For years, however, the Turks were told that they were supposed to go home. They were not granted citizenship and very little incentive existed for them to invest in Germany. All of a sudden Germany as done a hundred and eighty degree turn. Immigrants can now stay, but they must swiftly integrate. Forced integration, however, does not have good historical precedents. Germany’s last experience with such integration surely did not behoove the Jews.
The question of Islam, underlies this question of integration. The most outspoken promoter of forced integration, Ayaan Hirst Ali, is a former Muslim herself. However, the average secular lay Turk think the program is crazy. Many Americans who have immigrant relatives know that teaching a sixty-five year old grandmother English is an unrewarding task, especially when this grandmother has very little formal education. In Germany however Mutti muss Deutsch lernen. The new immigration law demands 650 hours of German language education.
What is more worrying is not that Mutti has not learned Deutsch, but that Mutti’s children rarely if ever go to university and only attend the most basic school. Perhaps this is similar to the problem of Latinos in the United States. However, the German school system exacerbates the problem. At the tender age of eleven, students are either sent to Gymnasium, which feeds students into university, Realschule, which gives students more advanced training or Hauptschule, the lowers level of schooling. Though possible, it is very hard to change paths so that your ability to attain a good paying job if it is determined by your teacher that you should go to Hauptschule, is extremely low. This, indeed, is where many of the gastarbeiter children end up. The push, then, needs to come in elementary education, not to make grandmas learn German.
The counter argument of course, is that parents influence their children, and therefore the parents must learn German. What is important, however, is parent’s general outlook towards education, not the knowledge of one specific language. This knowledge seems to be held by very few in Germany. Today I had a meeting with a German of Turkish origin who has started a ground-breaking program here for older Muslim women to integrate through sports and learning. She realizes the true problem but most in the German government do not.
Parents needs to support the kids, but the language barrier, as generations of immigrants in the United States has shown, is not the problem. How else can one explain the Chinese dry cleaners down the street from me who hardly speak a word of English and sent their daughter to Dartmouth.