Madeira history teacher spends summer in Germany on study tour

September 13, 2018

Matthew Sudnik, history teacher, traveled to Germany this summer to participate in a study tour to promote education and cross cultural dialogue. He wrote a blog about his experience, which can be found below.

For the last two weeks of June, I traveled to Germany on a study tour for social studies teachers organized by the Transatlantic Outreach Program (TOP). TOP is a public/private partnership supported by the Goethe-Institut in Washington, D.C as well as the Federal Republic of Germany Foreign Office, Deutsche Bank, Robert Bosch Stiftung, and Siemens. The mission of TOP is to promote education about Germany and to encourage intercultural dialogue. They fulfill this mission in part through six annual summer study tours to Germany for teachers. 

The theme of our tour was “21st Century Germany: Finding Solutions to Global Challenges.” In particular, we studied the German education system and explored the government’s policy of inclusion for refugee children in German schools.  In order to consider the diversity within Germany, we studied these topics in four cities – Dusseldorf, Wurtzburg, Chemnitz, and Berlin. Each city is located in a different state. In addition, we considered some of the lingering differences between the old East and West Germany. Although the country was reunified in 1989, economic, social, cultural, and political differences often align geographically with the old Cold War era demarcation. In an article from the Washington Post that I plan to assign to my students this fall, Rick Noack maintains that opportunities for employment and the indicators of good public health are severely lacking in the eastern states, those previously under the control of the East German government, the GDR. In addition, very few migrants and refugees live in the eastern states because there is little employment. However, anti-immigrant demonstrations and support for right-wing extremist parties are ascendant in the eastern states. One official told us that many citizens of those eastern states show more sympathy for Vladimir Putin of Russia than Germany’s own chancellor, Angela Merkel. Political polarization and conflicts occurring on the fault lines of culture are not problems for only the United States. These are some of the topics my students will consider in the political and cultural units of AP Human Geography. 

Each day of the study tour involved two or three professional meetings, lectures, or tours. Some highlights include our meetings with the Ministry of Education and Schools in North Rheine Westphalia as well as the region’s teachers’ union. In order to learn about Germany’s industrial history, we toured the Zollverein World Heritage Site in Essen, a region famous for Germany’s industrial age in the mid-19th century. My students will also tour this coal mine through my slideshow when we study this topic in the industrialization unit of AP Human Geography. 

While we were primarily studying contemporary Germany, there were also opportunities to tour more historic sites. My visits to a GDR prison in Chemnitz, the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial outside of Berlin, and Frederick the Great’s Sanssouci summer palace in Potsdam will all appear in slides and lessons in my 10th grade Modern World History classes.  

-Matthew Sudnik