Far-right German party wants students to monitor teachers' political views

Students at the Albert-Ludwigs-University in Freiburg, Germany. A website run by the Alternative for Germany party urges students and parents to send it information about teachers who promote their political views in classrooms.
Students at the Albert-Ludwigs-University in Freiburg, Germany. A website run by the Alternative for Germany party urges students and parents to send it information about teachers who promote their political views in classrooms.PHOTO: REUTERS

AfD's tactic raises concerns about revival of methods used by East German secret police

BERLIN • A far-right German political party is calling on students and their families to report teachers who air their political views in school, leading to charges that the party has revived the methods of the dreaded East German state police.

A website run by the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party urges students and parents to send it information about teachers violating the country's neutrality code, which forbids them from promoting their political views in classrooms.

The party suggested that offences could range from "crude criticism of the AfD to incorrect and subjective learning materials", and outright calls to take part in anti-AfD protests.

Ms Katarina Barley, the country's justice minister, joined teachers' organisations on Thursday in decrying the measure as an attempt by the AfD to limit democracy in the classroom and intimidate teachers, citing parallels between the party's efforts and those of the Stasi, the secret police in the former East Germany, who turned millions of citizens into informers on their neighbours, teachers, friends, co-workers and even family members.

"Anyone who incites students to spy on their teachers brings Stasi methods back to Germany," she wrote on Twitter. "Organised denunciation intends to set us against each other and drive a wedge into society."

The governments of both Nazi Germany and communist East Germany encouraged people to report on their fellow citizens who were seen as posing a threat to the ruling order, cultivating a culture of unease and suspicion that still resonates with many Germans today.

The AfD rejects the criticism and the Stasi parallel, and insists that the online site it started last month is a tool to help parents who feel their children are being manipulated by schools and teachers, some of whom they say have encouraged students to take part in anti-AfD demonstrations.

 
 

The debate comes amid a surge in popularity for the AfD, which finished third in the 2017 parliamentary elections and emerged as the leading opposition force after Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats formed a centrist ruling coalition.

Recent weeks have seen the AfD rise in the polls before important state elections in Bavaria and Hesse, both traditional strongholds of the Chancellor's conservative bloc.

In Bavaria, where the far-right party is expected to make its debut in the state legislature after voting tomorrow, the president of the teacher's association, Ms Sabine Fleischmann, insisted that teachers need to be able to present opposing points of view in the classroom to teach students how democracy works.

"I see the portal as problematic above all because it intervenes in teachers' responsibilities," she told Bavarian Radio. "I have to be able to present controversial issues."

The AfD website, called Neutral Schools Online, was launched in the northern city of Hamburg. But party officials in other states have said they plan to put up similar sites. The party said that it received hundreds of tips in the first few weeks and that actual violations of the law will be reported to the authorities.

Mr Udo Beckmann, head of the German Association for Education and Schooling, said teachers in Germany are required to swear their allegiance to the state Constitution.

Teachers also pledge to uphold guidelines that forbid political indoctrination in schools, hold discussions of controversial topics to reflect differing points of view and teach students to analyse political situations.

"This is an attempt to use democratic means against democracy," Mr Beckmann said of the AfD site.

"Freedom of thought does not mean the right to say anything, and the neutrality law does not mean not being able to say anything. Teachers must be able to teach their students to think critically."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2018, with the headline 'Far-right German party wants students to monitor teachers' political views'. Print Edition | Subscribe