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I find that soldiers talk very openly and really engage

By Jens Pröve

Lebenskundlicher Unterricht (LKU). A heated discussion about “fake news”. Suddenly a soldier speaks up: “I don’t know if I’m sticking my neck out by saying this ...” Then he hesitates for a moment, before continuing. And his theories are fabulous, provoke contradiction. The discussion continues, as lively as it began.
For me, that was a great moment in LKU. Because a space opened up in the classroom where even a questionable opinion could be expressed. An opinion that provoked contradiction. This is exactly my idea of teaching: aside from all the necessary knowledge transfer, to create a space for lively debates where conflicting positions can be expressed – and questioned. That is why I think it is a very good decision to place LKU in the hands of military chaplains. Our training makes us qualified to teach ethical education. We are part of the Bundeswehr and we know the procedures and issues, but we are not part of the military hierarchy. As a result, spaces for discussions can emerge that are not always possible in day-to-day military life.
I think that the specified curriculum is extremely helpful. It covers a wide range of topics. Every teacher and every teaching group can find something suitable in it. I usually bring two or three topics along with me and let the class choose. Sometimes the participants request a topic in advance, and I am happy to include that if possible.
I teach at the Federal Armed Forces Logistics School (Logistikschule der Bundeswehr, LogSBw), so my LKU course participants are mostly attending the school for a few weeks or months of training. For this reason, I largely avoid using PowerPoint presentations, because the soldiers experience more than enough of this medium in their other classes.
I find that short films or film sequences work best. Zebis offers an inexhaustible treasure trove of this material. The eyes are the guiding sense of our time, moving images are what the course participants are used to. Short films are also often a good introduction to a topic. However, especially in longer classes, it is important to switch between different media and methods. I like to use media as an introduction or starting point, as a way of initiating a lively, sometimes controversial discussion. And if the class discussions sometimes continue into the break, then I know that the topic has hit a nerve with the soldiers.
Of course not everything always goes smooth­ly. I find the short lessons of two periods to be more difficult. Here you hardly have time to get started on a topic. After the introduction and warm-up, we already have to begin our descent. This is particularly unfortunate because the lessons at the logistics schools are often one-time contacts and it is not possible to refer back to previous units or resume them.
With the longer lessons, things are different. If we have a whole day for LKU, then we can go on a trip. For example to the Bunker Valentin (site of a WW II submarine boat factory) or ­other German historical sites. This makes some topics much more directly accessible.
A special highlight for me is the one-and-a-half day LKU seminars for junior officers. These seminars provide an opportunity to work on a topic in the depth it deserves and not just scratch the surface. There is also much more time for talks and discussions. And the joint lecture hall evenings are great, too. They offer a good opportunity to get into conversation with each other outside of the classroom.
In lessons and seminars, I find that soldiers will talk very openly and really engage with the lesson if they are interested in a topic and if they feel that the teacher is also enthusiastic about it. Lessons can be difficult if they had a social evening the night before, or if there is an exam soon after the LKU class. That happens sometimes, too. And occasionally I notice that some soldiers are very set in their beliefs and find it difficult to think differently. This is particularly obvious when it comes to “fake news” and the realization that some people are shut away inside their filter bubble. So LKU and ­ethical education in the armed forces are all the more important for the future.

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Jens Pröve, Protestant military chaplain since 2016 at the Federal Armed Forces Logistics­ School in Osterholz-Scharmbeck