What did you think a minute ago

Kafka, what were you thinking?

They were always dead. Otherwise you could have asked them, the authors of world literature, whose works millions of students had to read, analyze and interpret during their school career.

Franz Kafka, for example. I would have asked him what he was smoking to get this idea: A man wakes up in the morning, has turned into a beetle and his greatest fear is that he will no longer be able to go to work. His existence as an insect doesn't go down very well with his family - he dies. World literature.

Or Theodor Fontane. Theodor, I would have asked, that with the long sentences that spread out over entire paragraphs, sometimes entire pages, if not even fifteen pages at a time (!), With inserted subordinate clauses that define the nature and character of a red down to the last detail -blue-colored, slightly lowered tulip, which he just discovered while strolling through the Brandenburg countryside (it's a wide field!), sentence constructions that would have defended themselves against this use - if they could! - and outstanding insights such as the one that you shouldn't want to become happier when you are already happy; So that with these sentences that didn't want to end and are really difficult to trace back so far that you can understand the entire content - isn't that possible, well, a little bit shorter?

What were Kafka and Fontane thinking?

We asked this question up and down, analyzing so many texts in countless German lessons that I understood even less than before. This feeling often crept into me: Is everything well and good that we think of here - but how much of it is right in the end? Aren't our considerations a bit far-fetched? (A greeting goes out to my former German teacher, Ms. Schürmann!)

You couldn't ask directly, never. Because the authors (yes, 99 percent of them were men!) Were always dead. The emphasis here is on were.

They are still dead, but the Abitur exams in German and English now also revolve around literature that has not already been a few decades or centuries under its belt. Today one also reads texts by living authors.

This is halfway new. What is completely new, however, is that high school graduates write this author a hundred times, a thousand times after the exam, they praise, criticize, ask them what they thought or even blame them. For example, for future life under the bridge, which the bad grade can no longer prevent.

It has to be this messed up new Internet generation that is publicly ridiculing itself, these young people. No, wait a minute; if someone were to analyze this thesis: It doesn't sit well. There is much more to this. So let's take a closer look at the phenomenon.

The confused New York Times columnist

There is Farhad Manjoo. Manjoo is an American journalist who criticized California's single-family house legislation in a 2020 column for the New York Times. Similar to Anton Hofreiter from the Greens. Manjoo considers this way of living to be backward, it takes up too much space, he writes. It was a while ago that it was released, his life went on as always. By the end of April, hundreds of comments suddenly came in under a picture he posted on Instagram. In English, in German, defiant.

The comments come from high school graduates from North Rhine-Westphalia. They should read and analyze the column from 2020 in the English Abitur, at least if they did not want to work on one of the other two tasks that were available.

On the same day they discovered Manjoo on Instagram: "Your article is not exactly the yellow from the egg," writes a student. Others stick to German: "Use words that are in the dictionary, you H0nd!"

Manjoo is confused, on Twitter he writes to his 197,000 followers:

https://twitter.com/fmanjoo/status/1385626083488239618

I'm not translating that into German now, as the high school graduate: nobody translated the texts either. It continues under the tweet. “You owe us a high school diploma, brother,” writes a student in German.

To be fair: Manjoo uses really complicated words in his column. He speaks of "little boxes made of ticky-tacky", "suburban sprawl" and "habitable charms", he uses words like "befuddled", "ritziest" and "putative". While writing, he could have thought that German high school graduates (and journalists) would not understand that.

The understanding bestseller professor

Four days later, again in North Rhine-Westphalia, this time: advanced pedagogy course. On the examination sheet there is an excerpt from the book “Mythos Bildung” by the German sociologist and educational scientist Aladin El-Mafaalani. I already wrote about the book for Krautreporter. "Shortly after twelve noon I received one or two emails that I didn't quite understand," says El-Mafaalani of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, and then the number kept increasing.

"Brother, I forgive you," writes one on Instagram. Another: "Stop talking to the French!" Red.] And El-Mafaalani answers. He writes: “But folks, there is no easier way to explain it! Look what the great Pierre Bourdieu writes about the concept of habitus: There are 'systems of permanent disposition, structured structures that are suitable to act as structuring structures. "

Structured structures that are suitable to act as structuring structures. Is clear. El-Mafaalani then founds a self-help group for the “affected” high school graduates.

The shit storm that isn't

Farhad Manjoo and Aladin El-Mafaalani are not the only authors whose texts have made it to high school exams. In an interview with the Badische Zeitung, the journalist Marius Buhl says: “I didn't contribute anything except to write this text for the Tagesspiegel at some point and then forget it. And suddenly all this news came. "

The students even give advice, here from the economist and social scientist Oliver Nachtwey from the University of Basel:

What are all these high school graduates' reactions? It doesn't matter whether they pound in on Buhl, Manjoo or Mafaalani? At least not a shit storm. Marius Buhl says: “I am sure 150 people wrote to me. 99 percent of the comments were positive, which totally amazed me. "And Aladin El-Mafaalani writes:" Of all the messages, at most one in ten was outrageous. A lot of them were funny, some showed interest. "

Only one in ten messages was outrageous - if that was always the average on social media: Hallelujah! The adults could take a role model here. In the digital world, people can communicate with each other who could not communicate with each other before. Interaction is one of the great achievements of the digital society. "Your article fucked my Abitur, thanks for nothing." That is interaction, too, if not an achievement. Farhad Manjoo stayed relaxed anyway. He replied: "Oh, I am sorry." He can't help it.

The thousands of comments were primarily a valve, at a time when valves are in short supply - thanks to Corona: Crashing at school graduation, getting drunk, taking drugs, painting school at school, imagining the greatest future and still on Forget the task on the day of the Abi exam - everything just doesn't work. The frustration has to go somewhere. So why not go to the only place that can currently be entered without a distance rule: the Internet. "His Instagram profile was used more as a platform for communication between the people who wrote the exam," says Joe, a high school graduate who wrote to Manjoo, opposite the radio station Deutschlandfunk Kultur. The reactions of the students are thus a high school stress management valve.

If this text should ever be part of a high school diploma examination: It was a neologism, because the phenomenon is so new that there was still no suitable word for it. Nothing to thank for.

The reactions could also be harbingers of a greater development, that too: thanks to the Internet. If high school graduates in the eighties were dissatisfied with the task, they could only get upset about it in the evenings over a beer with their classmates. Today, an entire state can unite, via social media, within two days. They can use the platforms, start a petition with over 8,000 signatures out of their anger and demand a fairer evaluation.

Young people get involved in politics, we have known that at least since the climate protests. Here too, social media play a crucial role. Perhaps they will not stop there, but rather tackle the next crisis: the education system. When students get angry today, it gets loud.

The author who doesn't know any better either

What was the author thinking? If you wanted to ask Franz Kafka that you would have had to send a handwritten letter. It would probably have been weeks before it arrives. Kafka wasn't on Instagram. Today a comment on social media is enough. A student writes Farhad Manjoo on Twitter:

“I wonder if writers like you who end up on exams see your own writings in the same light as we do. We're out there analyzing your text: 'The author uses this metaphor to pique the reader's interest.' And you're probably thinking, 'Lol I wrote that because it sounded nice. "

Manjoo replies: "Haha, yeah pretty much."

Ha! You would prefer to print out this dialogue from your former German teacher and add a big "I always knew it!" (The second greeting to Ms. Schürmann goes out with this!)

But how boring would it be if from now on authors constantly explain their own art and journalists explain their own columns? That would not guarantee a good grade either: the author Saša Stanišić did the self-test. In the Hamburg German Abi 2019, a task for his novel “Before the Festival” was available for election. According to his own account, he wrote the test himself under the pseudonym "Elisabeth von Bruck". The teacher gave him 13 points.

What was the author thinking?


Editing: Esther Göbel, final editing: Susan Mücke; Picture editing: Till Rimmele; Audio: Iris Hochberger.