Transatlantic relations have always been on trial. American and German citizens are in a constant process of engaging with each other, for example through traveling, but also differentiating from the other side’s culture. The US seems to be out of reach for so many Germans, that there is often lacking a sincere attachment and understanding for the American values and the political system and vice versa. This mutual feeling of estrangement can also be found within the younger generation on both sides of the Atlantic. The educational system does not yet efficiently address this issue. The question arises, how can we modernize the transatlantic narrative, especially amongst younger people? The transatlantic perspective is just one part of the general political disenchantment that is omnipresent in the EU as well as the US. Therefore, engaging the younger generation in the modernization of transatlantic relations is absolutely crucial. A possible answer of how to address this issue lies in the field of political education. Civic education in school offers a valuable reference point, as on both sides of the Atlantic the need for investing in political engagement of the younger generation is tangible.
The first round of the Atlantic Expedition has presented sustainable ideas of how to develop a transatlantic educational system. This paper would like to follow this idea, as a modernization of the transatlantic narrative can only be generated in a bottom-up-approach. Schools offer the best location to mobilize the younger generation for politics in general and transatlantic relations in particular. Therefore, how can it be achieved that children and young adults engage in politics, right from the start, which eventually will lead to an improvement in transatlantic relations.
Political education seems to be the key to bring Europeans and Americans again closer together, after a period of mutual estrangement when the idealized picture transmitted in the 1950s showed cracks, starting with the early 1960s (i.e. Vietnam war). This renewed interest in each other’s culture and political system needs to be sparked and developed from early on. The federal system, a keystone of the political system of Germany as well as the US, proves to be complex and might result an unpopular topic in whatever curricula. However, it is precisely the established federal system that shall be at heart of this project. To compare each other’s political system is an unprecedented approach in learning firstly about their own federal State-system, and secondly demonstrating similarities and differences between the American and German system in general.
The education system, especially the subject of civic education would present the best setting to teach students the benefits of political engagement and the merits from a change in perspectives. One possible reason for political disenchantment may lay in the complexity of the political systems. Civic education is considered an unpopular subject as it often focuses on abstract issues, for example the legislative procedure of the state California. Hereby, transatlantic relations are not sufficiently incorporated in the curricula.
An integrated policy approach needs to be introduced in German as well as American schools to promote the participatory spirit of real-life politics. Legislative procedures can be exiting and explained in a down-to-earth way. Both sides of the Atlantic need a holistic approach that is exciting for the students on the one hand and at the same time down-to-earth regarding legislative procedures’ complexity. One starting point to inspire and mobilize children and young adults for the German-American relationship could be to develop the following project based on the comparison of the federal system established in both countries. As the first goal, students need to learn about their own political system. As a second step, they compare their insights with the other country’s system. By doing so, their vision of the world is challenged and global literacy expanded.
“The federal system, a puzzle crossing the Atlantic” – what is it all about? By my experience political simulations can be the key method to achieve the goal. It is well known that students learn more effectively when they are thrown into a ‘real-life’ setting, and are challenged with ‘real-life’ views and tasks. Following the approach of the Centre for Applied Sciences, legislative procedures on federal State-level could be put in practice by creating a fictional parliament in classrooms. Students become members of their local parliament and have to negotiate to defend the goals of their assigned parliamentary groups. Political simulations transport the essence of intercultural competence, democracy education as well as negotiation techniques. As a second step, students apply the acquired knowledge of their own political system, for example they compare the Californian legislative procedures, with the Bavarian equivalent. The aim is to foster critical thinking amongst the students, but will also show similarities and differences in the federal systems across the Atlantic. Historic bonds will be recognized, which will help to further deepen a sense of shared identity. As a third step, an in-person exchange program could be deployed to enable the students to connect with other students, engaging in the same project in other classrooms across the Atlantic.
To sum it up, this project would create a new and unprecedented narrative about transatlantic relations based on both country’s federal system. It would promote democratic education on state, on national and international level. As state-politics has always been a crucial pillar of the political federal system in both countries, German and American students should learn legislative procedures on a state level, as well as appreciate similarities and differences in the transatlantic system. Political disenchantment cannot be the answer in an ever more-complex world, which is growing closer rapidly. By the means of “The federal system, a puzzle crossing the Atlantic”, students engage in politics in an appealing way when it comes to deal with collective issues. In creating a bond between the younger generations on both sides of the Atlantic, a new sense of shared responsibility will be cultivated. In the end, this project will foster a new and sustainable transatlantic narrative and might even help to avert political disenchantment right from the start.