Healthy Societies Foster Inclusive Schools, Mr Höcke!

Adam Casals

8 mins - 22 de Agosto de 2023, 17:40

«At school, children should be exposed to diverse realities and learn to appreciate the benefits of gaining different perspectives in order to enhance their problem-solving abilities»
Summer interviews are a tradition in German politics. In the Eastern Land of Thuringia, the AfD party leads the polls with 34%, followed by the conservative CDU (21%) and the post-communist Die Linke (20%), trailing by 13 points. The regional elections are expected to take place in September 2024. Every summer, the representative of the AfD, along with all other parties that have their own members in the Landtag, becomes a 30-minute interview with the regional public broadcaster MDR. This time, Lars Sänger, the anchor of the evening news, introduced the local AfD leader, Mr Björn Höcke, as a member of an “authoritarian, national radical party”, using the definition by sociologist Wilhelm Heitmeyer, published in June by the Federal Agency for Civic and Political Education, a public office. Asked about the trend projecting a 20% of general vote for the AfD in a federal election, Heitmeyer, considered to be an expert with over 40 years of research on populism, stated that “the term ‘protest voters’ is overly simplistic”, while reflecting on “useless party bans, failures in political education and the threatening death of democracies”.

Mr Höcke, born in the Western Land of North Rhine-Westphalia like Mr Heitmeyer, was not amused at his party’s description on MDR. In 2019, the Administrative Court in Meiningen, also in Thuringia, deemed a demonstration against the “fascist” Björn Höcke to be “permissible”. The Court saw “no abusive criticism in this labelling of the Thuringian AfD boss, but rather a value judgment covered by freedom of expression”. Since June, the AfD holds a public office in Germany for the first time, after Robert Sesselmann won the local election to become Landrat of Sonneberg, also in Thuringia. Franco delle Donne, writing for Agenda Pública, described this as a “threat to the German political balance”.

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Throughout this legislative period, the AfD has declared education as one of their top priorities. Mr Höcke, who was a schoolteacher for more than 15 years, believes that “healthy societies are built on healthy schools”. However, in his opinion, not everybody belongs there. “We need to take away some stress factors from the education system”, he firmly stated. Mr Höcke is troubled by the “educational misery” in his country. “I aim to get to the root of the problem, that means we need a change in family policy, (...) in immigration policy, that is a pivotal aspect. (…) Among other things, we must also liberate the education system from ideological projects, such as inclusion, and gender mainstreaming. These initiatives don't help ‘our students’, don't make ‘our children’ more productive, and don't lead to ‘our children’ becoming the professionals of the future”. It is clear that children with disabilities are not considered by Mr Höcke to be ‘our children’.

Moreover, Mr Höcke “accuses” the other political parties because “they have implemented social policies that have led to schools having starting conditions that teachers cannot rectify, even with their best efforts”. However, those efforts that he would ‘expect’ teachers to undertake were not elaborated during the interview. In his depiction, “the stress of everyday life has (...) become unbearable in many schools”. Surprisingly, Mr Höcke did not discuss more conventional measures, such as increased education spending and investments in the school system, to address the situation.

The AfD parliamentary group in Thuringia has been criticizing inclusion policies in schools since 2015. Yet, in the midst of the summer lull, Höcke’s claims made headlines in the European mainstream media. Der Spiegel wrote about the “dismay” caused by the “appalling remarks” about children with disabilities. The FAZ accused Höcke of “shattering taboos”. In Italy, la Reppublica referred to “German eugenics”, highlighting that “in a tried-and-tested technique, the German far-right accuses the battles for [fundamental] rights of being ‘ideologies’. After the fight against the lgtbq+, now attacking another minority”. 

In Brussels, Politico Europe reported that “German politicians and disability advocates” reacted “with schock” when asked about Höcke’s comments. At the Tagesspiegel, disability NGO’s spoke about an “attack to human dignity”. Jürgen Dusel, the Federal government’s Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, underscored that “Germany carries out a special responsibility due to the systematic mass murder of disabled people by the Nazis”. “That’s why it’s important for me to make clear that inclusion is not about an ideology project, but about the implementation of fundamental basic rights, human dignity, the development of personality and equality before the law.”

“I first went to a special school and then to a regular school. This change was a blessing for me personally,” explained Dusel, who is severely visually impaired. “Inclusion is by no means a burden for students without disabilities, either, but rather an enrichment, as they thus come into contact with people with disabilities early in their lives and don’t develop prejudices in the first place.” Furthermore, Dusel told Deutschlandfunk that “equal participation across all life aspects is a core democratic value. Those who question inclusion are attacking democracy”.

A speaker of the Green party added that “excluding people with disabilities from schools leads to exclusion from society”, while a CDU-representative qualified Höcke’s statements as a “blatant and unvarnished view of his world of thought”. However, in July, Mr Friedrich Merz, the national leader of the CDU, spoke about the potential for future cooperation with the AfD at the local level. 

Politico reminded that “the current German school model allows students with disabilities to be taught with other students to enable equal participation in society. This was enshrined in law in 2009 with the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”. 

Recently, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, shared on Linked-In a definition by the UN Strategy and Action Plan on Hate Speech: “Any kind of communication that attacks or uses discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factor” is considered to be hate speech. In his words, “we must confront bigotry by working to tackle the hate that spreads like wildfire”. 

In Austria, the Social Ministry Service of Tyrol launched the “We are inclusive” award fifteen years ago, later transforming it into a quality seal in 2015. Bernhard Achatz, head of the labour and social law department at the Tyrolean Chamber of Commerce, noted that “it is often reported by companies that their group dynamics are absolutely enhanced when individuals with disabilities are part of their staff”. Inclusion is “an added value for the entire company”. According to Tiroler Wirtschaft, “what unites these companies is not only the exemplary employment of people with disabilities, but also the recognition of their radiance and charisma”.

In Spain, a research study by Ethic Lab for the Randstad Foundation highlighted that “individuals with disabilities can offer a truly unique added value”; including traits like perseverance and positive resilience. María Viver, director of the Randstad Foundation, added that “companies are re-evaluating the necessary skills for facing the future”. To tackle contemporary challenges, “one needs to know how to collaborate in a team and approach issues from different perspectives. There is a strong alignment between people with disabilities and companies aspiring for a future”. 

The ‘more productive professionals of the future’, in Mr Höcke’s words, should learn this lesson as soon as possible, starting in schools where ‘our children’ are exposed to diverse realities and learn to appreciate the benefits of gaining different perspectives to enhance their problem-solving abilities. This should definitely be the healthy approach to a healthy society, one that fosters inclusive schools. 

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