On June, 21st, I went to the “Schiller-Town” of Marbach. I spent the night in Freiberg/Neckar and on June, 22nd, I continued towards Marbach. A friend from long-ago days – Thomas Kleiner – was nice enough to accompany me during travels. Thanks to him, I met Lorenz Obweser and Ruth Martinelli and almost 20 children aged between six and ten. Because I sat in a classroom of the Free School “Christophine“ in Marbach. However, the term is misleading, because in the Christophine, nobody just sits the entire morning. On this morning, I experienced something so beautiful and great that I was moved to tears.
I experienced how
can function in such a way that you enjoy going there! Even the children and teachers!
But first the bad news:
I have now spent some time being a little sad. My grandchildren are wonderful and rather wise small persons. But in a few, or a little more than a few years, they will start school. And then the sad part of life begins for them. I, too, do not know how to protect them from the destiny that most German children have to endure after they are six years old.
Because school – both as I remember it myself and how I experienced it when my seven children were there – is atrocious. Not only in Germany and many European countries, school is something really backward-oriented and truly evil. With few exceptions, this diagnosis is true for the entire world, and especially for Asia.
School, as we have it today, will damage our children just like it damaged us. That ruins our society and is detrimental to our future. Many persons only recover step by step when they are adults, some never.
In the following, I will relate to you what I find so evil about the classical school system and give reasons why we need to change this system if we want to gain social progress in the form of peace and more justice.
Everyday life at school in Germany (and perhaps world-wide) is worse than sad!
In our system, education means “trained authoritative learning in a quasi-military format”. Knowledge -bulimia prevails. It starts as early as primary school. Luckily, it is no longer quite as bad as it was in the times of the German pedagogue Dr. Moritz Schreber.
But they still drill students. You have to sit and cannot unfold. An hourly scheduled is pressed upon the children. Self-organization and self-determining are prevented. There is no way for the children to learn and practice when and what they want.
Agile, slim and transparent are words schools do not know. There is a clear hierarchy between teachers and children. Incidentally, the mechanism goes from bad to worse. This is why school has more and more problems. If that happens, the children are blamed and their poor socialization is cited as a reason. The parents get the blame.
Because they failed in their duty to bring the children up properly. Well, once in a while, this is probably true, but in the majority of the cases, it is not true. In those cases, parents suffer under school just as much as their children.
At school, achievement is the absolute maxim, often even worse than in real life.
The achievement-oriented society is already practiced. Everybody is evaluated, graded and judged. In primary school, it is all about achieving grammar school level. That will only work if the child adapts to the system “school” and submits to it. The ordering principle of school is clearly hierarchical. The magic word is authority. You learn obedience.
The children learn that you have to more or less accept everything you learn, along with the process.
Whenever school does not function, the teachers and society blame the parents.
Because the parents never taught their children how to respect others. Especially the teachers. As I wrote before: sometimes that is true, but usually it is not.
In order to enable the children to manage the transfer from primary school to grammar school in this miserable situation, there is an army of – mostly black-clad – private tutors who, during the few free hours, give the children an extra hard time. And thus – mostly under many tears – they are pushed more or less successfully over the threshold to the grammar school level.
I was often a “child that had no respect”. And I often doubted what they told me, and I also said what I thought. And time and again, I was punished for it. Because the teacher is always right. At school, there is collective obedience. After all, an order is an order you need to carry out. I, too, made that experience.
More than once, they also gave me accusatory feedback about my “being different”. Mind you, all I wanted is: be me.
Later in life, I reversed the roles. I justified the “bad habits” I had also been punished for in an intellectually tricky way, calling them “civil courage” and “constructive disobedience”. Those were attributes that made me exceptional.
But, basically, the school system is based on suppression. There is an order. There must be an order, because humans need order. However, it is not there for the student but for the system, and therefore against the student.
Because this is the only way for the system and the teachers to make students a homogeneous mass (that is at least what school thinks). Between eight and nine, everybody has to do calculations and between nine and ten, everybody has to read. Between ten and eleven, you have physical exercise and from eleven to twelve, you write. And between twelve and one, you get religious instruction. At school, you have to sit and “behave” most of the time. Otherwise, you get punished.
All this is justified by postulating that there is no other way of doing things. It is the only way you can learn efficiently. But that is a huge lie!
The full-time school makes matters even worse. All those free afternoons in our youth that should be reserved for playing, thinking, experiencing and living are no longer available.
Now we get the full-time school. More and more often, children will also be transported to have lunch and “levelled-out” with convenient food. The schools look like barracks and are not places where you can flourish and meet at eye-level.
Schools are organized and managed following military examples, the small persons are administered, their value is the same as that of recruits during basic training in times of compulsory service. The new buildings at grammar schools (or rather: educational plants or barracks) I know at Neubiberg, Ottobrunn and Höhenkirchen-Siegertsbrunn also reflect this attitude in their architecture.
You have long corridors with many doors that lead to the many classrooms like hoses. You often cannot open the windows and the air conditioning creates bad air that gives the “teaching staff” headaches. Looking at these educational plants, you are reminded more of barracks than of free places where you learn something and practice for life. And since these buildings have been constructed with little money (during the bidding, the price is the most important criterion, which means the cheapest architect will win), it will not be long before you notice the first signs of decay.
To make up for it, the administrative overhead grows and grows. This is how education becomes more and more expensive – but not much of it reaches the “final customer: child”.
All social systems need structure. Both children and grown-ups look for something to lean on. But the structure of schools should support children, instead of working against them.
At school, nobody considers the great diversity potential that small people have. For reasons of efficiency and because of limited budgets, it is neither possible nor desired. They scale and measure, certify and grade. What is taught is achievement.
In short: they indoctrinate you because you need to function. After all, society needs consumers. Autonomy and the ability to criticise are not welcome.
Once in a while, something happens that gives you hope. Because the teacher is really a nice person. But the best teachers are few and far between and sooner or later they will capitulate in front of an educational system that has de-personalized itself. And the best they can hope to do is perhaps minimize the damage that the system produces. And teachers will be selected for their good grades. However, those with the best grades are seldom pedagogically the best. The best will then try to find a job in a private school or drive a taxi or do some private tutoring.
Children, too, should be treated as if they were humans!
I actually once heard this lapse of the tongue (although it was not from a teacher but from an entrepreneur who did not say “children” but “employees”). To be sure, I certainly was only a lapse of the tongue. However, I strongly believe that, deep down, it was what the person who said it believed and felt.
Economy is now learning that motivation will only work intrinsically . At school, they practice 100% extrinsic patterns. That cannot end well.
Today, everybody, be it Allianz or Siemens, wants to change work-life. #newwork is fashionable, promoting a more innovative and creative approach. One of the protagonists of this movement is Thomas Sattelberger, the “Saul/Paul” of the #newwork-movement. He promotes himself like no other and runs through the country with his message of salvation. After his concern career, the thing that made him most famous was “Augenhöhe, der Film“.
Now he visits everybody and criticizes what he witnesses in local enterprises. Justly so. He would like to crown his life’s work with a seat in the German parliament – for the FDP (is that a fitting combination? FDP and #newwork?). It will make me happy if Mr. Sattelberger, as soon as he sits in parliament, promotes agile and humane schools. But that is another thing I do not really believe in.
For instance, most of the enterprises would like to become more agile, slim and transparent. At least that is what the colleagues of HR (Human Resource – another one of those ugly terms used in the modern working environment) preach. They look for innovative employees who are creative in order to enable their enterprises to manage the transition caused – among other things – by digitalization. At HR, they talk about eye-level, #newwork, intrinsify.me, democratic enterprise, common-good economy, “shared mobility“ & “shared economy“ and many similar issues. They dream of a network of self-organized teams, of a new entrepreneurial culture and communities of shared values. The latter are also quite popular in politics. There are many more catch-words of this type in the new world of old enterprises.
Except how do you expect that to work out if our offspring is trained to do quite the opposite as soon as they start school?
Enterprises want agile, critical and creative people. Yet that is exactly what schools beat out of the young students?
But nobody talks about #newschool, about self-organisation at school, about democratic classrooms, about teaching at eye-level and similar things. At least in Germany, this is not desired. It is taboo!
Terms such as #home-schooling, #un-schooling #no-schooling gain popularity in Europe. They find more and more supporters. More and more people “school” their own children (see also the video of a presentation by Bruno Gantenbein for me).
In Switzerland and some other EU countries, home-schooling is a process that is well established and supported by the administration. Germany is the only EU country where home-schooling is prohibited! Because in this country, they fear alternative schools and alternative thinking as much as the devil fears holy water.
Perhaps there will soon be a disproportionally high number of self-owned and free schools in our country.
But perhaps that is a good thing. Because it creates huge pressure. If there is no chance to escape, then there might possibly be more willingness to change something than in other countries.
But back to the enterprises. How are we supposed to find these new agile, creative, open, … employees if agility, creativity and openness are the very characteristics that our schools kill most efficiently?
Because in our schools, children are treated as raw material that needs to be formatted. The input is curious and free creatures. The output is small professionals. They function as an obedient and easily controllable society supposedly needs them to function. Consequently, the first thing they will be is: diligent labourers, brave consumers and law-abiding citizens – whose first priority it is to always accept what the upper echelons decree.
We demand elites who solve our massive problems, but at the same time we are content with mediocrity and foul-mouth populism. And we promote mediocrity in schools.
Why is it that children must realize very early that life is no pony-farm and that they are part of the achievement system if they wish to make something out of their lives? That they must follow practical constraints, just like their parents and all the other grown-ups?
They are measured and graded. It is always about being better than the others. Success is everything. It is all about managing to reach the next step in the ladder of an irrational career. No matter what it costs and how it is done.
Emotions, erotic, life, love, the competence to solve conflicts, being able to listen … all those things play no role in the curriculum. You have to become a professional resource for the fight on the business front. And you learn that it is better for your wealth, growth and safety not to say what you think and perhaps not even to think.
And as soon as they understand this, they visit the tattoo factory just to protest, because there they will finally get something permanent. As a last substitute activity before they give up their own lives. …
Good entrepreneurs (leaders, managers, … ) will want to make their employees look bigger on a daily basis, rather than smaller.
I rather love the principle of “acting in a biophile way”. That means (in my own words):
Always behave in such a way that what you do will contribute more towards the lives of other people becoming more, rather than less, in many dimensions.
Perhaps the Golden Rule (Goldene Regel ) is even easier to live than the biophile maxim:
“Treat others the same way you yourself would like to be treated“
Or in the negative form:
“If you do not want it to happen to you, don’t do it to others!“
“Biophile Maxime of Behaviour” and the “Golden Rule”? Why don’t we use it for our children? Why don’t we make them big, instead of small?
From early on, children are made to look smaller, rather than bigger. Not just by the teachers, but also by their parents. I witness all the time how children are massively instructed by their parents about what is right and what is wrong. Ranting mothers scold their children for totally normal behaviour. There is stupid moralizing and indoctrination. What is appropriate and what is not! What you do and what you do not do! What is possible and what is impossible. What you can see/hear and what you cannot see/hear under any circumstances. What is evil and what is good.
For what behaviour you will end up in hell and for what in heaven. And as soon as a child is six and enters school, matters continue in the same way, only more professionally.
Nobody is interested in hearing what small people want and do not want.
At school, you undergo formatting in that they form you according to the current image of a good grown-up. Children have to fit into our world. They learn to survive traffic. They become young consumers who define themselves by what they own and how they look. They have to function, but they are not allowed to be and do what they themselves want to do and be.
At school, ratio and your IQ dominate, they are always in the foreground. It is all about developing an understanding of all the absurdities our life offers. You have to accept the absurd as a matter of course and thus become part of the absurdity.
Social life and the common good only play a minor role. Emotions and eros, love and friendship are not practiced, the same is true for the competence to solve conflicts. Because our systems are based on adaptation. They survive by interchangeability, uniformity, (financial) metrics and the fact that the citizens follow social patterns blindly like lemmings. The ability to criticize things and be autonomous in all you think and do will only be a hindrance.
We will only reduce the latent enmity inside us if we socialize our children differently.
School is one of many places where the old role-plays prevail. Boys still have to be small heroes and cannot cry. Girls are expected to be humble and tolerant. Today, you can show emotions, but it is better not to do so.
If you want to be a success, you have to become Mr. or Mrs. Poker-Face!
Emotions are something you should not allow to get too near, it is seen as a detrimental and annoying weakness. You have to be strong and may never show your weakness. This is how the heart is surrounded by iron rings. If you like someone, it is better not to show it, the universal love for creation is considered a crazy idea. Standing upright as your outer shell is part of the education, but unfortunately not taught as a higher inner value.
This stupid socializing of our offspring will never minimize the wide-spread sickness Alexithymia. A short time ago, a man my own age cried next to me when he told me how his grandchild had died during her birth. I am not sure if that is something I would still be capable of. However, if I watch a sappy film, I start to cry. Isn’t that terrible?
As many others, I fear that I am dependent on “second-hand emotions”. That is doubtless a result of my early and long upbringing. Consequently, I now practice consciously opening myself to real emotions. At the age of 67, that is not easy.
Humans are the crown of creation. But they have to fit into the world.
I am glad that the world changes – at least in the developed and privileged societies I know. It seems to me that more and more persons have a yearning for new “social success patterns”. Well, they are something we badly need, because the old patterns are exactly what brought great misery to this planet.
Schools are the only places where this news has not yet found its way into. And the situation also gets worse and worse at the universities. There are numerous #newwork but no relevant movement #newschool. Many people who work in the educational industry (active teachers and administrators of the educational bureaucracy) told me that the situation has been getting worse for many years.
Schools must serve the children, not vice versa!
Curricula and rules given by the educational ministries make it harder by the year to do justice to the small persons. Additionally, you have an ever increasing administration that eats up the time that should have been spent with the students. This is how the system also becomes more and more expensive and more and more inefficient.
This was the bad news. Here is the good news.
In my next article, I will write how the citizens fight back and create totally new things. Because they actually exist: the Christophine.
But you will read more about this in my article Christophine 2, which I will hopefully publish here soon. I will describe a school that, as far as its motto and its practical work is concerned, has absolutely convinced me. A school that proves that things can work differently – and work quite well, too.
(Translated by EG)