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Is Education Only for the Privileged?

Students should not only cram. Achievement also means exploring, experimenting and learning about learning. The problem with the old system is that relatively little was learned and achieved in school and the children of wealthy parents had an advantage.

Shortening grammar school time is controversial because much more will be demanded of students. Do children of rich parents have an advantage? Uwe Jean Heuser and his alter ego discuss

By Uwe Jean Heuser

[This discussion on school reform published in: DIE ZEIT 4/10/2008 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.zeit.de/online/2008/16/kolumne-schulreform.]

Ego: This country is now moving in the right, performance-oriented direction and the counter-movement is forming.

Alter Ego: Can you please name an example? Otherwise all this sounds like telling neoliberal stories

Ego: Slowly.

Alter Ego: What do you mean slowly? You want to accelerate everything.

Ego: But you are aggressive. One example is educational policy. The number of years in grammar school will be reduced to eight as the other industrial countries have done successfully. However opponents are increasingly popular because everything is not functioning. Germans are masters at ruining reasonable reforms.

Alter Ego: The neoliberal ton-ideology has gone wrong. In Hamburg, for example, the whole curriculum is compressed from nine years to eight years and packed with new demands. What madness!

Ego: Ton-ideologists are concerns of the left. But holding to old curriculums without any imagination was a mistake. Students should not only cram. Achievement also means exploring, experimenting and learning about learning. A mistake can be corrected as long as teachers and curriculums are imaginative.

Alter Ego: In any case, the reduction of school days represents a condensation. Students' parents guarantee initial advantages. Then the school system becomes more unjust than it was.

Ego: Why are you afraid of achievement? The problem with the old system is that relatively little was learned and achieved in school and the children of wealthy parents had an advantage through what they learned at home or from expensive private tutors. Achievement is the friend of the poorer, not their enemy.

Alter Ego: Oh, that sounds beautiful but is still unrealistic. When demands on performance increase, fewer children come to grammar school in the system. Selection becomes harder. Those children who already have advantages from their home will win.

Ego: Quite the contrary. The intelligent and diligent win whether rich or poor. You cannot argue that we need more achievement consciousness in the schools and more joy in learning. One implies the other and doesn't exclude the other. The problem is not the eight year old. The problem is that according to the old system children at the age of ten are sifted: grade school yes or no. Then each goes his way.

Alter Ego: That is a plea for a comprehensive school.

Ego: Be careful! The system must be meritocratic whether all school forms are brought under one roof or more bridges are built between them. This only succeeds through more achievement orientation, not less.

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But MUST We Just Assume That Education Is Really A Good Thing? 12.May.2008 09:18


I have an unusual perspective on this. My neuro-atypical condition made me unable to write. (Now I have technology that lets me do that, a little.) But I also had hyperlexia. So I learned about all kinds of arts, sciences, etc., by just reading books. Learned differential equations and linguistics, for example. Since competitive education was unable to handle my non-ability to write, I only have about a forth grade education.

I live in a total "college town" (the college happens to have about a one billion dollar endowment, so it's super fancy). The people in this town, not just the ones associated with the college, are mostly cold and uncooperative. Twenty miles north, the rural folks are sweet and they are always helping one another out. And I have observed this pattern over and over.

Simple folks are nearly always tolerant of atypical people. Educated people, more often than not, play subtle, yet often vicious, games of discrimination. If you look at the big picture, competitive education is actually antagonistic to social harmony. This reflects a pattern that I have observed many, many times. It is simply a reality.

Just because the scholars teach the same stuff over and over does not mean their material has any validity. Competitive education is more about indoctrination than anything else. I would say that about 60% of what they teach is actually toxic to common sense and coherent thinking. The world has basically been taken over by people who cannot think straight. That's why everything is so screwed up.