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Education of the Citizen, not the Homo Oeconomicus

"The come-of-age citizen capable of personal judgment is inthe center of our constitutional- and social order, not the homo oeconomicus. This citizen is in gainful life. However gainful life is only a part of social life. We are badly advised when we mistake this part of sociallife for the whole. Vocational life is enormously important but is only a part. When education ignores this, a form of illiteracy is encouraged." This address is translated from the German.
German President Johannes Rau on Education

From the Mourning Address in Erfurt, May 3, 2002

[After the running amok of Erfurt that cost the lives of 17 persons, Johannes Rau delivered a message emphasizing sympathy, grief and perspectives. His address is translated abridged from the German on the World Wide Web,

Our children and our students need lively imaginations enabling them to become self-determined and self-confident persons. They may not fall in the prison of artificial worlds from which they no longer find their way out. Modern communication media are indispensable. However schools need more than connection to the worldwide network. Students need living experiential nets that hold them, nets of human interdependence and interest in others.

Our children and students must measure themselves by one another. They must learn to bear up under competition. Without accomplishment and readiness for performance, every school would be unrealistic or starry-eyed. Judgment of a work is not judgment of a person. No student or person is a hopeless case. Schools may not become places of fear, either for students or for teachers. I thank all teachers in Germany for their excellent committed work that is often done under very difficult conditions. Students and teachers are anxious that their school be a place where one can learn and live and work in respect for one another.

No one believes that the struggle against violence, aggression and hatred can be delegated to the schools alone. We are all enlisted here. We may not delude our children that the world is bright and shining. Rather we should arouse their confidence that the world is not incurable. Children need the experience that they can solve conflicts and overcome disappointments and that efforts are worthwhile. Whoever gains this trust will also have the courage as an adult to tackle problems and seek rational solutions.

Our life together may not become a merciless competition or rivalry. A human-friendly society lives from mutual assistance, solidarity with the weak and attention for one another. Having time for one another is one of the most precious things that we can give one another. Only in this way can we create a society where we wish to live ourselves.

I hope everyone who lost a dear one last Friday will have or find people who accompany, listen and help them take the next steps in life. I hope all of you will find sources of comfort on the hard way lying before you so you can discover new confidence. Let us hold together in pain and mourning. Let us not leave one another alone.

German President Johannes Rau on Education

[This address at the final congress of the Education Forum is translated abridged from the German on the World Wide Web,


Education is an important theme that has long been neglected. The publication of the Pisa-study woke up many people. In view of the great challenges, education must again be on the agenda, the agenda of those who decide and act, not only those who speak and write. I don't only think of professional education advisors. Education is so important that it concerns all politically answerable persons.

The education discussion of the sixties and seventies often reached a deadlock in an organizational debate. Many involved persons long spoke past one another and spoke about one another more than with one another. A new approach is vital.

The Education Forum didn't first understand this after the publication of the Pisa-study. In the past two years, I have learned about the work of the Forum. I am impressed by the variety of themes and the quality of individual contributions. Still I ask myself again and again: What can be the unifying theme for the many insights, suggestions and recommendations?

The goal seems to me to be the same as in the sixties: more participation of everyone in education. Many regard this as an old hat or antiquated message that no longer fits our modern situation. This is not true but is a prejudice and misjudgment.

Laying the foundations of a modern education is obviously no longer central today. We can and must build on our foundations. We should not forget through the Pisa study that the OECD has recently confirmed the excellent overall educational state of the population.

Today we face the challenge of beginning a new education reform qualitatively and quantitatively. Participation in education chances is trifling and more limited than necessary. For example, we need more university graduates in the coming years. The most recent commission on education planning and research on the `Future of Education and Work' makes this clear. The efforts of other states also demonstrate this.

This goes beyond more of the same. Qualitatively improved involvement is necessary that considers the changes of our society since the sixties and seventies.

What does education participation mean in a society where the family is no longer obviously the main pole? What does education participation mean in a society where women not only sue for their equal rights in the world of work but increasingly exercise these rights? What does education participation mean in an immigration country that recognizes this fact more reluctantly than actively?

What does education involvement mean in a society that is individualized and pluralized, where the consensus about binding and obligatory values is no longer self-evident but where this consensus must be discussed and negotiated again and again? What does sharing in education mean in a society where paid work for many persons has become "more elastic, porous and fluid"? Finally what does sharing in education mean in a society that has become older and that previously didn't adequately see either the chances or the burdens in this development?

The Education Forum gives important answers to all these questions. Now the concrete work begins. Speaking and writing is enough. Insights must now be connected into practical policy. One of the prerequisites is that transparency and cooperation become self-evident in education policy.

Like few other fields of policy, education policy depends strongly on all participants actively collaborating... Education reporting is not an end in itself. Education reporting is an important foundation so we all make the correct education decisions.


We spend too little money on our elementary schools... For decades we have neglected elementary school education... The smaller the children, the larger the classes. This general rule is wrong and damaging and may not continue any longer.

Children who come in a kindergarten, child-care center or elementary school are curious and want to learn something. They are very good at this. I hope all politically answerable persons may be energized by the curiosity and joy in learning of children.

We should now be careful of turning the kindergarten and elementary school into vocational schools or high schools for toddlers. Certainly, the inquisitiveness of children for natural science and technical questions should be promoted and utilized but the emphasis must be on "promoting" rather than "utilizing".

Education always aims at the long term. Education needs time. One must take and give this time. This is very important for education at the beginning of life. Communication of basic skills in reading, writing and arithmetic, everything necessary to optimally use all the later education possibilities, is vital. Delight in learning should be promoted.

All this involves participation. The kindergartens, child-care centers and elementary schools are not only gates to education. They are also the gates to our society, to personal development, capacity for community, vocational success and civic responsibility.
Whoever cannot participate because the conditions are inaccessible will also not keep up on the later stages of our education. He or she will have difficulty in a society that increasingly marginalizes people without knowledge and training. This is true for German children and even more for children from families that come to Germany.

Everyone realizes that we need controlled immigration. Everyone recognizes that immigration cannot succeed without integration. The key to integration is the German language. Where can this be best learned if not in kindergarten and elementary school? While this depends firstly on families, many families are overstrained. This cannot be changed overnight.

In cities like Frankfurt or Berlin, nearly every second pre-school child today has parents who came to Germany from other countries in the past years and decades. One does not need to be a prophet to see that we will face even greater integration problems in the coming years if we don't reorganize and equip the kindergartens and elementary schools so they can contribute to successful integration.

I know all this costs money and that little money exists in the public treasuries. Enforcing the legal claim to a kindergarten place was hard. Converting into action the proposal of the Education Forum that child-care centers should be free for parents will be even harder.

However we must ask ourselves whether we can really continue as in the past with a weak and fragile foundation of our education on which massive houses should be built. Otherwise education ruins will soon arise out of the great strong houses.


In Germany, women were first admitted to universities in 1900 "on a trial basis". In the US, this was possible in 1845. Here Germany for a long time was a "belated nation". Much has happened in the hundred years since then. The education policy of the sixties had a decisive part in that. That so many young girls and women attend continuing schools, that their share is over forty percent and that they play an increasingly important role in gainful life are all results of the education policy of the sixties and seventies.

Still this is not the whole picture. Almost a hundred percent of employees in kindergartens and child-care centers are women. In elementary schools, over eighty percent of the teachers are women. Thirty-nine percent of the teachers in high schools are women. Twenty-six percent of the teachers at universities are women.

The world of work outside the educational system is a reflection of this situation. Formally there are many chances for participation of women which they utilize successfully. However the higher in the income hierarchy, the more masculine the atmosphere becomes. One reason for this is that our educational policy doesn't adequately consider the goal of harmonizing family and vocation.
Other states have long seen the signs of the times and adopted the comprehensive school. We only go this way hesitantly. Fears are awakened among many, fears of the nationalization of children's education and dissolution of the family. I can entirely understand some of these fears and take them seriously. No one can or should take away from parents the responsibility for the education of their children.

Parents need more support in a society where more and more women are gainfully employed. Single parents who are mostly women know how hard it is to harmonize raising children and maintaining a vocation. Families in which both partners are employed also have problems.

I plead here for less ideology, fewer misguided idylls and more realism. Having children, raising them well and giving them educational chances for which they have a claim and need in a society seeking equal participation of men and women in vocational life is a rather pretentious program. This realism can only be achieved when we no longer act in school policy as though the number of employed women were an exotic minority. We need more comprehensive schools. Comprehensive schools are good for parents and for children. Opportunities for sharing in educational possibilities increase.

Naturally I grieve when children leave their parents' home with only its pressures for intellectual and personal promotion. Deficient promotion doesn't always originate in deficient capacity or absent will of the parents. Our society has changed. As a result there's no point scolding the present school for not cushioning the problems of a reality to which it isn't even adjusted. Therefore we need more comprehensive schools in all forms.

School isn't a living space either for students or for teachers. The school today must be the living space where the individual youth is seen as a person with his or her strengths and weaknesses and isn't only told what to do and what must be known. The school must be a place that strengthens the strengths of every individual and weakens his or her weaknesses.


I am skeptical of the term "knowledge society" because it abridges. The come-of-age citizen capable of personal judgment is in the center of our constitutional- and social order, not the homo oeconomicus. This citizen is in gainful life. However gainful life is only a part of social life. We are badly advised when we mistake this part of social life for the whole.

Vocational life is enormously important but is only a part. When education ignores this, a form of literacy is encouraged that can be expensive. Every society needs community so cooperative life succeeds where formal legal rules do not hold. People must learn and understand this.

For some time, we have discussed intensively and less intensively education on values, the importance of value orientation and discernment. This is not a signal for exodus back into a normatively formed society. That would be a wrong way. There is no longer the silent pressure of conditions or a uniform canon of morals and values in a society that opens itself internationally where many persons, not only a few, want to take their life in their hands.

Cooperative life in our society can only succeed when citizens can make their own judgments, when they learn to make ethical reflections and when they can trust that basic values are not put in question.

Cooperative life can be learned in many places in our society: in the family, associations, parties and unions, in citizen initiatives and businesses. One can and should learn this in education centers, kindergartens, elementary schools, continuing studies and at the universities.

In a beautiful essay titled "Education", Hartmut von Hentig described the ability and will to reach agreement as an important standard for education. Some standard bearers of the knowledge society cry out in anguish in hearing something like this. All this is stylized as too general, too vague and hardly concrete. I insist: discussion of these questions and standards is vital, not only facts and quantifiable knowledge.

These standards represent a virtue, not an error. Only in this way can we meet children and youths with the questions and answers they raise and give. Centers of education are places where one learns new values that can be discussed and promoted. These centers may not withdraw from this responsibility by pointing to their important functions of vocational preparation. They must actively safeguard these values. I include the universities. Much has already happened on this field. We should promote this wealth of ideas and this engagement and not suppress them by referring to the seriousness of life and the necessary mediation of vocational knowledge. This is also sharing. Sharing in life is more than sharing in working life.


We live in an aging society. The 21st century is a "century of senior citizens". For many years, the demand for lifelong learning has been one of the standard demands of every education advocate and economic strategist. Often the demand is frustrated. Our education discussion and our praxis are still fixated on initial training. That many persons need or want to have a second education chance doesn't have the relative importance that will be necessary in the future.

In Germany, thirty percent of 25- to 64 year olds are involved in continuing vocational training. Germany is average in the OECD. This percentage is higher in Australia, Denmark, Norway and Great Britain. Forty to fifty percent participate there. I hope something will change in Germany. Above all I hope lifelong learning will not only be important for those in active life who are already better trained than the others.
It is not good when only half as many job seekers as employed participate in public functions of continuing education. In a time of structural unemployment, the retraining of job seekers is a key to personal and economic success and an important contribution to social unity.

Much has been written and said about the end of industrial society and the dwindling significance of paid work. This is partly correct. However paid work was and is a central presupposition of social recognition and has the greatest importance for the self-esteem of persons, identity and participation in social life.

A society that becomes ever older in which paid work possibilities for people without training decrease depends on everyone's readiness for lifelong learning. Lifelong learning concerns not only those already in vocations but those without jobs. Continuing education does not only mean that employed graduate chemists learn new technological procedures withy a large chemical corporation. Continuing education also means that the young man whose parents came from Turkey, who didn't graduate from a modern school and is without work, can catch up and be an apprentice as a bricklayer or salesperson.

Many changes must occur outside education. We have to test the governments on the labor market and in our social systems whether they aggravate or facilitate continuing education. All this will not be easy and will cost money. However money is not everything. Initiatives and attitudes are crucial. For example, we have to learn again that becoming old and old age cannot be equated with growing incapacity.

Young persons should be able to assume responsibility. Therefore the times of education and training should not be longer than necessary. Still they must be long.

Michel de Montaigne, the great thinker, once said: "I have seen enough people whose brains were weak before their stomachs and legs because those attacking the infirm hardly sense the danger." This is true but seems forgotten by many in our society. Youth per se is a proof of fitness. Experience that can only comes with age is regarded as a resource that can be ignored or neglected. We have to change our ideas here. Continuing education is not the intellectual or physical training of those who otherwise could not follow. Continuing education also creates the possibility of profiting from the experience of elders. Whoever wants to be at the height of the times must receive and use this treasure.


Finally a point that is very important to me. Education is always something that happens between people. Education is dialogue, being able to ask and listen or - if one prefers the academic expression - communication. Learners are the key for all education reform according to the statement of the Education Forum. This cannot be said often enough.

Our education centers are as good as those who teach and research there. Teachers need much to fulfill their tasks. They need our support above all.

The school and the university do not always bring joy. Resentment can also germinate out of these experiences. One can understand this in the individual case. However when resentment dominates public debate, something is rotten. Then the talk of the growing significance of education for our future becomes a mere phrase. We are all responsible that this does not happen.


Is there a formula that summarizes everything that must be done in education? Sharing in education in a society that has changed and will change again and again is crucial. Let me make clear. I don't know a formula that summarizes everything practically necessary in one slogan. I caution against falling into hectic activity and conducting simplistic pseudo-debates on this or that individual aspect whose change will supposedly make everything better.

The cooperation of all who collaborate in research projects is possible. Will is necessary. This seems to me the most important message of the Education Forum. We must overcome the ideological fixations of the past. This is true for all schools in educational policy. We must see exactly where the problems lie and then seek concrete answers to concrete questions. In the last two years, the Education Forum proved this can succeed. I'd like to thank all of you. Now practical policy presses. The energy exists. Real change must now arise out of energy.

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