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Description of the project

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Aims and objectives

The members of the department of Social Sciences at St. Ursula Gymnasium, Attendorn, aim at an expansion of the offers ordinary school lessons normally provide. In this case they want to attract the interest of teenagers and young adults in politicians, their work and obligations to get a better understanding for their situation. They also want to promote the direct contact between teenagers and politicians. Therefore they started the project "Dream job politician?" ("Traumjob Politiker?") that is of a multidimensional structure.

Franz Muentefering (1) First, the department initiates interviews between teenagers and politicians from the federal government and the state government as part of the project. The members of the department intend to work on a high level: the politicians who take part in the interviews are members of the German Bundestag and the State Parliament, heads of government, ministers and leaders of the Opposition. They belong to different political parties.

Apart from general questions about their self-image the politicians have to comment on the following controversial issues: "the possibilities of and the limits to democratic decisions", "youth and disillusion in politics", "women in politics", "media and politics", "work at the grass roots", "European politics".

(2) Second, the department of Social Studies develops educational software (programmes and internet documentaries) in cooperation with the students. It consists of the interviews, that are recorded multi-medially, as well as of additional investigation material.

Target group

One has to distinguish between two target groups being involved in the project in question: on the one hand there are the students who get directly into contact with the politicians; on the other hand there are the (later) users of the educational software.

Usually, teenagers and young adults (16 to 20 years) who are interested in politics take part in the interviews initiated by the department of Social Sciences. But there are exceptions: younger students can also participate in the project if they are highly interested in the topic. In our case, two twelve-year-olds attended several interviews. In short: in 2005, eleven students have to be considered as the "nucleus" of this project; some interviews were given with an audience of about 70 students though.

The target group for our educational software is rather complex and varied. Because the software is "from teenagers for teenagers" the department of Social Sciences primarily focuses on users aged 15 to 25. But due to the chosen topics the software is also suitable for senior education.

Consequently, the target group of this computer presentation refers to anybody being interested in politics and his/her representative or willing to go into politics.

Questions

Landtag of NRW "Representative of the people" - there is hardly another occupational group that is so well known, discussed so controversially and - at the same time - defined so unprecisely. Even current school books offer nothing but mere information about the institutions or eventually give a schematic description of a typical day in the life of a politician. So there are reasons enough to work on this issue in a completely different way.

The project tries to approach to the underlying issue with the following questions:

The project and its outcomes

Up to now the department of Social Sciences has held 40 interviews as part of the project. 20 of them were interviews with the so-called "leading politicians". Many interviews took place in the "studio" (i.e. at our school, in the main offices of the political parties or in the State Parliament of NRW [= North Rhine-Westphalia]); some were given on the hustings or at the stands of the different political parties in pedestrian areas.

The project met with positive reactions on behalf of the politicians. The following politicians sacrificed their time for an interview, partly lasting for several hours:

Multi-media presentation (main page) ...for a better understanding: The leader of the SPD, Franz Muentefering, came to our school just to answer our questions - he stayed for about one and a half hours. Willi Brase (SPD), Helga Daub (FDP) and Theo Kruse (CDU) spent two hours on our project, Hartmut Schauerte (CDU) even three.

The multi-media presentation "democracy - representative?!" resulting from the interviews does not offer a detailed description of a working place but it tries to put up a profile of "demands" on a politician. Additionally, it includes the problems the politicians are confronted with. Nevertheless, our teams's interviews with leading politicians, the impressions of the "work at the grass roots" on the street during the election campaigns and further information being multi-medially edited focus on the work of a politician.

The presentation offers to the users a surface with an "intro" and an "extro" and a main menu containing six "modules" and a page for additional help.

Module 1 ("top talks") contains twelve extracts of interviews with leading politicians, each of them about five minutes long. They comment on topics such as "visions and aims", "discipline in the parliamentary party", "powerlessness of politics", "women", "youth and disillusion in politics", "media" and "the politicians' touch to the ground".

Module 2 ("ideal types") is a video collage of about eight minutes. It shows the answers of the politicians to the question: Which qualities must a successful politician provide?.

Module 3 ("work at the grass roots") is a compilation of "dictaphone snapshots". It offers impressions of the political work on the street (election campaign). One can find interviews with members of the established parties as well as interviews with supporters of the lately founded WASG and the organizers of the Siegen Monday Demonstration. This module further contains a recording of a street talk between students, taking part in a rather reputable experiment ("the poorest of the poor"), and a local politician in Cologne.

Module 4 ("image questions") shows the results of a survey about the topic "youth and politics". In February/March 2005, our team asked about 270 students (aged 15 to 20) at St. Ursula Gymnasium about their relation to politicians and politics. The data to be presented can be chosen separately referring to age and sex.

Module 5 ("panoramic views") illustrates the working place of a politician. In this case there are panoramic views of the plenum of the Federal State Parliament of NRW, Duesseldorf, a conference hall and the central office of the CDU election campaign at Duesseldorf.

Module 6 ("insights") presents the daily life of the delegates with the help of texts and photos.

The presentations are shown in short version. One can find more detailed documentaries (esp. texts) on the internet, on the homepage of the department of Social Sciences where each interview is presented in full version. Here are the addresses:

Team work

It is of high importance for the department of Social Sciences to stress the fact that the project described here has come into existence and was carried out because the students wanted to: it was them who prepared and carried out the interviews and who took over responsibility for the recording of the data (video, audio, photo) as well as for the editing of the multi-media software. The two adults had the mere function of persons in charge.

The investigation of the students includes the following activities:

Furthermore, the school software, "democracy - representative?!", resulting from these interviews was entirely planned and programmed in Flash 7.0 (TM) by the students themselves.

Cooperations

As already described, the department of Social Sciences at St. Ursula Gymnasium, Attendorn, closely cooperated with some political institutions and organisations within the framework of this project.

Volker Kauder Above all, one must mention the press office of the State Parliament, Duesseldorf: we were allowed to go on our own tour around the building, always considering our personal needs and wishes. Besides, the interviews with the ministers and delegates turned out to be very straightforward there. We had them in different conference halls.

Beyond that, the central party offices of CDU and FDP at Duesseldorf were important to us. We were also allowed to act as we liked to make our investigations.

The importance of several constituency offices (e.g. Cologne: Alliance 90/The Greens, Olpe: SPD) and some ministries (Berlin: Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Duesseldorf: Ministry for School, State Chancellery) has not to be neglected either.

Finally, one has also to mention the offices of the delegates of the German Bundestag (Brase, Daub, Muentefering, Pinkwart, Schauerte) that enabled our team to make appointments quite easily.

One must clearly state that every institution and organisation deliberately cooperated with us. Never did we meet with refusal but we were offered additional help instead. In some cases they even made further dates for interviews with other well known politicians.

The party organisations we contacted showed a very high commitment and supported our ideas extraordinarily. This attitude cannot be explained by the two running election campaigns (May 2005: the NRW State Parliament, September 2005: the German Bundestag). According to our impression it seems to be possible that their willingness to cooperate with us was simply due to the fact that the institutions and organisations were pleased that someone showed real interest in them and their work. They always told us that our interest was very special though the media do not stop giving the impression of the significance of politics. Perhaps that is the reason why Peer Steinbrueck, Minister President of NRW, and Oskar Lafontaine, the leading candidate of WASG, preferred our team to professional journalists after we had asked for an interview.

Evaluation

In the course of our project the teenagers have learned a lot:

  1. They made experiences with "political stars" being of high interest for the media. So they were able to compare their personal impressions of the "media" with reality.
  2. They got political information first hand and were able to compare it considering the different parties.
  3. They got an insight in the daily routine of political institutions and organisations (parliament, work for the party).
  4. They got to know that the institutions and organisations they contacted try to work "close to the people" and that they are open for discussions.
  5. They got aware of the attractiveness of the job of a politician, i.e. to change something. But they also got confronted with the "tristesse" of such a political routine (hustings only some people attend, information stalls in pedestrian areas in bad weather, slow parliament debates about amendments to the law).
  6. They acted in a team as representatives of the media and learned to compete with "other" professionals to realize their own aims (press conferences, hustings etc.).
  7. Niklas Bein exploring the conference room of the Greens at NRW Landtag In this context, they were confronted with the dilemma of "information content vs. broadcasting time", i.e. they had to reduce the overwhelming quantity of the gathered information to an appropriate size.
  8. They got aware of the manipulating power the media have or might have on the consumers by cutting interviews or using photos. (They also "experimented" with recorded material but did not abuse it.)
  9. Though not intended, they slowly but steadily impressed and affected a lot of people: politicians, their fellow students, their professional "competitors" of the mass media. The later ones even published about 50 newspaper articles, TV and radio reports about this project.
  10. Besides, the cooperating institutions and organisations also learned a lot from this project: in spite of controversial reports in the media there are still teenagers who are interested in politics and who are not afraid of a confrontation with members of the "political caste".

An example of good practice

The most striking fact provided by our project is that the politicians, who are said to be distant from the citizens, are not like that. They took us more serious than we could have thought of. The Member of the Bundestag, Hartmut Schauerte, put it into a nutshell: "Walls of distance are often not put up by those ones who are on a superior level but they are 'thought' by those who think to be at an inferior one. Anybody can contact me!"

Therefore, we want to encourage everybody to do it like us and to contact his/her local politician. But it is important to reflect the talks afterwards: one can do it creating an internet presentation and educational software like we did; but one could also work on video, audio and photo collages or simply discuss the recorded material.

Last update: November 2005


©  Eva Jansen, Plettenberg and Frank U. Kugelmeier, Attendorn 2005-2010

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