What do ordinary people have to learn

Learning is looking forward to yourself

McK Wissen: A new education debate has been going on here in the country for several years. What is brewing up there?

Peter Sloterdijk: This is potentially irritating for society as a whole. It can be compared to pain in the individual's body sensation. Debates and scandals form a thematic nervous system through which society perceives itself.

A lot has been going wrong in the German education system for a long time. Why is the public only now daring this debate?

Because we usually try to ignore educational issues. They are one of the most uncomfortable topics. Compared to them, the hospital environment is downright pleasant and fascinating, as the mass media clearly shows. We have endless series of hospital and chief physician films. These gentlemen in green who cut bodies have become heroes. One would say intuitively that it can't be, you don't want to see something as uncomfortable as an operating theater in the living room in the evening. But no, you want to. The really uncomfortable thing is school.

Do many people associate bad memories with the exams at school in particular? Why?

School exams are so uncomfortable because for many people they are similar to birth. In schools, people are not interned for nine months, but brooded for at least nine years. Then they have to fight their way out of this closed situation with trials. In this way, school becomes something for modern people that they want to have behind them forever. You rarely get a friendly look back at them.

The trauma of childbirth. But many students already feel uncomfortable in school and not just afterwards.

Maybe. For most children today, school is the initiation into a situation in which they feel that it is not up to them. It's a vaccination program where you keep giving insults until you've been through all of them - and then you get your narcissistic high school diploma. The message is: Whatever you think of yourself, you are not that important. Such exams are not remembered fondly.

That was not always the case with this sharpness.

School romance like in the film “Die Feuerzangenbowle” evokes memories of not-yet-emergency situations. Today the school has become an emergency of its own kind.

Then why does it say: “Not for school, for life we ​​learn”?

This sentence was a protective claim from the start. The original school in antiquity allowed students to study for school because, according to the Greco-Roman view, one did not have to study for life. Life is its own teacher, it explains itself. School, on the other hand, meant leisure, and leisure was the quintessence of life.

Today learning has nothing to do with leisure. Why?

When the modern nation-state took over the school, the principle of emergencies migrated into school-based learning: At school, people were prepared for work. The German concept of education, as it was formed by Prussian neohumanism around 1800, still tried to bring the classic and modern concepts into balance: one learned for school and for life. The working society was already at the door, but school still asserted itself as a way of life in its own right. "Die Feuerzangenbowle" is the symbol for this compromise. In the meantime, however, the immigration of the emergency into the classroom is much more advanced. We will not see any more new Feuerzangenbowlen.

At the time of the Feuerzangenbowle, the students felt like a cog in a big machine. The counter-movement of “do what you want” did not lead any further. Today we have students who no longer know what they want.

This undoubtedly has to do with the fact that educators today no longer know what they are raising children to do. The disorientation of modern society about its own goals takes place in the irritation system of schools like nowhere else - with the possible exception of the field of the visual arts. School and the art world are thematic nervous systems of society in which the confusion about the question of how things will go on is articulated very clearly. Teachers, on average, cannot be different from the society they come from.

How can the situation of teachers be improved?

Teachers are people who often believe that it is always better to explain something than to do something. This leads to schools as psychosocial biotopes with an atypical density of hesitant, privatizing, under-motivated people. The only way to react to this is to de-professionalise the school. You have to intensify their social skills and leave them free on the factual side.
It is becoming increasingly clear that you cannot get to the core of learning with traditional school resources. All the people who became something at school didn't actually become something through school, but because school didn't bother them. If things went well, it offered protection under which intensive learning processes, which are always of an autodidactic nature, could flourish. Under the guise of didactics, the self-didactic can develop temporarily. But I think this constellation has moved out of its optimum. One would have to create new, optimal situations for autodidactics. School probably no longer belongs to these optima.

How could the school become such a place again?

We need a school that emphasizes the stubbornness of young people and does not colonize them with an eye to the real thing. We have to close the school doors to business, fashion and other annoyances and rebuild a living space in which people enter into a libidinal relationship with their own intelligence. What can be clearly seen in the toddler is usually lost to the school child. Saving the cognitive libido should become the school's core project. I myself experience that with my daughter. She is in the second grade of the Montessori branch of an ordinary elementary school. There the learning libido is presupposed as the actual capital.

What do the parents say?

“Don't you give the children the wrong picture of life?” - “Couldn't you bring in a little more structure?” - “Couldn't you be a little stricter?” In such utterances you can see, as the “realists” try, their climate monopoly enforce. The children carry their curiosity, their enthusiasm, this inestimable medium of looking forward to themselves, into the learning process. This anticipation of the next state of one's own is what matters. And a didactic that respects that works completely differently and with greater success than a school in which the teachers appear with the attitude: You will still be amazed, and I am the one who will show you.

What could be done about this attitude?

I think it is time to do the work Nietzsche did for the priest for the teacher. The teacher is an under-criticized authority, he has the right to a liberating and destructive criticism. At the same time, teachers are usually blamed for the wrong things.

For example that of laziness.

Those who withdraw from it are lazy themselves.

It may apply to some who have effectively retired, often as a result of being overwhelmed. But the teaching profession is structurally an overwhelming trap.

Therefore you have to help teachers with adequate criticism. The analysis of job-specific insults and experiences of failure is just as necessary as the analysis of resentment against the job. That would be enlightenment of the most valuable kind. One must ally oneself with teachers to renew the school from its strong point, at its regenerable, enthusiastic source. This clarification must be strong and say: Here we offer opportunities, here is our knowledge, our art of living - we invite you to all of this. The gesture of invitation is perhaps the most important thing. They make schools, so to speak, guesthouses of knowledge and excursion destinations for intelligence.

Would that be the end of compulsory school?

We have to break with the most damaging of all old European concepts: with the idea of ​​the simple transferability of knowledge. This idea of ​​instilling is wrong in systems theory, it is morally wrong ...

... not tenable in terms of cognitive psychology ...

... and yet the school is built around this idea, around this truly cursed and harmful transference thought. But that's not how learning works. You have to respect that we are always dealing with people who are each done in their own way. So far, perfectly and without any real flaw.
The next state can only be built up from what is already done. A teacher can really only disturb, unless he becomes something like a host, a trainer or - in a good sense - a seducer who is already where the child's next step leads. In such guest houses, the pedagogical pact could be based on the principle of anticipation. With this dynamic libido, which illuminates one's own ability to become, education would have to reunite.

Isn't there then a risk that the children will no longer learn anything?

First of all, what people learn is not so important; Much more important is the fact that they are entering a climate in which they see learning as such as the best chance of their lives. In my opinion, this climate-educational work is indispensable for the moral regeneration of our society.

We are far from that at the moment.

Today we create situations for young people in which they have everything at hand and don't feel like doing anything. We lose more than ten years in the primary upbringing process, the better ones then need another ten years to find themselves again on a second path after the first educational path.
Then, if everything goes very well, we have an original 30-year-old who, after school and regeneration, can start his own career as an atmospheric, creative person.

Are Other Nations Better?

The problem is worsened in Germany. The catastrophe of National Socialism, with these enormous perversions of collective enthusiasm, resulted in a super-abstinence from communal energies. In the French culture, in the Anglo-Saxon culture, also in the USA, the climate of the school system is different. There the connection between the institution and the animating community spirits is much more pronounced. We have a very bureaucratic school atmosphere, always associated with resignation and dogmatic skepticism. Some time ago we faced the problem here at our university that individual students had to accept certain restrictions and disabilities due to a restructuring in individual subjects.

You are now talking about the Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung in Karlsruhe, of which you are the rector.

Correct. What is happening? 120 students apply for two semesters of their studies to be credited to them because they feel they are victims of the move to the new house that provides them with one of the greatest university buildings in Europe - from one of the best teaching staff and from magically inexpensive teachers. Not to mention student proportions. The temptation to describe one's own life in the light of disadvantages is now so strong that even young people have developed this retiree-like, resigned behavior in connection with aggressive, moral demands like a new matter of course. On the contrary, one would have to try to bring them closer to the idea of ​​entrepreneurial life so that at the age of twelve they do not look like social security recipients.

Could the current education debate change that?

Yes. We need this debate because societies have no center and no self, they only have the public as a medium for self-alarm and self-irritation. From a well-understood entrepreneurial idea, a life entrepreneur's idea, we must also reanimate public services. Then maybe you will see a new generation of teachers emerge. I think the impetus for this must come from artists and the free media. Philosophy and art set the tone, they re-tune the general atmosphere.

Perhaps one should start with the architecture of the schools. So in the classrooms, where everyone sits in a row.

The 19th century built schools, museums and barracks. These are three air-conditioning systems to pre-form the social synthesis with the help of state human imprinting techniques. The school has to be freed from this tradition. It is to be hoped that the idea of ​​a new school will become so politicized in the next few years that a new phase of experimentation can begin. If we were lucky enough to have another real, productive education scandal in the near future, ...

... could happen, after all, Pisa remains ...

... then after the abreaction phase, in which you have worked through the duty and the tendency to complain together, you could enter into a productive discussion and try to design a school that is at the height of our knowledge. The time has come for this in terms of the accumulation of discomfort. But as far as the positive forces are concerned, what little we have left will have to be reorganized to see whether it is enough for an offensive.

How to start With the teachers? Should they perhaps bring life, the emergency, into schools with practitioners?

That would be a first step. I think it wouldn't be too difficult to show that interesting people are more fascinating than any average conversation. We don't know the interesting people in our own society. That is, our society does not know itself and does not know that it does not know itself. If you enforce this enthusiasm for interesting people in the media, you also get a new learning process off the ground in schools. At the end of this, they bring strong people into the classroom with interesting activities. That would be a broad-based movement to de-professionalise teaching.

Parents will fear that their children will then no longer learn anything.

One can counter panics from the suspicion that concessions are being made in qualifying if one makes clear that nothing is as educational as the opportunity to see successful people up close. Incidentally, this also applies to the art schools and the master class principle. There, learners watch successful artists doing their craft and observe their success curve. This is instructive under all circumstances, regardless of whether the student reacts by making positive connections or rejecting them. Both are equally informative, provided you have an authentic chance to observe a creative person in full action.

So also learn by rejecting?

When students have a chance to be productively skeptical about a successful position, this is never a waste of time. Even those who turn away have learned a lot. Perhaps we live in a time when people learn more from rejection than from support. The cowardly teacher is the bad teacher. The good teacher is the one who makes himself available for rejection.

There we are with Sloterdijk's term “de-idiotization”: Expending one's own stupidity, because how else can one get rid of it?

How else can you get rid of them if not dealing with potential copycats who are so smart that they refuse to copy at the last minute?