Saturday 6 October 2018

ALS column piece from 1986: 'Turnvater Jahn'

education (2) turnvater jahn

If you have the same teacher for years at secondary school and the man is a complete cretin, you’re unlucky. But if such a man has something to say you find relevant, then you’re lucky all those years. I had such luck with my history teacher. I had lessons with him from class one to class six and a couple of times a year he said something that even now – thirty-five years later – I can still remember. That’s a score very few achieve. Nowadays I maybe doubt a thing or two he said back then (I am slowly growing up), but out of deference I withhold my scorn. He said, for example, that history moves step by step to the left, but when I hear Reagan, Botha or Bukman, not unimportant men in our world, doubt steals over me.
He gave proper lessons, at any rate. He sat behind his desk and told us things, fifty minutes out of every hour; we listened and wrote down what he said. Nobody was interested in educational innovation or other such crap. One of the persons he half-smilingly talked about was Turnvater Jahn. I don’t know if my aversion to all that fuss about the human body took shape then. Perhaps his words fell into already fertile soil.
Good and bad were distinct, uncompromising concepts, and Jahn became a gymnastics teacher who wanted to bring up German youth in such a sphere. If you were to sum up his philosophy good-naturedly, you could say: cold showers, no moaning, up-and-doing. A mentality with which you can construct the Delta Works or wage a war (actually, the natural dream of every boss when thinking of his workers – no nonsense). War? What, less good-naturedly, a contemporary and fellow-soul of Jahn, the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte, had to say in his ‘Reden an die deutsche Nation’. The young German was to be so well trained in his gymnastics lessons that at any desired moment, without any additional training, he could be employed as a soldier.
So it is not strange that since the age of sixteen I have seen Turnvater Jahn grinning behind every gymnastics teacher. And this prejudice has in fact been confirmed spine-chillingly often. As a teacher myself, I have seldom met a gymnastics teachers who were worth their salt. They had admittedly little chance with me, since I felt it was unjust they earned as much as we did, since we had to correct and prepare lessons in the evening, while they only had to spend a few hours in the daytime in a hall shouting out orders and lie on their stomachs once a week, grab their ankles and rock like a swan. I have personally devised a manageable theory: the body is to the right. It is limited and restricted, orderly and easy-to-grasp. The mind is to the left, chaotic, volatile, ungraspable. Using my mind, I can cover ten kilometres in the fraction of a second, while my body needs four hours to do it. Those only concerned with their unwieldy bodies must therefore be to the right. I don’t take offence at them for this, though it sometimes calls for quite an effort. In addition I also try to be stoical about it. For me, this means: if someone says something incredibly stupid, I don’t get angry even so.
I’m nearly always successful, you could indeed say: that Snijders man is a real stoic. When my daughter was sent home from school because she had had a difference of opinion with her teacher about the universe, I didn’t get annoyed, well, not for long at any rate. But on one occasion it was touch and go. I thinking of something eight years back. All of our kids – we have five of them – are still at home. We’re having our evening meal, lots of talking and arguing as usual. I pay no attention and spoon my soup. Suddenly I hear the word ‘concentration camp’. That afternoon my sixteen-year-old son has had a trivial tiff with his gymnastics teacher on the playing field and the man has said to him: For the likes of you they ought to reopen the concentration camps.
I put down my spoon in the soup and go over to the phone. When I have the headteacher on the line, I tell him that the following day I will be handing in an official complaint to the inspectors. This is bluff – I don’t know what an official complaint is or how to make one. Fifteen minutes later the telephone rings. It is Turnvater Jahn, who is of course only scared when your threaten him with someone higher up the hierarchy. My wrath has evaporated, I don’t listen to him, I hold the receiver half a metre from my ear, and when I can’t hear anything more, I hang up. I hope he reads this little piece, but its unlikely – he naturally sub-scribes to one of the major morning newspapers.

No comments: