Resisting the militarisation of education

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Kai-Uwe Dosch, Sarah Roßa and Lena Sachs (amalgamated by Michael Schulze von Glasser)

The militarisation of the education system in Germany

In Germany, hardly a week goes by without coming across ‘Germany's heroes’ in uniform. They grin from billboards, television screens, student magazines, and booklets on trains, advertising a ‘career with a future’. The slogans ‘In the line of duty for freedom’ or ‘We. Serve. Germany.’ appear to be the mantras of a new militarisation: one that wishes to bring the population to a martial ‘peace course’.

In schools, the German Armed Forces give lessons and impose their influence on the training and development of teachers. Military service counsellors are invited to schools to advertise the career possibilities in the armed forces, or to build their advertising playgrounds in the schoolyard (the so-called ‘career meeting places’). The armed forces even have a say on the content of the school curriculum; they increasingly install youth officers in the schools: young, well-educated and rhetorically-trained soldiers who act the part for political education. The cooperation between schools and the armed forces, which has existed since the forces' foundation in 1955, reached a new height in 2008 and subsequently with the finalised ‘cooperation agreements’ in eight of Germany's sixteen federal states between the armed forces and the responsible Ministry of Education. This new involvement is hidden under the guise of political education, but serves as recruitment and the legitimisation of the policy to militarise security.

Resistance

This increasing cooperation between the armed forces and educational institutions has been closely monitored and questioned critically - many people who have actively challenged the militarisation of youth have done so in the field of education. Resistance to the militarisation of education varies between countries. In Germany there has been a debate on whether to focus on attaining the provision in state schools of the same amount of peace education as there is military education, or whether the military should be banned completely. The resistance against militarisation in Germany has noticeably gained strength since this 2008 ‘cooperation agreement’: different organisations in five German states have combined to campaign or broaden alliances in order to take action against the intrusion of the armed forces in the educational system. There are now active groups and initiatives in all of these states that stand against the militarisation of schools by sending protest letters, producing fact sheets, doing presentations, holding discussions, rallies, and so on.

Along with this there are antimilitaristic groups, peace organisations, other groups like the large Education and Science Workers' Union, and the children's rights organisation Terre des Hommes. They have all made it clear that they oppose militarisation, for example by urging school administrations to ban the military, and by supporting students to be absent from military education sessions. Even individual student councils, parent representatives and youth organisations have taken a stand to deal with the problem and resist the involvement of the armed forces in schools. Activities range from public relations, discussion meetings, information booths, protest letters to the respective state governments, and the collection of signatures for petitions protesting against school visits by soldiers, to demonstrations and rallies. Concurrently, a number of information brochures and other materials on the topic have been produced. From 24 to 29 September 2012, a nationwide campaign Week of Action For Military-Free Education and Research took place, which linked numerous regional and local initiatives and saw actions in many towns and cities, including the handing out information on the negatives of joining the armed forces.

There have been some notable, if small, successes. In six schools nationwide, collaboration with the armed forces was rejected through the decision of the students or by a staff conference. These ‘military-free schools’ are pioneers - models for other schools that also wish to oppose the militarisation of their institution. Three of them were awarded the Aachen Peace Prize this year. Direct actions have also had results: the armed forces have been known to call off promotional events after some such protests. In the University of Education in Freiburg, an army event took place only with a massive police presence, following the online announcement of protests. As a result, Freiburg youth officers had to decline an invitation from the university’s student council for an armed forces role play. At a vocational school in Hessen, a youth officer had to cancel a visit because of a critical questionnaire he was sent beforehand: his superiors no longer approved of the meeting. The armed forces are not at all immune to protests; they can be made to retreat.

Furthermore, thanks to the long-term commitment of critics of the military, cooperation agreements – for example in Saarland and North Rhine-Westphalia – have been stopped in their tracks. In North Rhine-Westphalia, soldiers have been excluded from the training of teachers. Additionally, there are continuing and intensified efforts in the peace movement against militarisation in schools, which have even included successfully pressurising the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs to issue favourable decrees. However, due to financial limitations, getting the same number of peace activists in schools as there are soldiers is unfeasible.

A protest - with toy tanks, planes, soldiers and fake blood strewn on the floor - calling for the demilitarisation of Kassel University, May 2012 (credit - Michael Schulze von Glaßer)

Despite the substantial public criticism of the militarisation of schools, many instructors and the school governing bodies do not see that there is a problem. In addition, antimilitarists still often encounter a lack of public understanding on the issue. Although the movement against militarisation in educational institutions in Germany has had some successes, and more and more people are being won over to resistance, there is still much to be done. The present bold advertising approaches of the armed forces can only be countered by sustained and vigilant protest.

There should be several levels of action. Firstly, schools as a whole can be demilitarised through the provision of antimilitarist and peace education resources, a greater curricular emphasis on critical thinking, and more radically through the creation of democratic decision-making councils with students, parents, teachers, and other staff represented on them. Secondly, parents and students should be better informed about children's rights not to attend activities run by or associated with the military, and alternative activities – such as visits from children with experience of war, or visits to anti-war exhibitions – should be put on.

More information on the issues must be circulated, using different media, and the pressure on the state governments responsible for education policy must be increased. This should include direct action and civil disobedience, for example picket lines in front of military stalls at education exhibitions. It is also essential to place the protest against the militarisation of school students into a social context as a whole, for it is only the militarisation of the country’s foreign and domestic policy that is forcing young people to become involved in war.

Graffiti on the wall of a school in Berlin reading 'Military-free zone&', March 2010 (credit - Michael Schulze von Glaßer)

Antimilitarists and peace activists must move on confidently with clear arguments and demands to confront the militarisation of education and society, as well as the militarisation of political and economic policies, sharing their experiences in order to maximise their effectiveness and move towards a world that is fundamentally peaceful and free of military domination.

Translated from the original German by Diana Vega

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