Copyright © 2004 José Cossa
In Teachers And Changing Authority Patterns In Eastern German Schools, Heinrich Mintrop addresses educational change and democratization under conditions of fundamental societal transformation. The article explores the salience of shifting authority relationships in schools enveloped by systemic and cultural change. Mintrop discusses chances of democratizing schools under the new societal conditions by employing the lens of educators at eight schools in Eastern Germany, i.e., former GDR.
The dynamic of social change shifted from grassroots action to state authority. The first phase, characterized by the search for a new as yet unknown democratic socialism, was upstaged by the current phase of transition to a known model, West German society, by constituting democratic and market-economic institution in the former GDR. In top-down fashion, state and corporate managers and attorneys, mainly from the west, set out to institute new legal principles and directives and to create new organizational structures isomorphic with those in the west. Shortly after absorption of the new eastern federal states into the now all-German Federal Republic, state governments, under whose domain education falls, passed comprehensive school acts. These school acts,
1) Realigned the organizational structure of the eastern school system with that of Western states by setting up a three-track structure: The formerly untracked socialist unitary school was dissolved into a separate elementary school, and on the secondary level into a college-preparatory Gymnasium and middle lower-track combination of Realschule and Hauptschule;
2) Retained supreme authority over educational matters in state ministries of education while enhancing control of municipal or country governments;
3) Democratized the school system by instituting crucial deviations from previous GDR practices: The school acts stipulated the right of legal guardians to educate their children; the individual responsibility of teachers as classroom instructors; the dispensation of pluralist worldviews; shared decision making for parents, students, and teachers at schools and on the local state levels; students’ freedom of speech and right to file grievances; and parents’ right to sue the school; and
4) Introduced new curricular frameworks and timetables for all subjects and proclaimed a more student-centered pedagogy as state of the art.
Mintrope argues that the schools are still inhabited by the reshuffled but largely intact old socialist teaching corps and that “the tension between rapid and substantial systemic and organizational change, on the one hand, and the continuity of personnel, on the other hand, makes eastern German schools a potentially revealing case for the study of educational change.
Mintrop prefers Michael Fullan’s complexity model over technical models because (a) it directs our view to school participants who have to forge new meaning in a changed institutional environment, (b) these participants have to find new moral and ideological orientations and interpretations for a transformed societal reality and their supposedly democratic role in it, and (c) eastern German schools at this stage experience many planned institutional changes and unplanned cultural changes simultaneously.
The main objective of the reform was not how to develop a better system out of the old one, but how to make the eastern system look the same as the western. Thus the main impetus of the reform was not problem solving, but isomorphism.
Mintrop studied eight eastern German secondary schools in a northern state governed by a left-of-center party coalition and a southern state governed by a right-of-center party coalition. The population included educators, in-service instructors, state and local administrators, teachers, and administrators.
The data shows that under conditions of fundamental systemic and cultural change in eastern German schools and society, redistributed authority relationships become a salient feature of educational change. Teachers sampled are distressed by what the state does to them and what they cannot do to student and parents anymore – and what the two groups can now do to them. The state has to a certain degree withdrawn from schools taking moral support away from teachers, yet by giving up control over many pedagogical affairs the state has increased teachers’ autonomy – this is the a new kind of authority that teachers can exercise and requires teachers’ openness to rational discourse, professional competence, and critical analysis of their past and present position in society; however, data suggests that eastern German educators do have enough of this openness.
Teachers also feel that festering characterizes authority relationships with students. Many are open to student criticism and feel that disruption is a result to confusion over the meaning of freedom.