DSA: an exceptional learning community
Deutsche Schülerakademie (DSA) is a German government-funded organisation running eight summer schools each year for exceptionally talented sixth-form students from all over Germany as well as German schools abroad.
At the outset, participants don’t know each other and look at each other with apprehension; at the end many will cry for hours, instructors included. A new community has been born!
At each 16-day summer school, six courses run in parallel, each co-taught by two instructors. The six courses cover maths, the natural sciences, social sciences, and the arts. Student participants enrol in one course only, and spend roughly 50 hours in class, exploring their course topic in great detail.
Courses are embedded in an overarching rhythm of the summer school, with an excursion, a sports tournament, two concerts (one internal and one public) and other ‘central‘ events providing for structure. Besides these, students initiate their own activities, teaching each other anything from card games to languages, from Volleyball to programming skills.
Organisers see themselves as enablers: with the exception of alcohol (and anything that is actually illegal), nothing is banned or discouraged. There is no curfew. Six meals a day ensure that students are fed and watered.
The DSA has been running for thirty years. A large community of alumni/ae, donors, volunteer instructors and friends support the organisation.
There are two other summer school formats which run in parallel to the DSA. They are called Talentakademie (TA) and Vorbilderakademie (VA).
Talentakademie is aimed at bringing together students from different social backgrounds and different types of school. Vorbilderakademie (Vorbild = role model) centers around students from immigrant backgrounds; instructors share their background and serve as examples of peers who have beaten the odds.
Both formats are similar to the DSA in structure and spirit, although slightly shorter and more practice-based and less academic.
I have been teaching courses at Deutsche Schülerakademie since 2014, on a variety of subjects: theories and practices of humour; translatability; the ‘centre’ in politics and society; writing about music; recipes and cook book as examples of knowledge transfer. In each, I cover as much material as I would in two M.A. courses, in as much depth. Quite frankly, being involved in the DSA is one of the best things in my life.
The DSA and its sister formats have established a framework for school-age kids to have what many describe as a life-changing experience. Participants tend to come out much more motivated, more respectful of their peers, and more alert to their role in society; even the brightest make a giant leap!