When I first picked up Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad, I didn’t think much of it. I thought I was going to experience yet another High School English class novel; my attention drawn more towards the numbers on the pages, than the stories between the lines.
However, things have changed since High School. I enjoy learning now, and am more lenient regarding certain tasks… Including reading.
Perhaps it was the way the narrative outlined Twain’s thought process, or perhaps it was because I could relate to certain parts, but I found A Tramp Abroad to be quite enjoyable. Twain’s book included tales about theater, painting, and even a story in which Twain’s ribs were broken during a duel. However, one of my favorite excerpts was when Twain described “Student Life” in Germany.
In the text, Twain meets “corps” students, which, on top of their normal studies, compete and duel each other for recognition. When the students weren’t fighting, their lives were on par with the lives of students here. On page 15 of the text, Twain writes:
“German university life is a very free life; it seems to have no restraints. The student does not live in the college buildings, but hires his own lodgings, in any locality he prefers, and he takes his meals when and where he pleases. He goes to bed when it suits him, and does not get up at all unless he wants to. He is not entered at the university for any particular length of time; so he is likely to change about. He passes no examination upon entering college. He merely pays a trifling fee of five or ten dollars, receives a card entitling him to the privileges of the university, and that is the end of it.”
Based on my own observations, some things about university life have not changed since Twain’s time. German students still do not live in college buildings. They go to bed when they like, and wake up when they like. Their universities do not value homework the way US schools do, and they also receive free higher education.
I am taking a class this semester called “Global Education of the 21st Century,” in which students attending Berlin’s Humboldt University and New York’s NYU participate in active discourse regarding educational systems. My German classmates and I have compared the US and German educational systems to quite an extent, and have realized the following:
The US educational system is, in many ways, corrupt. The general public system is largely test-based, and openly favors students from high-income families. Plus, the extent to which it teaches students is debatably low.
The German system, thought not corrupt in many of the economic ways the US system is, still has its fair share of flaws. The German system puts more pressure on test-based assessments than the US system, in that students are often compared based on test results and nothing else. Non-academic work holds little to no value in the German system, and is not even regarded during the college application process; and non-academic courses are few and far between in German schools… even fewer than those in the US. Plus, bi- (or tri-) linguism is not only favored, but also often necessary, for enrollment in certain universities or participation in many jobs.
All of these factors have positive and negative aspects. The test-based evaluation process favors students will good memories over students without. The lack of pressure placed on non-academic work allows students to do extracurriculars for their own benefit, rather than for the sake of an external source (e.g. colleges). Plus, the bi/tri-linguistic factor encourages student interaction across borders, allowing students to easily interact with different cultures.
However, there are negative factors, as well. The test-based assessments have a whole list of problematic factors (which I will not get into, for sake of maintaining your attention). The lack of pressure placed on non-academic work places all pressure on academic work, eliminating such factors as students’ lives outside of class, and how extra activities can affect how efficiently students perform. It turns students into numbers on application sheets, dehumanizing them. The multi-linguistic priority can also be difficult for students who are not interested in learning multiple languages, or who do not do so easily.
I find it interesting how German and US/American educational systems differ… both between each other, and over time. It was nice to learn about Twain’s interpretation of the system during the late 1800’s; it allowed me to compare the educational institutions he saw, to the systems of today!
- Humboldt University, Berlin: University of Queensland Website