth and insult someone back - in English, so I can do it well - even if they won't understand.

At January 27, 2006 8:58 p.m., Blogger Schatzi said...

ARCHAIC?? It smacks me as a form of communism!! All the more reason you and HerrM need to git back to Canada. Is there anyway if Boy9 wants to go to college/university he can?? Jeez, it's like his future prospects are already pre-ordained at the tender age of 9!!!! This really upsets me M. What about some home schooling or tutoring???? Has he been tested for any learning disability?? Is there another way?? I guess my 'merican ignorance and ethnocentricity keeps me from any appreciation of this type of education.!!!

At January 27, 2006 9:04 p.m., Blogger Andrea said...

and visualize me nodding in appaled ageament.
It is far too early!!!

At January 27, 2006 9:54 p.m., Blogger christina said...

swissmiss - I think every state has its own system here and some of them are leaving it entirely up to the teachers now and not giving the parents a way to object. Luckily we still have a choice.

Angie - Yeah, gangsters don't need no stinkin' diploma! :-) The thing is they don't give the late bloomers a chance because they're tracked so early. Once they get shoved into the "you'll never amount to anything" drawer, it's really hard for them to get out.

Katja - thanks so much for your input - it's nice to hear about real life experience. I guess I'm just objecting to the early tracking. I don't believe that three and a half years is sufficient time to develop their talents seeing as they only start learning to read in the first grade! And we feel he does have the right personality to attend the Gymnasium. I could see him going under at Realschule. We'll have to see how it all turns out.

Mar - good luck to your son on his Abi! He sounds like a clever boy.

Expat - We're actually a pretty pressure-free family and they don't have many after school activities, but they still have to spend an awful lot of time on homework. I just think they're too young at 9 or 10 to recognize that their future depends on their marks. Boy12 is doing fine, and Boy9 has now understood what he needs to do so we'll see.

Duncan- 3 a.m., huh? I can see we've still got the fun part ahead of us. Finishing highschool in the states sounds like a great option for your younger son, but is it doable? And yes, Canada scored really well in the PISA. Believe me, we'd go in a second if it were possible, but it seems like we're stuck here for the time being. *bangs head on desk*

berlinbound- Well, at least you now know what to expect. But maybe things will have changed by the time HH is set to start school. I doubt it will happen, but you never know.

Wendy - I've heard a lot of good things about the French system. Is it funny how two countries in such close proximity can have two such different outlooks. Great that your son is doing so well.

Schatzi - All is not lost yet, my dear - he just needs to improve his marks in the next four months and we may have to override the teachers decisions. And no, he doesn't have a learning disability at all, in fact he's above average in some things, actually - he's just been plain lazy at the time when his marks count the most and because he's shy he doesn't participate in class as much as he's supposed to. Don't worry, I'm not appreciating this kind of education either!

Andrea - thanks! I'm pretty fussed up about it now but I think I'll calm down soon. The schools always give four days off after report cards and I think they do that for the parents more than the kids. :-)

At January 27, 2006 10:24 p.m., Blogger Elemmaciltur said...

I have pretty much the same view with German educational system...

At January 27, 2006 11:13 p.m., Blogger dongurigal said...

Woah--that's scary stuff, having your future decided for you at the age of 9.

OK--what follows might be something you are already doing but, I'll write it anyway.

How does Boy9's teacher communicate with you in keeping you updated on his progress? Does your son have an assignment book with each subject listed and space in which to write his homework?

(If hw & grades are as important as it seems at Boy9's school, then he should be writing his HW down everyday and getting his teacher to sign and make a comment if needed at the bottom of the page--does what I'm saying make sense? Then, you can sign his assignment book each day too after he has shown it AND his HW to you.)

Can you guess what my profession is? ;-)

Good luck--I hope he has a good second term.

At January 28, 2006 1:09 a.m., Blogger Crystal said...

This system is totally unfair, and very elitist to boot since it creates almost a "caste system". In the U.S. grades don't really matter until the 9-12th grades, as far as getting into a good college, and that's best because a 9yr old isn't mature enough to grasp that school is more than just fun-and-games. I don't like the idea of placing labels on young children, and in America there's a tendency for schools to label African-American children as learning disabled, so a lot of parents are pulling their kids out of public schools and are choosing private schools or homeschooling. Anyway, best wishes for your son's future!

At January 28, 2006 2:17 a.m., Blogger Cathy said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you. I am familiar with the German school system because I went to a Gymnasium in Bielefeld in Highschool (Ratsgymnasium:)
Do you have any options? Can you disagree and stomp your feet and so on?
(I am so glad we do not have this system).

At January 28, 2006 9:09 a.m., Blogger The SeaWitch said...

I can totally understand your disappointment and frustration with the German school system as you well know. The school systems you and I both deal with aren't places of learning...they're institutions of indoctrination.

By the time my son started school in Greece, he was a little bookworm and loved learning. A year after starting school, they had all but killed his desire to learn. It's still a daily battle to keep my son interested in learning but so far, it's working. I sincerely hope that you'll be able to 'undo' the damage already inflicted upon your son by State education.

Education is too important to be left solely to the educators.--Francis Keppel

At January 28, 2006 1:27 p.m., Blogger Ginnie said...

Ay caramba! All I can say right now, Christina, is that I sure am glad Boy9 has those 20 minutes alone with you every morning before he goes to school. He'd be a total basket case, I'm guessing, without it!

My understanding is that kids don't really start "getting" abstract thought until age 12! Poor fella doesn't really know what's hittin' him!

I agree with whoever above said "I feel your pain!"

At January 28, 2006 3:00 p.m., Blogger Léons Life said...

For my part I find the French system pretty hard. Leon is only 7 and has tests (called bilan here) at the end of each term. I think that's quite a lot for a child that's only just turned 7.

On top of this (like Expat) said lots of parents add on the outside school activities several times a week. Something that I am really against. The kids don't have anytime just to hang out.

For me this isn't just the school's fault, but the fault of the parents that want their kids to be successful so push, push push.School, homework, best clothes,horse riding, Judo, be good, be nice etc etc ... As if their lives were already mapped out when they're not even 10 yet.

I always say to myself that you have all your adult life to get stressed, be under pressure and have shitty days, so let the kids be...

At January 28, 2006 3:39 p.m., Blogger Betty said...

One person I know who can handle this is YOU!!! You're the best mom. You can argue in two languages. You're smart and you what best and what's possible.

At January 29, 2006 1:04 a.m., Blogger Haddock said...

The more I find out about the German education system the more I am sure I am going to go head to head against it at some stage.

As you know my daughter is in the first year so it's still a bit kindergarten like. But when she is older I am sure there will be situations with the school where I will not be able to hold my tounge.....should be fun :)

Fingers crossed that it all works out well for you son

At January 29, 2006 2:37 a.m., Anonymous lillian said...

oh yes, the german school system. SOOOO tough ! I have to write a post about that too... I have to do homework with girl11 and boy9 EVERY DAY. I don't know how anyone can have a job while having kids in a german system!

At January 30, 2006 12:07 a.m., Blogger Mr. Fabulous said...

Wow...people spend so much time bemoaning the slackness of the school system in the US (and in Florida in particular) I never really considered that the opposite could be just as bad. But now I know...

At January 30, 2006 4:05 a.m., Blogger Knitting Painter Woman said...

If you lived here in Texas, even if he graduated from highschool, he'd have the least amount spent on his education with the least results in the whole US.... at least statistically. If you get a chance, go to the Newsweek page and read about "What's the matter with boys" and education... pretty interesting... I don't imagine the Germans are much on alternative educational styles... (are you familiar with Alice Miller's work on "poisonous pedagogy"?)

Hope son 9 can be motivated....
Isn't there an American school there?!!

At January 30, 2006 8:42 a.m., Anonymous rebecca said...

Good heavens... I distinctly remember going to a parent-teacher conference in 4th grade and having my teacher tell my horrified parents that I had actually missed 70% of the homework for the first term- I just didn't see the point, there's a lot more to do after school than spend MORE time on school. I wonder where I'd have ended up- as is I finished PhD in a science area this year. Not that a PhD is the be-all and end all (for a lot of fields it's totally useless) but obviously I am academically inclined (can't cook my way out of a Kraft Mac&Cheese box, though, and am infinately jealous of the incredible pictures you have of things you have magically created in your kitchen- just to mention it).

Agreed with all of the above comments.... TOTALLY insane system. Is there any way to get from a Realschule to a gymnasium halfway through high school?

At January 30, 2006 9:12 p.m., Blogger Sparky said...

@ Rebecca:

Yes. Theoretically at any time. But it's tough. Way better to start with Gymnasium and go downwards if it really does not work out.

@ Mausi and everyone else:

I have to defend the German system here a bit - not that I think it's THAT great, but when done properly (like in Bavaria), it outclasses almost anything else worldwide.

If you study the PISA results, you will see two factors contributing to the "bad" results of the German system in 2003 and 2004:

a) the commie-leftist states with
their "Gesamtschules" drag the mean average way down. States like Bavaria and Baden Wuerttemberg actually do rather well with the traditional system.

b) states with high numbers of immigrant kids who don't speak German usually have a pretty bad PISA average on language skills (Duh!). Since Germany is an immigration country, that drgs the averade down. France has the same problem.

Sorry for the longwinded post, but I'm just a sucker for reading statistics right and love to help people avoid drawing faulty conclusions from complex material, like stupid reporters without science training often do :).

You will notice that you kid is more likely to get a good education here than in the U.S. - can't speak for Canada, though.

You are absolutely right with your criticism on rote learning, though. It's ridiculous that German schools do NOT TEACH the scietific method (how to set up experiements, do book research, quote propely, falsification...) at all until you GO TO UNIVERSITY!

In that respect, anlo-saxon systems are way superior.

- Sparky


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