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The education crisis - just a symptom of general social failure

by Bernd Liske
One aspect of our society, which is oriented towards self-interest rather than the common good, is that the systemic relevance of education is increasingly taking a back seat to being a market to be served and a nice playground for endless political debates and reforms with little substance, the main aim of which is to preserve the market and the hereditary farms...
The education crisis - just a symptom of general social failure

[This interview posted on 12/22/2023 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

The shock runs deep: more and more of Germany's pupils are unable to demonstrate basic skills in reading, mathematics and science. Germany is below average internationally. The media is full of lamentations, experts are pouring out of every hole, politicians are claiming to be able to solve the problems and the lobbyists of those who have been unable to reduce the problems with their billions in (non-)services are whispering in the ears of politicians about how to fix the situation, but this requires one essential thing: more money. The NachDenkSeiten discussed this topic with Bernd Liske, who has been studying Germany's general social constitution for many years. From the editors.

NachDenkSeiten: Was the plight foreseeable?

Bernd Liske: Of course. Since I have been trying to place project ideas in the education sector since 1998, I have had a lot of experience with ministers, civil servants, IT advisory boards, institutes such as the BIBB, BITKOM and other networks, and I have noticed the resistance of structures to ideas outside established thinking and outside interests that have long been established. The primary reasons for this are the defense of subject areas that are considered hereditary and a way of thinking that finds it difficult to break out of established patterns. The same pigs are driven through the village again and again without being slaughtered - the problems solved: For example, the inadequate skills in STEM subjects, the shortage of teachers, social injustice, dilapidated schools, insufficient digitalization. This is combined with the nice effect of being able to limit the effort for new ideas, but getting more money in return.

When I talk about "again and again", you have to bear in mind that awareness of the problems does not arise like a reaction to a sudden natural phenomenon: The knowledge of the problems in education has been there for a long time and is continuous. No, the sudden attention is often part of marketing initiatives to realize intentions that have long been placed in the background by lobbyists and to trigger a lack of public pressure spread by the media, which creates a supposed pressure on the public sector to act and gives it a free hand to provide the means to do so.

Politicians are particularly susceptible when public attention to a plight becomes so great that they feel compelled to do something to stem public discontent. This was the case in 2021, when the pandemic led to massive school closures for over a year and efforts to compensate for this with online teaching proved to be a huge failure. In April 2021, the ifo Institute published a study on how the closure of schools affected further teaching. According to the study, pupils spent an average of 4.3 hours on school activities. For almost one in four children, this was no more than two hours. Only a quarter of pupils had joint lessons every day and 39% had them at most once a week. Private tutoring was only used by 21 percent of pupils. In many cases, digitalization meant sending weekly assignments by email or making them available for download.

In this situation, the German government adopted a billion-euro program to reduce the learning backlogs caused by the pandemic. We can see the (mis)success of the associated multitude of small-scale measures in the current PISA study, and we definitely have a corona generation that will have a hard time on the job market. But the program was certainly a money-printing machine for the networks from which it was initiated and which can now be fired up again. The study is a huge Christmas present for them.

What you are analyzing sounds plausible, and one has to assume that politicians are aware of what they are doing and that they are often shooting at a full-grown elephant with a shotgun. Why aren't more substantial solutions being sought?

B. L.: One aspect of our society, which is oriented towards self-interest rather than the common good, is that the systemic relevance of education is increasingly taking a back seat to being a market to be served and a nice playground for endless political debates and reforms with little substance, the main aim of which is to preserve the market and the hereditary farms - the structures that have grown out of federalism.

At the same time, we must realize that an essential foundation for shaping our future - human capital - will not be sufficiently available if we do not succeed in raising the level of education of young people to a level that is internationally competitive, so that we can keep pace both in terms of economic performance and innovative strength. China in particular has emerged as a competitor that is increasingly superior to us due to its sheer output of extremely well-educated workers, its growing financial strength and a willingness to perform that is instilled from an early age. In addition, the pressure on the social systems must not become too great. Trying to respond to this with hand-wringing and provincial egotism seems unhelpful to me.

The education of our society must be one of the primary areas of permanent political action, from which essential parts of our resilience against external and internal dangers arise - such as social peace, the commitment of society to common goals, innovation and performance and, last but not least, the existentially essential understanding that we are a nation that only has a future together. This is why we need a "turnaround": not to pave the way for the militarization of Germany.

How can this be achieved?

B. L.: Wherever we look, we must first realize that we have developed one particular skill: the ability to fail. Let's take a look at the "turnaround" as it is being promoted: It bears witness to how little German politicians are able to secure Germany's sovereignty and how submissively they are pushing ahead with militarization, the exclusion of alternative thinking and monocultural stultification - which of course also affects the ability and power to solve problems, to innovate, to achieve something together. However, the fact that politics can act in this way is also due to a society that does not have the substance to confront this in a promising way. As Gabor Steingart once said on ANNE WILL: "Capitalism has a big stomach. In this respect, we are also dealing with a failure of society as a whole. The consequences of this are omnipresent: exploding energy costs, inflation, recession, increasing poverty, increasing insolvencies. Germany is once again becoming the sick man of Europe.

If we look at how the pandemic is being managed, the unpunctuality of the railroads, the exploding costs and delays in projects such as Stuttgart 21, BER and the A14 highway, broadband expansion: the failure is omnipresent. When we turn our attention to one of these phenomena in order to tackle it sustainably - the education crisis is therefore just one of many - all experience shows that the usual approaches are not enough to do so successfully.

Are you saying that we need to look for deeper problems for the many problems we have?

B. L.: That's right. We have to look at the general constitution of our society. The dominance of self-interest over the common good poses a problem for the solution of highly complex problems, as it is geared towards the satisfaction of individual goals, views problems from the perspective of maximizing individual benefits and not their sustainable solution, and only promotes cooperation to the extent that it serves it and is otherwise focused on asserting itself in competition. This massively restricts the degree of freedom in solving problems. We saw this at the climate conference: The rich countries are the biggest polluters, but are insufficiently prepared to take responsibility for the damage they have caused and to enable other countries to develop to their level. They are trying to turn the problem into new impulses for their economies and new dependencies in the world, which would further deepen the division in the world. As a result, lines of confrontation are developing because the rest of the increasingly powerful world is not prepared to allow this to continue.

The self-interest-oriented thinking is accompanied by one aspect in particular: a lack of respect. The degree of respect is a decisive and increasingly important factor for individual and social effectiveness - which is due in particular to the increasing complexity of the challenges to be overcome. Because Alexander Flemming paid attention to a petri dish in which mold grew, but no bacteria grew around it, penicillin was developed, and because the American president in The attack on a CIA analyst who had studied the Russian president's thinking, a world war was prevented. On the other hand, because an American vice president in The Day After Tomorrow did not listen to a scientist who predicted the next ice age, history took its course, and because in Don't Look Up the - again American - president did not listen to a scientist who predicted a comet impact on Earth, humanity was destroyed and the elites who fled in a spaceship were eaten by dinosaurs. Such experiences of a lack of respect - albeit not quite of this dramatic nature - have become the norm in Germany and cause considerable economic damage.

Added to this is inertia. As we are not used to dealing with thoughts off the beaten track in a substantial way, we lack the experience to deal with thoughts off the beaten track in a substantial way. I noticed both the lack of respect and the inertia during the NSA affair when I wanted to present my concept of a network redesign for discussion in the BITKOM defense working group. After the failure in the NSA affair, we have further perfected this ability during the coronavirus pandemic and the "turnaround", so that we are now in a position to do the same for new problems.

Another consequence of a lack of respect is the discrepancy between politics and various interest groups on the one hand and the people on the other. The people are only seen as an object to be mothered instead of a creative subject that should not only be the target of all efforts, but from which substantial contributions to any problem can arise and which could thus develop further, but which, due to a lack of consideration, remains stuck in itself, freezes and fails as a problem solver, so that failure almost certainly takes its course - with all its consequences. We need to strengthen and make better use of the cognitive diversity of our society: We need to get a grip on the situations before the situations. However, we are a long way from a learning organization in Germany in which the political leadership acts as a spider in the web.

Let's reduce the depth of the debate for the purposes of this interview back to the education sector. Do you think it will be possible to solve the problems in a more substantial way this time?

B. L.: I doubt it. For education, there will again be demands for much more money to get more teachers, more social workers, more hardware, more broadband expansion, more digitalization and a modernization of schools. However, these proposals and their approval arise from a culture that stands in the way of sustainable problem-solving. It starts with the fact that the same groups of people - who are also responsible for the failures - always decide on the further approach and decide on the distribution and use of the funds made available. In such networks, no one would ever think of demanding responsibility for the misery. What would still be understandable from a Christian point of view is part of the foundation in such an environment, from which self-service mentalities and renewed failure arise and the search for sustainable solutions, with which one can put a tick behind a problem for a while, is itself alien to thinking and is actively hindered.

At the beginning of 2021, you developed your own proposal on how to tackle the education crisis. What is it all about?

B. L.: We have to take into account that the education crisis in Germany is a multi-layered problem: we have the coronavirus generation with its learning deficits, the lack of teachers, the ageing teaching staff, a high sickness rate, a lot of absenteeism, insufficient motivation, distance learning of questionable quality. Each of these problems is itself so complex that the way we approach problems in Germany makes it increasingly difficult for us to solve them separately. However, they must be solved if Germany's competitiveness is not to be further damaged.

My general approach to solving such problems is to get off track and increase complexity - which has two major advantages: Some singular problems are eliminated, and the more complex scenario has an overarching effect on various aspects. In this respect, I have suggested that ARD should record all lessons at all grade levels along the curricula with the most suitable teachers in various ways and make them permanently available in its media library. I see various benefits in this: Compensation for teacher absenteeism, permanent opportunity to reflect on any subject matter, qualification of exam preparation across all life situations, support for lifelong learning, qualification of face-to-face and distance learning through best practice, influence on teachers' motivation, available digital memory for the next disaster. One consequence of this would certainly also be that accompanying offers would have a completely different quality and perception, as well as being linked to specific learning objectives.

Who did you address with your proposal?

Bernd Liske: After initially tweeting the proposal at the beginning of 2021 based on past experience, I approached the Minister President of Saxony-Anhalt, Dr. Reiner Haseloff, his Education Minister and the Director General of MDR. When there was no response from them, I also tried to contact the parliamentary groups in the Saxony-Anhalt state parliament - who had recently addressed the teacher shortage - the President of the Conference of Education Ministers and the WDR Campus & Karriere program - after the Federal Parents' Council addressed the problems on Campus & Karriere on 21 January. January on Campus & Karriere, the director of NDR - who had said in an interview that he wanted to make people think, initiate fermentation processes, create diversity of opinion and make people smarter - and the Federal Parents' Council.

We need to test the resilience of words. It is my conviction that we as citizens cannot criticize omnipresent failures without challenging ourselves to offer solutions to identified problems with commitment and our own contributions. The Hessian Minister President Volker Bouffier once put it very well: "A resident is not yet a citizen. If everyone only did what they had to, our society would be colder and poorer."

What experiences have you had?

B. L.: The experiences I had during the NSA affair and on other occasions were repeated. For the most part, there was no reaction at all, or they emphasized their own achievements - which led us into the misery in the first place - without even taking a concrete look at my proposal. Campus & Career said that "we cannot take up every perspective".

Could it be that your proposal is simply immature, even unworldly?

Bernd Liske: I can assure you: I'd love to hear arguments that make that case. However, experience has taught me that such arguments help me to substantially enrich my analyses and concepts. Criticism is one of the most valuable and unfortunately underutilized sources of inspiration in our society. Criticism is like a pain with which your body signals to you that you should take care of something that you are not yet aware of.

Incidentally, it would also have an effect if the suggestion you make leads to ideas that are perhaps more practicable. My approach is not to force my ideas through. I look for solutions to existing problems and, because of the freedom with which I practice this, I have created a wide range of opportunities to be original, original and substantial. However, every other achievement has a value for me that I recognize - also by wanting to make it more valuable with my own achievements.

In this respect, have you given up pursuing your proposal?

B. L.: No. I keep trying to bring it into play, and I'm making an effort at the moment. I have written to my Minister President and the parliamentary groups in the Saxony-Anhalt state parliament again, and discussing it here implies a willingness to discuss it with whomever I like. In general, my actions are also linked to constantly overcoming myself - training myself - to fight for values and opportunities that I am convinced will benefit our society, in order to give substance to my idea of what it means to be human. So giving up is not an option that I consider. I certainly have a real deficit there.

Do you think people will react differently now - especially as it is obvious that something needs to be done?

B. L.: Not really - but like Don Quixote, I am tireless in my fight against the windmills and accept the way I am treated with great humility (1, 2). I can interpret the experiences conveyed to me in such a way that people try to make it clear to me: Screw you, and even if you jump in circles three times, we have no interest in any changes and certainly not if they are initiated by you. But I think that many people have similar experiences: The people they approach act like vending machines into which money - effort, lifeblood, ideas - is thrown, but which generally only display colorful little pictures that, when combined, don't mean any profit. They are off-putting and suggest that there is no point in getting involved. So it's no wonder that citizens become increasingly disenchanted.

That's why we need to look out for other people who can give our society new impetus, and in a recently published article in which I explored the appearance and reality of our society along the lines of the film THE MATRIX, I discussed the search for the neo that will lift our society out of its agony.

In it, you speculated about whether Neo could perhaps be a woman, and I'm sure you thought of Sarah Wagenknecht.

B. L.: Yes. The polls show that millions of people are pinning their hopes on her. In the context of the systemic problems being discussed in Germany, the success or failure of her work seems to me to be increasingly of existential importance for our country. But whether it can live up to these hopes is not certain.

Where do you see problems?

B. L.: You have to take a concrete look at the attitudes, intentions and actions. Old wine in new bottles might actually be enough to get into parliament in this case, because there is a great deal of silent dissatisfaction with German politics, and the AfD's experience is evidence of the changes that are possible in Germany too, but that is unlikely to be enough for lasting success. The decisive factor for the party, but also for all of us, and this is where the dialectic comes into play, will be whether the much-needed impetus that will strengthen Germany's intrinsic value again can be derived from the program and actions in order to actually be able to solve any problems successfully and sustainably. This will not be strengthened by slogans or conventional political action, nor by concepts that divide society in any way. To put it in the words of Saxony-Anhalt: We urgently need #modernThinking, and we must think together about how this must present itself and what of it is possible to implement socially step by step from the constitution we are discussing.

About the author: Bernd Liske is an analyst, consultant and philosopher as well as the owner of Liske Informationsmanagementsysteme. In addition to articles, concepts and products, he has also written several books. While "PRISM - A lesson for our democracy" deals with his personal involvement in the NSA affair in order to draw conclusions about the underlying social constitution of Germany from the political failures at the time and to derive social impulses from the resulting picture of the situation, the "Aphorisms for the Incarnation of the Monkey", based on Friedrich Engels' work on the role of work in the humanization of the ape, provide fundamental ideas for the development of democracy and, with the aphorisms, a toolbox of sustainable value and action patterns for individual, entrepreneurial and social use.

He has devoted himself analytically and conceptually to the field of education for over two decades. This has resulted in the concept of a multimedia center in the old post office of Lutherstadt Wittenberg - the Wittenberg Telematikum -, the MIRAKEL reading machine, a mirakel@school concept for the qualification of German and history lessons in grades 11 and 12 and ideas in the BITKOM education working group on how to give education more social attention. Since 2021, he has been promoting a proposal on how the problems in education can be fundamentally addressed.
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