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April 2000 - Nr. 4
Happy Easter - Frohe Ostern
Sybille Forster-Rentmeister2000

Dear Reader

I am sure you agree that winter is over for most of us. As usual I planted my pansies or "Stiefmütterchen" way ahead of everyone else. There is nothing like a splash of real living colour just before everything else is about to explode to life. The tender green tendrils of weeping willows wave a friendly hallo were ever we go, and the silvery points of pussy willows remind us that Easter is just around the corner, even though this celebration of new life is rather late. This year we can hide our Easter eggs outside between blooming daffodils and primroses. I never forget the excitement I felt as a 4 year old, when my mother took me into our landlord’s garden to search for those Easter treasures. It was the first time for me.

Sybille searching for Easter eggsWe lived in Arnis, Schleswig Holstein, where I was born during the long trek from the eastern regions of Germany towards the end of WWII. So far north the weather can be as inclement as it is often times in our regions. I recall that the bushes sprouted tiny leafs, which seemed to me incredibly green. Not much else was growing vigorously, but it was mild enough to be outside without a coat. I held my basket and searched for eggs. They were so well hidden that I got a bit discouraged, but my mother showed me how to look for them and explained the most likely places were the Easter Bunny might have left one for me.

In later years my father shared his Pomeranian custom with me. We would get up at the crack of dawn, not speak a word, get dressed and walk to the nearest forest or park. I especially remember the Stadtwald of Krefeld, were we lived from 1952 on to 1968, when I came to Canada. There nature’s progress was always a bit ahead from the north of Germany. The trees all had little green leafs and the grass was sprinkled with "Gänseblümchen", little white daisy like flowers. Walking through the forest we still would not speak. Arriving at the little lake we would wash our faces with the fresh cool water and only than we would exclaim to each other our joy about the splendour of nature and wish each other a Happy Easter, "Frohe Ostern".

Usually the ducks had little ones who waddled behind their parents along the shoreline and made for the water as soon as we came too close. Occasionally we even saw an "Easter bunny". On the way home we cut a few branches of fresh green, which I placed in a vase and hung self painted Easter eggs on. Then we went to church to celebrate the resurrection of Christ with much pomp and glory. This service was always one of my favourites. It inspired so much hope and reminded us of our true immortal nature. In our household there was always much talk of this native state of ourselves, the essence of us, the soul, the spirit.

Much of the trials and tribulations in life become so much easier to understand and endure if we are aware of our spiritual nature. Life, in the human form of flesh, is necessary to us to live and create an effect in the physical universe, as it exists. This understanding has always helped me through the rough spots and does so for most of humanity, no matter how the belief is structured. It gives us the courage to carry on.

After church we had a long Easter breakfast, almost a brunch. After fasting for nearly a week, or at least on Good Friday, these long drawn out meals amidst family, served as an important meeting ground. Plans for the future were made, wishes recited, hopes expressed, old stories told and promises made. I always promised to do better in the new school year, which was starting about that time. Unlike in Canada we had to display very good literary skills from the first grade on, or else we could not progress to the next level. The idea no doubt was, that if one does not have reading and writing skills, one cannot learn anything else. That is the reason why it is so shocking for Canadians of German decent to hear about the terrible illiteracy in Canada among students. The current news on Grade 10 Students having to perform a literacy test before being able to continue to the next grade is indeed welcome. What quite a few others and I cannot think with is the fact that these vital skills are being insisted on so late in the game. Why are there not mandatory checks in every school year, right from the start? In my time, everyone who had completed the first grade could read the fundamentals quite well. When we were10 years old, after only 4 years of schooling, we could read just about anything that was printed in the way of literature! Except for the nomenclature of specialized fields we were capable of writing and reading and understanding what we read. These skills then could be build on at a rapid rate every year.

This of course has been abandoned as a system too old fashioned on this continent. At one point the ideas of psychologists outweighed the workable routines the teaching profession was used to. Unfortunately the teachers fell for the newfangled ideas and did not even protest or demand change when they saw first hand that the new system was not working. Instead they allowed Ritalin and other substances to be administered to students too rambunctious to fall into their acceptable student behaviour pattern. It never occurred to them that their students might not be doing well because the basic skills were not available, that basic tools had been abandoned, that their students were forced to learn conceptually a curriculum that they did not understand. All that is left to a student within this system is memorizing what they hear or remember with their lack of vocabulary from limited reading. Multiple choice question and answers are not a reliable way to find out if someone knows, understands and can use any information. It does not demonstrate any understanding at all, but only shows if a student can remember something. This does not amount to knowing. Ergo they have a hard time. They behave badly because they do not understand.

It is time to reinvent the system back to the old standards and methods. The use of dictionaries is practically obsolete nowadays. Can you imagine?

I have been told that the reason for the low standards is to be found in our diverse multicultural mix. In the USA it is also quoted as the root of all evil in learning, or rather, the lack of it. To some of us the reason lies clearly in not demanding certain skills, after having taught them properly; of parents not being able to follow the "new" methods, and therefore not being able to help.

I recall when in Germany the new American way of teaching arrived. I was taught in one class only, and I was bored for the duration and did not learn anything new. Soon I could be found to read something interesting under my desk, for which I then had some difficulties. I am very glad that I learned the old-fashioned way. It enabled me to learn my mother tongue properly and therefore gave me the ability to learn anything else I was interested in as well, including another language like English. And by the way, I still use dictionaries extensively! When I do not understand something I get terribly bored and loose interest. The interest can easily be restored by going after those misunderstood words.

But enough of this subject for now. Just do not expect me to give up harping about it. The basis of a good education can never be underestimated and should be pushed and supported, always.

A word about our front page: We shot the abstract tulip trees at Canada Blooms and the other part for a little traditional whimsy at home, then spliced them together on the computer. We hope that you enjoy our creation.

And with all good wishes for a splendid spring and a wonderful Easter I remain as usual

Yours truly

Sybille Forster-Rentmeister

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As the editor of Echo Germanica Sybille reflects on cultural, artistic, political and daily events within the German-Canadian landscape.
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Sybille Forster-Rentmeister, editor, editor-in-chief of Echo Germanica, comments, cultural, artistic, political, daily events, German-Canadian, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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