In childhood, adolescence and young adulthood we discover the world and develop a view of life. School is supposed to help us on the way by making us sufficiently acquainted with everything that might be useful. We’re pushed into the sea of arts, science and sports, steadily progressing from the flat coasts of reading, writing and arithmetic into the deep waters of more complex matters. Teachers stuff our brains with all kinds of information that will broaden our knowledge if we’re lucky enough to understand and fit the pieces into the constantly growing puzzle of human existence.
At the same time our character is forged with as much force as it needs to bend a cooling (and hardening) mind into the socially accepted shape. This should be a gentle and smooth process, but it exacts a certain delicacy from the smiths not to hammer our souls with blows that are too hard or too light. Alas, in a rigid and inflexible system there isn’t much room for individual treatment and those who are highly sensitive or in other ways extraordinary will easily come to grief. In that case school can be a painful experience that will remain engraved in the memory forever.
Even under favourable conditions education leaves a deep impact on a person because youth is impressive by nature. So much is happening! So much is changing! It’s no wonder that the years of learning and coming of age are a recurring topic in literature, even a genre of its own. Youth flows over with possibilities in reality as well as in fiction. Besides, many writers are digesting their – often unpleasant – experiences with the school system in books. Roald Dahl did it humorously in Matilda (1988) and Friedrich Torberg with grim detail in Young Gerber (Der Schüler Gerber: 1930).