Class society distributes its careers Ruthless Criticism

[Translated from MSZ 12-1986]

Education and delusion

Class society distributes its careers

The fact that everyone is funneled through a few levels of schooling has earned strange compliments for the bourgeois social state, like many other works:

– Modern society is said to have made outstanding progress toward the elimination of the ignorance that beset previous generations; it is said to have liberated the broad masses from an undeserved intellectual immaturity that exclusion from the alphabet would have condemned them to.

A not exactly convincing presentation of the achievements of universal compulsory schooling, considering that for every occasion – from medicine to television to questions about the uses of nuclear power and its consequences – ordinary people are dependent on the well-informed advice and warnings of all kinds of experts. Especially since there is never much more to be taken from their teachings than a few instructions on how to adapt to this or that. Not to mention the moral exercises in which the advice of psychologists and men of God replaces all knowledge. Incidentally, even bourgeois preachers of education have noticed and hypocritically shaken their heads at the fact that in the middle of the modern “education-based society” a huge number of illiterates are scrambling around and, like many others, making themselves useful without attracting particularly negative attention.

– Modern democracy is said to have cleared away the privilege of education and thus some traditional class barriers. Because ‘equal education opportunities’ are open to all and only ‘merit’ matters, the whole world should in principle be open to everyone and everyone should find the place in society corresponding to their individual knowledge, abilities, and efforts.

Nor is this an overly credible interpretation of the bourgeois mode of training. The universal education system has certainly not led to the elimination or even ‘leveling’ of small differences between chancellors, entrepreneurs, judges, professors, and priests on the one hand, and factory workers and office workers on the other. Nobody wants to claim that either; but it should be the result of one’s own effort and therefore fair. The fact that the descendants of the lower and upper classes, after having participated in public education, mostly end up back where they came from, is not a secret in the society of ‘upward mobility,’ but an object of interpretation. Moreover, free access to education says little about the content and purpose of this social undertaking, about the knowledge it imparts, the skills that are required, or the efforts that are rewarded. If proletarians can now read Goethe’s “Erlkönig” and even Marx in addition to the tabloids, so that, according to the findings of revisionist historians, it is today at last possible to shape the consciousness of the broad masses in a progressive way and ultimately inevitable, this does not mean by a long shot that they can do anything with this offer and this freedom. Popular education makes people neither satisfied nor subversive. It distributes careers. And these differ; both for the educated classes and the vast majority.

Knowledge = power – or an inability to earn a living?
A wrong and not at all seriously meant alternative bourgeois calculation in education issues

The common claim that the results of organized thought are practically the same as ‘power’ and ‘capital,’ thus as having the means of violence and wealth at one’s disposal, is only true in one respect: Somehow knowledge plays a role in supporting the state in this country; somehow its use is part of the economic growth of the nation. But no theory about the trinity of politics, mind, and culture, no matter how melodious it may sound, can bring about a scientific systemic model that is the same as the day-to-day establishment of a suitable state system. And the progress made in the theoretical and practical mastery of nature does not automatically and naturally transform itself into growing billions in private business accounts and job and wage losses. The purposes that machines and other fine inventions are used for is not a question of correct knowledge of nature. For the other science department, there can be no question of seeing through the social conditions or establishing them according to reasonable considerations. A state apparatus, an iron property order, even morality and a suitable moral law are prescribed when intellectual greats elevate their various justifications. The constitutionality of branches of ideas is even guaranteed by law. Power, capital, and knowledge are inversely related. The holders of power and those who own the means of production and financial resources determine the development of knowledge, award grants, finance general and special commissions, and dispose of the results, including the bright minds they invest in. That’s why every idea is sorted so naturally according to political and business realities.

But that is why knowledge is anything but grey theory, useless luxury, and the domain of starving artists. Certainly, the politicians in Bonn and elsewhere reject some beautiful solutions to problems developed by academic parties for their difficult political decisions; some discoveries seem too unprofitable for business people to use, some sophisticated technologies too expensive compared to cheap labor; and the many interpretations of the meaning of modern life never achieve the effects they are so fond of. But where there is a need for ideas as a means of rule and business, and this is by no means rare, they enjoy the greatest esteem, even if they do not justify the meaning ascribed to them and can be thought up completely gratuitously. So the general suspicion is not correct that there is a certain uselessness to an honorable bourgeois profession which tries to provide useful ideas divorced from practical activity, especially since it is easy to grasp as a palpable fact that the society and the state can’t do without the freely organized research of the natural sciences and the endowment of meaning by the humanities. The suspicion makes do without a single word of criticism against the substance of the ideas which it disparages. It is not at all about a rational distinction between useful natural science and higher nonsense, between correct and therefore fitting insights and apologetics, i.e. crackpot trains of thought. Here the motto applies: ‘That may be true, but what good is it?’ Nor does anyone want to insist on the clearness and correctness of thoughts opposed to pluralism, when referring to a hodgepodge of the most diverse theories which nobody is familiar with anymore and which therefore nothing can be done with. This peculiarity of modern social science is considered to be the democratic seal of approval of a free science that is supposed to provide a catalog of offers and not a system of instructions.

Even when the truthfulness of ideas is assessed in bourgeois society, the same conflicting game of confusion is in play. It is sometimes said that nowadays science per se enjoys the highest ‘authority.’ So it’s as if knowledge and understanding were the same as the official recognition of their bearers, and as if the principle of respect for the representatives of the mind were based on the many insights that are owed to them. The situation is the other way around: education and knowledge that has not been certified by the state, that has not been installed in office and rank, that has not been established as a valid canon of knowledge and has not been applied, counts for little or nothing. Only when they are elevated to the status of a theory that is useful to the state, whether because they are taught at the university with official authority or because Bonn’s environmental policy makers allow some to calculate state-compatible pollution limits, but prefer others not to.

Conversely, this recognition always needs to be earned anew through acceptable results. Partisan dogmas of order and profitable information about nature are demanded wherever authority is concerned. That’s why the department of ‘social reflection’ is often accused of only undermining authority rather than representing it. ‘Intellectual’ is synonymous with the insult that instead of providing binding information and rules of conduct, as they should, they only sow harmful doubts about everything and everyone. The fact that every theoretical endeavor takes a distance from its object is considered a dangerous questioning of the object. So even the most responsible and party line thinkers can be given the reputation of irresponsible know-it-alls by the real authorities of society; and criticism can never be “constructive” enough. These are the consequences of the state’s liberal interest in letting ideas blossom freely so that they face the censorship of “society.”

The whole world also likes to lump together knowledge and personal success. It is said that ‘anyone who studies will get ahead’ and success and failure are attributed to one person being ‘sharp’ and another ‘dumb’, thus lacking in intellectual abilities and therefore ‘the dumb type.’ Admittedly, a good exam and a successfully completed course of study puts one on the right side of high society; but this is only because the equation knowledge = career belongs to a state decree and the acquisition of knowledge has proved its worth under state conditions. Without a passed exam, academic title, and above all the corresponding post, nobody is really considered intelligent. This is why the equation is usually spelled backwards: Social success is always a testament to one’s well-educated character.

The reversal of this opportunistic view often follows on the heels of: “Studying in itself is not good for anything.’ ‘Clever’ is therefore a synonym for skillful scheming in matters of success. For it is common knowledge and accepted that, like everything else, education is only worth anything if it is suitable for a career and proves itself in the demands of the professional world.

These concepts of education and knowledge in this society do not provide good testimonials. First, because they take the calculating approach for granted and then judge and characterize every thought. Secondly, because this is not an isolated private matter, but a valid opinion which is cultivated by the great minds and political leaders themselves. Thirdly, because these ideologies are part of the educational material that is cultivated and disseminated. Fourthly, because they do not explain the state’s calculations in its educational and scientific activities, but endorse them. Fifthly, because it is considered fair that the majority’s expectations of success are put to shame, even before they have been properly trained, by the valid requirements of a career.

The modern school system: Teaching in order to differentiate – learning in order to compete

The bourgeois state has secured a monopoly on education. With compulsory schooling, it opens a track prescribed in terms of duration, content, and differentiation for those enrolled and frees the education of young people from moments of chance and private life. If in the past a young person’s introduction to the knowledge in existence depended on a patron’s whim or his father’s bank account, today the state makes the acquisition of knowledge, theoretical education, equally mandatory for all its prospective useful members. It is interested in popular education and tolerates private schooling only in subordination to its schema. With compulsory education, the state makes it clear that transferring knowledge in terms of content, nature, and scope is a social and not a private matter. Nowadays a people can only be considered useful for state and economic purposes if they are equipped with knowledge. In contrast to “developing countries” where universal education should first create an incentive for foreign (capital) interests to supplement this factor of production with other monetary and material components of production, it is clear that the democratic class society needs and uses a competitively educated people.

It is not certain, however, for whom knowledge is necessary and how much. That is what school is supposed to find out, by indiscriminately confronting students with knowledge. The result is known to everyone: Education is not to be confused with the production of an educated people.

Academic attainment entitles more attainment

In this confrontation with knowledge, the student is tested on his learning progress. This is determined and documented in grades. The student has to regularly prove how he is doing – he is evaluated. This evaluation is done simply and objectively in six levels from “very good” to “unsatisfactory”:

“PERFORMANCE PRINCIPLE: the principle that learning and work performance must be paramount, as distinguished from ‘aspirations’ to base school education solely on fostering students’ individuality and subjective need for expression. The educational performance of students is expressed in grades (achievement levels). The Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs established the following grade levels on Jan. 23-24, 1953...” (Brockhaus Encyclopedia)

If the purpose of the performance report is so obvious, it must remain a mystery why then there are “aspirations” which at first glance pursue a completely opposite purpose. It will probably be the case that, at second glance, they are exactly the appropriate ideology for the “performance principle”...

For each age level, specific learning material is defined which each student is expected to acquire in the course of the school year thus divided. This acquisition is measured as performance. The consequences of a “poor” or “inadequate” performance are well known: The student must repeat the year, and if there is no improvement, he must be deprived of the next higher level of learning – he has not accomplished a feat that would entitle him to be required to accomplish the next feat. By the 4th or 5th grade, there is a fundamental split: the majority goes to high school where, according to general belief, there is no significant increase in knowledge; the minority has completed the initial foundations of general education with the proof that it is entitled to a “generalization” of its knowledge.

It’s obvious then that public education draws up a catalog of general education in order to search for the few who deserve the widest possible passage through this catalog. The acquisition of knowledge as a measured achievement is set up as a means of finding out the student’s ability. The report about his performance becomes a judgment about his aptitude as such. And this “discovered” quality then decides the question: Is the student suitable for the next level? The selection from the school material insists on differences: it measures the quanta of knowledge that the students have acquired – they are compared on this basis, and then they are sorted.

The subject(s) of mental effort

As with any other performance measurement, academic performance is measured as an appropriate effort in time. The effort consists in the activity of the mind in all its divisions. The object is the learning material which, on the one hand, needs to be absorbed and reproduced and, on the other hand, demands that the student draw his own conclusions and judgments. The time is given in school hours and school years, from which the time period for the selective review of what is to be learned (“class work”) is derived. Of course, the time is always tight because that’s the only way to make an effort – the school wisely assumes that the effort will not be of a voluntary nature. That would be quite a contradiction: a voluntary nature presupposes a self-generated interest in the subject matter which then results in the effort being useful or enjoyable – a performance measurement, however, is based on material that is given to all children equally, on which they have to show how much of it they can memorize in a certain amount of time. The extent to which an interest will be formed in it remains to be seen; however, one thing is already clear: if an interest is ever based entirely on the interestingness of the subject matter, it will then be either adopted or discarded by the school.

First of all, children must show that they have understood each subject’s specific intellectual demands and that they are willing to make the effort that goes into it. They must also realize that this effort is required in the long run, that the next 8-12 years will revolve primarily around school, and that play and the world of the imagination must be subordinated to it or eliminated in favor of school performance.


is a matter of acquiring a few rules and taking them to as advanced a level of mechanical skill for application as possible. The mind should make itself comfortable with a certain automatism and should revert to this automatism as resolutely as possible even in encrypted tasks, and make it snappy. Confidence in knowing the rules and confidence in the uniform arrangement of the numerical figures is required. For the student, this can’t be done without practice. Anyone who fails the criterion “task per time” excludes himself from knowing the basics of arithmetic. Anyone who wants to learn mathematics must first master the mechanical department of this mental activity better than the percentage of schoolmates who are sorted out of this subject. A practical vestige remains even for them: For counting pieces at the workplace or handling a purchase, the vast majority no longer need to strain their fingers as a counting aid. In

science class

the school makes a selection of its own kind. The introduction to some laws of nature mostly has the character of examples. The extent to which the student draws a conclusion about the “underlying” natural laws when demonstrating the magnetic field or the discoloration of two chemicals that have been spilled together and, conversely, is capable of taking a few deductive steps, is suggested to him, but essentially it remains his own intellectual achievement. If he doesn’t manage to make the material “easy” for himself, he still has to remember the “example” without knowing what it should be an example of. If you are allowed to drop the subject early enough, you may even get to college without having understood any significant laws of nature.

Foreign languages

are very suitable for a performance measurement insofar as an easily verifiable memory performance is the first prerequisite for their mastery. Only those who can store a constantly increasing amount of vocabulary and grammatical rules on demand will be able to transpose their own or given thoughts into a foreign language. Thus, this memory capacity is also a prerequisite for the “subtleties of expression,” for liberties in the use of language by which a student should again distinguish himself.

An intellectual prowess of its own kind

The ‘performance principle’ which strikes again and again in the juxtaposition of subjects expresses a certain indifference towards the specific contents. What matters is the exercise of all the intellectual abilities demanded of them – proving oneself in juxtaposed subjects amounts to a test of one’s entire intellectual ability, which consists of eagerness to practice, ability to combine, retentiveness, memory, reasoning, judging, and so on. Mind you: According to the school, this conglomerate makes up the components of the intellectually educated person and is not to be confused with the real nature of the mind. In doing so, school itself refutes the superstition that humanity differentiates itself according to “stupidity” or “intelligence” as an immanent quality of the mind – even if it gladly accepts this popular explanation for the results of its work, since these then receive an irrefutable, natural quality. Among parents as well as professors of education, the doctrine of different talents, from which different school performances are supposed to follow with natural necessity, enjoys the greatest esteem. In doing so, the school demands a civilizational achievement for its learning goals in which no genes have inherited the environment. School success is based on an intellectual ability of its own kind, namely that the pupil forces himself by means of his will to fulfill the school requirements. Indifferent to particular likes or dislikes, the school demands equal engagement in all subjects, and is thus ruthless about “individual weaknesses” which, from its point of view, it quite rightly regards as unimportant contingencies. Its maxim is the average, and where this is to be set must be left to it just as much as the determination of the subject matter. The institution of grade compensation is thus only an apparent accommodation to individual inclinations: Those who show a weakness in one subject must prove that this is not due to a fundamental weakness in performance, namely by demonstrating an above-average learning performance in other subjects as compensation; the school may not care about individual failures if the student proves to be a capable and willing person overall. Incidentally, such a weakness can be converted into at least an “adequate” in the long run...

So the school is not lying when it claims to evaluate the “whole person” – after all, it creates the “whole person.” Grades do not measure intelligence quotients, but are the representation of the comparison between the catalog of requirements and the fulfillment of requirements and at the same time compare the students with each other. The result for each student is a grade point average from which it can be seen to what extent he has gotten his mind to use the grade as the only valid objectification of his mind. He must realize and adjust to the fact that all of his likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses are only “worth” as much as they turn out to be grades afterwards. The "whole person" becomes all the more respectable the more successfully he submits to the demands of the school.

Morality as a learning success

This submission produces its own corresponding morality. Conversely: without this morality, academic achievement can’t be exhibited at all. It has its origin in a double learning: It is the acquisition of the given material and it is the effort that goes along with it, the willingness to acquire it without question and in the required time, which is applied separately from it in the abstract. It is an achievement of its own kind to not admit the moment of spontaneous disinterest in any subject and to admit interest only to the extent prescribed by the state’s teaching canon.

The “mistake” of some students, who want to compensate for a lacking grasp of the material by merely expressing a willingness – from obedience to sucking up – , is a “mistake” whose lack of success either encourages them to ever more embarrassing forms of self-presentation or moves them to reject it: “I am out of place here anyway” – which shows that both are necessary. The school does not allow dealing with knowledge through good manners; on the other hand, only someone who has a fair amount of good manners can becomes “knowledgeable” – that is, someone who reaches the class goal. If he learns for school and has understood the relationship between school and student as a relationship of subordination, then he does not need to cower and be mealy-mouthed, but rather, on the contrary, to agree to settle in: The school’s purposes and requirements just happen to take “priority.”

This is how students eventually learn to judge themselves and others according to “reasonable criteria.” From grades, they learn the degree to which the school believes they are able to prove their worth. Thus many a stud at the back of the class gradually becomes completely dull because of this, and the child’s brain very quickly forms fixed ideas as to what a “good guy” is and what a “bad guy” is, who “can do what” and who “rightly drops out.” Since grades have unmistakable social validity, and the state leaves no doubt that it views and sorts its young citizens through this lens, children can’t help but take this evaluation as a judgment about their character – admittedly, never without the accompanying complaint about “fairness.” But all the ruminations about “actually” ignored abilities, talents not taken into account, disadvantages in comparison with others, do not help get over the fact that the school executes its judgment. The student on the way to “realism” accepts this and thus takes two important steps:

– He relegates his ideas about himself and his future to the realm of dreams and wishes that will only come true if the school agrees; with its conditions and rules, it is his first and decisive “life struggle.”

– He makes the school’s judgments about his character into his self-consciousness and recognizes as its benchmark the social conditions which school is the “reflection” of.

In general, morality means for the student: In the socially given field of activity one has to fight one’s way through, only ask about meaning and purpose in order to then also align oneself according to the answers given. This is how the first moral lesson comes about: “Overcome your weaker self!” Anyone who does not manage to do this really has “no future” – on the other hand, he finds his consolation in it, which is what morality is ultimately responsible for. If he doesn’t make it very far, he at least knows one “reason” – himself. Thus he is introduced to the basic idea of moral activity: It is a mentally manufactured self-deception which explains coping with constraints as a self-imposed intention of one’s own will and degrees of coping as variously successful achievements of the will. At school, the student realizes that without this technique of self-formation which has to be applied alongside and with the material, the acquisition of knowledge is not possible.

Morality as a subject

The state aims for this abstract moral achievement, but considers it to be in need of further development. It requires for all intents and purposes an intellectual achievement of its own as its “substantive” content, namely the skillful demonstration of morality, the art of providing it with argumentative justification: morality has been taught and understood. The domains of this exercise are – note: with grades, of course! – religious (ethics) studies, social studies, history, and German classes. This is not to say that this can’t be done with other subjects. The transitions from the anthill to the state, from the bang in the chemistry classroom to amazement and reverence for nature, from admiration for French culture to characteristics of the native nation that are to be held in high esteem as a matter of course, are well known and proven; even in arithmetic, there is a lot of talk about the hard worker and the lazy worker, although the rule of three could also be practiced using bribes for politicians.

Religion and German are characterized by the fact that the exclusive subject here is this transition. The Bible and language are easily surmountable preconditions to get at “the essentials.” Enormous meaning is discovered in everything and everyone. Religion is well suited to dealing with humility, modesty, and tolerance by using many examples which in turn are elevated to the level of valid knowledge through quizzes and grades. In this way, the ready-made citizen understands the everyday use of Bible sayings – in which one doesn’t even need to see the suffering of Jesus – in order to “prove” the (in)correctness of one’s actions to oneself or to others, and is thus provided with the appropriate non-explanation for all situations in life. The “disadvantage” of religious education is that here respectable “subjective judgments" are still too much in the foreground – which is why unfettered babbling often enough takes place in such lessons, which of course is not pointless either. This is overcome in German lessons by relentlessly requiring that subjective judgments be made relative to themselves. This achievement is only really demanded in the upper classes – in the double meaning of the word – since it is really not so self-evident to approach every object with at least two opinions; and then to feign an investigation through a technically correct juxtaposition; only to conclude at the end that all these opinions have their justifications and that one can’t possibly form a final judgment about the object, but that one may certainly develop an individual preference for one. Thus, in the reflective essay, the student learns to let a methodological principle prevail over all objective contradictions, namely that of tolerance, i.e. to forbid any substantive thoughts, so that he immediately transforms them into mere illustrations for this principle.

Here the state relies on being able to present its current “problems” to the student population in the “assigned topics.” And precisely because the students have learned to classify these “problems” under their methodological principle of an eternally human conflict of opinions, the initiator can be sure that these “problems” have been introduced as the currently valid ones without anyone getting the idea of really wanting to get to the bottom of them – possibly even having the nerve to deny the justification for these “problems” and inquiring about what the state is doing.

Grades distinguish young people according to their ability to put their own moral maturity on record – also a point of view for not letting some students advance.

Selection – completely “suitable for children”

The judgment about the student that is embodied in the grade says: Precisely because knowledge is always presented to the student only according to the “performance principle,” the grade is to be understood as information about what he is made of and what he can become as a result. The comparison of the students determines more or less their good chances of success. The school insists on the connection between learning differences and the distribution of “life chances.” The children are measured by the same yardstick of the curriculum – only then do they they become comparable – and their socially valid differences are thereby established. However, nobody should imagine anything else about the differences and “chances” than: How many levels of education has the student gone through, what requirements has he managed to meet? So where then does the view come from that schools are completely committed to the “promotion of individuality and the subjective need for expression”: These alleged “aspirations” that the encyclopedia claims to have discovered – it understands no more about school than school does – come from the schoolmasters themselves who trumpet this to the world as their “real” concern. On the one hand, they leave no doubt that they want to make a distinction – a refusal to give grades calls supervisors into action. On the other hand, however, they don’t let a day go by without affirming that they are carrying out the selection only for the good of the child. In pedagogy, the ideal of a school without grades, where everything could be done at least as effectively, can’t be eradicated.

The benefit they wish to bestow on the student consists in the intention of matching his “abilities and inclinations” so that he may “prove himself.”

“The aim of every democratic school system is to provide each child with an education appropriate to his abilities and inclinations.”
“School instruction serves the physical, intellectual, and character development of the youth.... The purpose of all instruction is ultimately to help man to prove himself in the world.”
(Brockhaus Encyclopedia)

This “proving” is quite something: After all, it assumes that the individual is in an immovably predetermined social situation that demands a lot from him. Coping with it requires efforts of various kinds, the acquisition of knowledge (“the intellectual”) being only one among others. At least as important is “the physical and character development,” i.e. the preparation of the trainee for the fact that his future social position will make high demands on health and morals. What appears as “help” is the clarification that adaptation is required and that knowledge is no guideline for action – that there is therefore a lot to endure. It is no secret that the majority of students will have to concentrate very much on endurance, that “physical and character development” is the appropriate “preparation for professional life” for them and that providing them with knowledge is ultimately “of little use” – rather, it is the purpose of selection that can be tangibly grasped in the educational apparatus.

The correct pedagogical implementation of the state’s mission is to anticipate the division of society into the elite and the remaining majority, and to do so by reckoning with – and regretting – a majority of “school failures.” Of course, it does not occur to them that the educators themselves have produced these failures, at most in the nasty twist that they “were unable to prevent it.” There is then a great deal of self-accusation, and regularly the nation’s schoolmasters can’t avoid stating that they have overloaded their students. Their ideal for this is child-centered lessons and consists in the ideology that access to all kinds of knowledge depends on treating them like children. The critics of the “highbrow” school system immediately take this to mean that teaching would block the children's’ “chances in life” because it wants to make them too clever from above, to “overload them with knowledge.” Instead of giving them the opportunity to express their own wishes, needs, and characteristics.

They turn around the fact that the vast majority don’t need more knowledge in such a way that school would be too “scholarly”; in addition to the selection that takes place by means of knowledge, the assurance is given that those who have been eliminated would best be served if they were spared further knowledge. They call this “practical aptitude” and hardly lie about it – after all, they refer to their own results. If the child has turned out to be an assembly line worker, then much of the education he has missed is indeed an “unnecessary burden.” In this way, the pretense is maintained by all sides that school could still respond “quite differently” to the student and get the best out of him. This gives the actual results of the selection a provisional character; they are “merely” due to the shortcoming that an educational ideal has not yet been realized. On the other hand, it is also clear that the school – for all its provisional nature – has made the greatest effort to correspond to the child: The social place assigned to him can’t be so far from his “nature”....

Moral indoctrination – very self-confident

When it comes to the moral pledge of its citizens, the state does not play around. It knows that the basis of its power is well-behaved subjects with a loyal nationalism who, of course, do their wealth-generating duty “in their place.” That’s why it follows up the ongoing everyday civic instruction, as is provided in the subjects it establishes for this purpose, with a suspicion. Precisely because it cares so much about the “meaning” of religious and social studies, history, and German lessons, it must worry that leftist ideas are creeping in, by which discontent is being indoctrinated; and the authorities wonder whether, in view of such dangers, the old familiar methods of character formation, as they were already known in pre-bourgeois religious schools, are the most reliable.

Since the state, as the organizer of the education system, straightforwardly assumes its interest in unconditionally useful results, it constantly makes urgent requests to its men and women “in the field” that they should tell the children more frequently and directly what virtues are required of a useful citizen: It wants its offspring to have an early supervision relationship that does not arouse any “sense of entitlement,” however harmless, but fights discontent as a character flaw, as a prelude to unhappiness or even terrorism. For it, the overriding purpose of school is to outfit the mind with an agitation-proof armor. Ideally, it imagines school as the manipulating authority that drives out the wrong thoughts from the malleable little ones, permanently protects them from the temptations of materialism and implants the right thoughts in them. From this point of view, it sometimes does not like “critical Bible exegesis” or excessive “discussion” of social “problems” at all: It not only doubts whether the right (meaningful) thoughts come across in the end, but even has to fear that the actual concern is “talked to pieces” and doubts are sown by excessive use of mental faculties.

That’s why it repeatedly claims that the feeling of being able to “directly address it” in school would do the trick, and it recommends the increased use of morning prayers, the national anthem, and school festivals. In this way, every student can really “get involved in a holistic way” – without being intellectually overtaxed. Of course, this has its conjunctures: the less knowledge is required for more and more human appendages to machinery, the larger the standing industrial reserve army, and the more the paramount virtue of soldierly obedience comes to the fore, the more luxurious the nationwide comparison in knowledge appears to the state, the lower the learning goals can be set in its opinion, and the more urgent a solid education of the mind is.

This gives birth to a wonderful ongoing “dispute,” the basis of which is the construction of a conflict between the two departments of moral orientation: imbibing the material, which is not possible without a suitable learning morality, then looks like partisanship for a free and self-determined formation of the student’s will as opposed to a state “prescription” which wants to impose a certain content on the will without justification. The course of this fruitful “controversy” then looks like this: the state “influences” the schools as if it had released them into freedom as an independent authority! Whereas the schools lead a heroic fight for their “independence.”

They have an argument on their side: Manipulation doesn’t work like that at all – the will of the manipulated has to play along! Everyday school life produces the ideal that the student submits to out of insight. If one tells him simply what is appropriate, then he just takes it as rule – where’s the conviction? – and he avoids them as best he can.

In this way, school and the education authorities complement each other splendidly in their striving for democratic manipulation. The state explains how it envisions a subject – the school promises to equip him with a suitable self-confidence. The self-confident subject is always the educational goal that unites both sides and, unfortunately, is still the result.

The unmistakable achievements of the school system

There is little criticism of school, but there are many complaints about its imperfections and the limitations of its achievements. Whether it is that the expectations of school graduates determine the standpoint of the complaints; whether it is that the results of school are considered to be too low for the demands of the state and the economy – a deficiency, which the institutions themselves can’t do anything about, is regularly blamed on them. Education reform initiatives, like well-educated people saying they have been let down, are always based on a complaint about the failure of this state authority. No certificate achieves the goal for which those who hold the certificate have labored, and the output of the education institutions never quite corresponds to the input that the world of work declares to be its need.

The state-run education system does not have to put up with either of these accusations. First, it does a great deal to ensure that the young human material is distributed as needed. Exclusion from careers takes place extensively; the graduates of the various levels of education are statistically perfectly sorted in such a way that the rush for executive positions at Deutsche Bank is as limited as the frustration of the German automobile industry in finding warehouse workers. Secondly, although the nation’s schools are concerned with selection, including the production of qualifications, they are by no means the authority that decides what constitutes a qualification. The qualification has its own meaning. It is only partly a qualification; much more important is the question of its usefulness. And not even that is true, because usefulness is only a prerequisite that is of no use to anyone who possesses one as long as there is no user. The confusion of education with a guarantee of income-generating employment – even in a specific profession – and, on the other hand, with a guaranteed state- and economy-serving use is a stupidity that thoroughly misjudges the function of school as a supplier. This stupidity underestimates not only the results of school selection – useful people are eventually turned out for everything and anything – but also the freedom that the education institutions provide to completely different subjects, those on whom everything depends.

Because of this freedom, and not for the sake of harmony between what is learned and what is put into practice in life, the state has set up its education hovels separate from the factory and the office, and has assigned them with such independent criteria for sifting, distinguishing, and testing that a whole pedagogical science has emerged. The administrators of the education system always adjust to the cyclically changing needs of the working world in good time, if only because they always understand their independence as only a grace and a mandate that obliges them to provide an education that meets the needs of society, the requirements of the future, or simply: practice. If everyone from the schoolmaster to the student chases the ideal of an education that is close to practice, they never achieve it in the sense of the idea that the skills produced in the new generation coincide with those in demand. However, the supply of education and the art of selection guarantee that there will be no shortage of demand. Thus, there are more than enough educational opportunities. There are no reasons for believing that learning, possibly for a lifetime, is an insurance against unemployment.

The difficulty of proving oneself in the hierarchy of professions with ‘practice’ as the true teacher

If the bright student has not already gathered from the constant gibberish about the ‘seriousness of life’ that is awaiting him at some point, he will realize after leaving school at the latest that up to now he has not learned ‘for life’ at all, but only for school, and that this was a comparatively pleasant tale. However, he has long been forced to adopt as his own the principle that is being applied to him once again and with the harshness that ‘practice’ entails: The nation’s schools and the vocational training that follows them are all about qualifications. This achievement of a successful education is anything but an expertise and mastery which one could take into the world and shape it in one’s own image. Personal knowledge and skills, on the other hand, are characterized by the fact that they enable a person to meet standards that he would never have voluntarily come up with based on his own interests – in school, the demands of the school, and now other, more tangible demands that confront him as an economic and state need for this or that ability. After his education, a person must fit these requirements, he must be personally attuned to them, otherwise he has no chance of being employed and having a corresponding career.

The highest aim in life and the only aim in education is to take up a profession which one should feel ‘called to’ afterwards, because it defines one in two ways: First, it objectively defines what one must be able to do and what therefore counts as the respective professional qualification. From the lowest levels of the hierarchy of professions up to the top positions where a ‘solid’ education is supposed to be important, a professional ‘candidate’ has to orient himself accordingly to enable himself to do this – and of course to use his abilities according to the requirements. Secondly, the different professions also determine the different professional incomes that can be earned with qualifications. It is true that the subtle differences between 14.50 DM an hour + bonuses, 4,000 DM monthly salary + pension and a 100,000 DM manager salary + expenses can’t be derived from more or less semesters, better or worse qualifications. But, first of all, the top of the income pyramid shows the truth that class society is not based on different educations, but rather distributes its people according to the criterion of education on the sunny and shady sides of what are predetermined for every career. And as far as the hierarchical staggering of wages, salaries, and hardships through the more proletarian ranks down to the unskilled is concerned, a state and corporate art of evaluation and a pronounced trade union mania for justice strike together: knowledge and ability become a point of reference for marks and pennies; what a skilled worker’s education or a primary school diploma can bring in at best without any additions has been predetermined by the state’s decision to set entry requirements for various professions. In organizing this kind of division of labor, the modern welfare state has taken care that, regardless of all the gradations that make the hierarchy of occupations so colorful, the basic principle of hierarchy applies: exemption from work and a respectable living go together for a minority just as much as a lot of effort and low earnings do for a majority. Free of charge, the education system contributes the pretense that this is the fair result of acquired or neglected educations. It does not create the necessary differences, but it really does classify people.

By means of education, the state regulates access to certain levels of the professional hierarchy and thus decisively facilitates people’s choice of profession. Those who have been spared from learning thanks to school are already spared from any prospect of getting to know their more lucrative and pleasant departments even before entering professional life. Not because he can’t do anything, but because education policy-makers have designed the learning system according to the principles of professional demand, which call for a few brain workers and lots of cheap workers.

Once again and definitively: learn something useful

The expertise that the professions require in each case is neither achieved nor adequately prepared with a diploma. What was learned was suitable, but only as certified evidence of the ability to perform. What it can then be used for depends entirely on what is needed in the various professions. What was not taught in school can now become useful, and things the teachers placed a lot of value on can become superfluous.

Now it is a matter of purposefully acquiring what one really needs for the respective profession. And this is best learned by wisely limiting oneself to the job, i.e., best learned on the job itself. This principle of modern knowledge transfer applies even where vocational training includes a whole department dealing with science, the results of which are to be used later. There, too, entering a profession starts with the information: ‘In your studies you have to learn (to look at) everything anew’; later on with the good advice: ‘Forget everything you learned at university as soon as possible’ – as if any trained academic would seriously imagine that professional practice should be guided by the ideologies spread about them at the university instead of the latter being guided by the requirements of practice. This applies all the more to professions involving the specialties of physical labor in factories and the intricacies of intellectually routine work in offices. Here, the salutary pressure of cost calculation – both corporate and governmental – ensures that vocational trainers do not take their intellectual freedom too far. It is the later users themselves who teach the ‘trainee’ their requirements and even pay him a certain apprenticeship wage for it, which ties him to his parents’ house or home, but seems too much for the training employers. Others are put straight to work and are paid a low wage for the rest of their lives.

The value of experience

So professional ‘specialization’ proceeds quickly. This may sound like connoisseurship and expertise, whether more intellectually or more practically oriented, but it’s the opposite. All interests and abilities are formed and curtailed according to the business and political purposes which are unalterably inherent in the job offer. Learning for the job means learning absolutely nothing that is not needed for it; and that, despite all the rumors, is usually not all that much, not even in the education professions. Everyone is familiar with the sigh that one won’t ever know as much as when one graduated from school – and it’s mostly true. Specialization takes the place of a general education which is good for crossword puzzles, quiz shows, and showing off, but hardly anything else; and this new knowledge is characterized not so much by additional knowledge, but by a speciality that not only opposes knowledge in ideology and turns it into ‘mere’ theory: experience.

This does not mean this or that pleasant or unpleasant experience that one is now having and about which one wants to think critically. Rather, it’s about routine submission to the given facts of the occupation, from which one learns the lesson as soon as possible that “there’s nothing like starting young.” What comes across as a necessary correction and addition to previous knowledge is the final concentration of every mental effort, every demand, and all life circumstances and interests on the practical task of coping with the random profession that one has gotten hold of and with whose specifications one wants to cope. That’s why one does not ‘waste’ any more ‘unnecessary thoughts’ on the matter and it pays off highly. The one-sidedness which everyone takes for granted is considered the first advantage of personal development having finally gained the necessary maturity; limited participation in social knowledge – he understands his trade – is the first virtue of successfully coping with life; and submission to the given purposes which one serves with heart and brain is taken as a bit of indispensable responsibility. This creates a sense of self-awareness on the basis of which the personality pays attention to the rest of the world and, from the recognition of his speciality, becomes knowledgeable in all matters in life. It then applies for the sphere of worldly wisdom that a reasonable, realistic participation that that makes allowances for objective constraints testifies to an enormous amount of knowledge. Here the higher elements of school education (“Erlkönig” and so on) come into their own again.

The people who are admitted only to the lower ranks adjust themselves to the fact that they have to master the hand movements and dexterity of mindless ‘simple’ work, which is simple for them to learn but otherwise not simple at all, but rather exhausting and ruinous because of its one-sidedness, length, and intensity. What is not part of the routine is soon forgotten. Whatever knowledge of science and technology is passed on in the workplace replaces the knowledge and skill of the operating crew, so that today even illiterate people can operate the most complicated marvels of technology and they are, above all, trained in the experience of withstanding the stupor and one-sided stress that is required.

But also on the other side of the professional pyramid where responsibility, creativity, and originality have a place, the educational successes of the teacher’s ‘professional practice’ is tangible: students work out the credentials for their minds through techniques of studying that have precious little to do with acquiring knowledge. Managers and other decision-makers set up with a limited supply of leadership ideologies and plenty of official authority in their stress. Teachers are fans of their subject without having mastered what they have studied; the ability to regurgitate an ever firmer canon of teachings replaces whatever enthusiasm for the subject was once cultivated – but how to deal with recalcitrant students, achieve their grade point average, make correcting papers easier, make lessons more efficient, show off to fellow teachers and put themselves in the right light with their superiors is something they know all about. On this side, too, dullness increases with the practical application of knowledge.

In the course of a professional life, a civilized person does not learn more and more, but becomes more and more stupid. The ideal of the ‘lifelong learning’ process, with which people are supposed to adjust to the ‘highly technical’ society and its unstoppable progress, fits in with this.

“Intellectual agility” – the lifelong compulsion to adapt

It is true that the employers, in line with the state’s authority over vocational training, demand that everyone fully adapt to the social need for different services and completes their training program accordingly. It is true that the respective person, with the untimely completion of his personal and other learning, is completely dependent on the respective profession which he has acquired as his specialty. However, the ready-made professional world is not at all there for people to find employment and income with the qualities they have adjudged to be useful and usable. That readers and writers, mechanics and unskilled laborers are needed is certain; but that all qualifications that members of society want to acquire or have acquired in expectation of a position in life should be needed is out of the question. To create opportunities for using them, if they already exist or at least the will to acquire them, i.e. to let others work less and instead get a little education again, belongs to the realm of trade union education idealism and nowhere else in this society. For the real education system that benefits the common good, the goal is clear: there must be enough capable individuals. It falls within the freedom of the end users to select according to need.

For many, the acquisition of a professional qualification is an unattainable privilege. For the selection of the best, a new personality examination and assessment is constantly taking place in which the certified tests of one’s own ability and willingness count only to a limited extent. In the personnel assessment and recruitment test, or even in the fact that they do not take place at all, unskilled workers, apprentices, trainees and other job seekers learn that aptitude is a tough obligation but no guarantee of a job, however much one depends on it, because one cannot do anything else and certainly can’t become anything else. Even high school graduates often have to earn a place at university or in a job through some sort of new knowledge test and other procedures that make the principle of school adequate to the mindless concept of competition.

In return, however, they are also spared the greatest hardships that the blessing of technology in the hands of entrepreneurs brings with it because, with the changes in the economic cycle and the progress of science from to cost perspective, all stability in professional life is lost. In the world of work, the constant revolutionization of requirements, the changes and improvements of production mean that the occupations are constantly being remodeled, abolished, and newly created. This may look like a natural consequence of society’s technical ‘power of innovation.’ But it no more follows from a new invention that a person loses his job and income and only gets it under different, worse conditions, than it follows from science and technology that one is bound for life to an occupation. If, however, the commercial use of technology dictates the need for work and the workplace dictates performance and income, then the ongoing reorganization of work and the qualifications it demands will, with unfailing necessity, be at the expense of those who ‘have’ the job. Suddenly they are considered ‘overqualified,’ have to be downgraded, and are thus ‘dequalified’ – a complaint not only made by the trade unions, which is based on the capitalist logic that a job which is easier by current standards also deserves less earnings.

For working people, this means readjusting. Either one is among those who, along with their qualifications, become unemployed and without an income; then one falls under the legal compulsion of being ready for worse work. Or one is transferred within the company and allowed to gain experience again in another position. Some even enjoy a state or company-sponsored ‘retraining,’ which in its very name expresses little difference from school. Any semblance of voluntary learning, of a little freedom in thinking and one’s own interest, of skills that one learns so that one is then good for something and has a choice, disappears. Now, without further ado, it is a matter of practicing typing on a computer screen, handling a few sentence commands, or some other professional trait in order to function frictionlessly in the transition to a new technology or the vague, state-sponsored hope of perhaps being needed in another profession. In any case, for the majority losing income is normal since, with technical revolutions, the majority of jobs only make demands on nerves and physique, but income is determined by what a job is worth in terms of knowledge and responsibility.

The flip side of a person’s focus on a profession is thus unemployment – and mobility. What has given modern society the reputation of requiring ‘lifelong learning’ is the inescapable compulsion for the unemployed and job ‘owners’ to adapt frictionlessly to new demands, to abandon any claim to security and habit, and to cross out the equation of qualification = success. The extra skill that is required and inspires the mind to some new effort is the willingness to do just about anything to secure a job in the certainty that one is not better off, but at most not quite so badly off.

For the proletariat, this learning process is a common exercise. But even in the higher echelons where the principles of security and merit are more important, it is not unknown in a correspondingly moderate form, especially since the state has mobilized its educational reserves and channeled more into the Abitur than is needed for intellectual ‘workers.’ Today the teacher shortage has turned into a teacher glut – by the way, with large classes; so no way are they ‘not needed.’ That is defined by the politicians. The advances of technology have turned the education shortage at the technical faculties into a de-skilling program for some departments of classical engineering, i.e. even for engineers. Under the telling keywords of academic proletariat and academic unemployment, there is a feeble complaint that even privileged professions are not safe from the effects of the labor market and therefore have to be motivated to retrain. After all, the privilege of specialists of the mind and responsibility actually means, in professional terms, not having to be mobile and innovative.

A small balance sheet regarding education and science in the “scientific-technological age”

The benefits of education for and in the hierarchy of professions can’t be overlooked. It generates the thirst for knowledge and guarantees the knowledge that the society needs without burdening minds with more than absolutely necessary and keeping them from useful labor services or even leading them to false ideas of entitlement through too much intellectual freedom. The celebration of the ‘Enlightenment,’ which is supposed to have finally broken out with the ‘Age of Science,’ does not have on its side the educated mind of the people and its reasonable activity, but only facts which are supposed to be confused with it. Knowledge is constantly being developed in special institutions, in certain minds, written down in specialist books, and put to use by those responsible. With the help of the brain workers who are freed from real work, social progress, which makes use of science, is unmistakably advancing, but also the opposite which it serves: They have the contamination of rivers just as under control as the containment of epidemics. Nuclear power risks can be calculated just as well as the average feasible maximum performance that can be achieved at a humanely equipped workplace. In their mastery of nature, scientists include the most profitable processes and the most profitable use of labor in every factory. Technicians and professors invent their indispensable means of violence for politics. Professional interpreters of meaning supply the appropriate arguments for the best of all possible worlds and a lot of well intentioned advice on top of it, making sure that the teachings are publicly presented to the people and are conveyed in a way that is appropriate for all school levels. All this works out because science is part of the higher civil service and one of the better company posts, thus providing a splendid training and career goal for the relevant minority.

On the other hand, with every new machine, with pocket calculators and microprocessors, robots and production lines thoroughly organized according to ergonomic principles, the need for knowledge decreases for most members of society, and with it the compulsion to quite nonspecifically keep up. The growing specialization in matters of revolutionizing technology and operational planning stands in contrast to the hodgepodge of mindless, poorly paid jobs that make mobility purely a matter of will. Here too school provides enough candidates with correspondingly little knowledge. So, namely negatively, the proposition is constantly coming true that it is something anyone can do. The masses get everything they need from the social intellect. First, they are allowed – not only at work – to handle the many things that progress-oriented entrepreneurs produce according to strictly scientific methods – that is, if they have the money to buy them. Otherwise, there are no class barriers. Housewives drive diesel vehicles, children command computer games, parents turn on televisions – and no one, not even the repairman, needs to know how it all works; at most, what it costs. Secondly, everyone gets a suitable personality development almost free of charge and daily continuous lessons in moral core propositions which teach them how to assess rights and duties and how to turn everything into a situation in life in which one has to prove oneself to the best of one’s ability. Thanks to this general education, everyone knows that there are smart people who invent things, smart people who govern, and dumber people who haven’t quite made it that far. Thirdly, alongside the commandments of civic morality, ignorance flourishes in an enlightened people, as does pretty much any nonsense that turns one’s circumstances into destiny and gives higher meaning to one’s efforts. Everyone somehow knows all about horoscopes and tarot card readings, miracle cures and some inexplicable things, but also the catechism of institutionalized superstition, and all this enjoys a lively public support and scientific counseling. Fourth, one proves that one is enlightened by believing in the knowledge that others represent without question. One listens to the authorities when those responsible say that they are. From them one lets oneself confirm what is important. In this way, the masses are dumbed down in the name of knowledge and kept in tune with the state so that they adapt to the social progress that is brought about with the help of science.

Knowledge and education already exist in capitalism. After all, it is based on their application. It is obvious that the masses are to be spared knowledge, but not work. The responsible minority neither needs to work nor to know anything because they have made a self-service shop out of the proceeds of science without doing anything on their part. So the working class suffers less from being deprived of education than from being exploited. That’s why educating the people is no help against universal popular education. Conversely, it is one of the free gifts of a successful revolution.

Comments on the modest self-confidence of a skeptical elite

If you want to amount to something in our egalitarian society, you have to make an effort and learn something: study. That requires commitment. Anyone who gets involved can’t avoid

study problems.

These are not merely about questions of housing and food during the semester months. They concern the stuff to be learned.

What causes difficulties in the humanities and social sciences is in any case not the complete explanation of a matter that needs to be understood systematically. The problems start with the course catalog. This is confusing and needs to be mastered, just like the complex numbering of lecture halls – practical intelligence tests that roughly anticipate the difficulties that follow. It is necessary to find out and remember which individual subjects belong to a chosen field; and one has to cope with the fact that the systematics of these subdivisions are seen differently by every second or third lecturer. The curriculum which is introduced by almost every university for almost every subject helps here; it translates the systematics of the subject into a sequence that can be followed. On the other hand, this does not solve the problem of finding a guideline for what one has to remember and what one can safely forget again about the abundance of material on offer. What do you need to write down? What is the subject matter an example of? Or is it the facts and figures themselves that matter? A tough nut to crack for freshmen!

Time will tell. At some point, the presented problems, examples, and basic categories will inevitably sound familiar. One sometimes thinks “Aha!” or “Oh, I see!” And when this has happened about ten times, then one is no longer a beginner.

What has been learned?

One has learned how scientific thinking works in one’s subject. That there is a special art to asking questions that no one would have thought of without further ado; more profound questions than a simple: “What’s going on and why?” One has noticed that it is not a question of eliminating ambiguities, but opening an ambiguous relation to basically arbitrary objects. This requires quite intricate instructions as to how something is to be taken for a problem and what kind of problem it should be taken for. One gets to know science as a quite labyrinthine art of alienation that only appears at first glance.

This discovery is facilitated by a quite unproblematic familiarity with the ways of thinking to be learned, which imposes itself just as inevitably on an average high school graduate. After all, he has always somehow heard the central ideological message of the subject in question; and if he hasn't, then it certainly seems justified to him.

– For the student of economics, for example, the prescribed basic courses first of all remind him of the most seemingly familiar things: The “budget” with its money allocation problems is discussed. But suddenly he finds himself in the realm of mathematical functional equations; everyday things are used or rejected as needed to give the first and second derivatives of the curves to be constructed the appropriate shape that science needs for a much later chapter which is still not there at all. One should embark on the construction of models because the premises are there for this purpose, and the premises are to be accepted and made sense of so that the construction of mathematical models can proceed safely. But in the midst of this dizzying business, the student is suddenly struck by the inkling that he already knows the purpose of a corporation. The longest and most complex formulas in fact bear witness to practical objective necessities in the sphere of the material social life process which look very necessary but are fictitious. In its popular form, the belief in such an ideal is familiar to everyone; for example, as the question which is not intended to be answered at all: How else should it work?

Political science introduces its beginners to about two to five methods of puzzling out what is known about political events and their originators. Most of the time, it is first of all put down, without any argument, as a never ending chaos of unweighted individual facts that calls for a system of order before any information which is supposed to create a political content in the first place. The most elementary distinctions are to be created as outgrowths of a methodical necessity of ordering in general, for which purpose, for example, an overview of the history of political ideas of order may seem advisable, or even about the variety of ideologically competing political systems. One mirror is reflected in the other. And this all conveys a sublime platitude: coercive force is useful; people need it – what janitor would be unfamiliar with this profound finding?

Sociology takes up everything familiar, but in such a way that it is not at all recognizable. It experiences a peculiar illumination as a case of an underlying legality, which is supposed to have no other content than that of being a legality; this abstraction makes it difficult even for modern beginners to study. In this strange world, super abstract definitions of form such as “system,” “environmental complexity,” “functionality,” and the like are just as responsible for everything that happens in the economy as they are for the politeness between people. – And yet: the belief in a background world of inescapable purposefulness has the appeal of an old acquaintance. That the course of things will already have its meaning, even and especially if those subjected to it neither practically control it nor know it at all, that structures therefore prevail – that’s a nice secularization of the beloved God.

Psychology likes to put its inquisitive students into a bleakly ideal or even real measuring laboratory in which everything people do is made comprehensible or calculable as an expression of a respective underlying capacity or as a result of its impairment, whereby, depending on the lecturer, sometimes the first, sometimes the second category gets priority; and only in the upper seminars, shrinks with a lively style use worms and trained monkeys to get one to see oneself in a behind-the-scenes world of determinant psychic forces. Little of this can really be experienced. – But on the other hand: The principle of the whole is not alien to people who have long since learned in practice to use themselves as a more or less suitable means in different competitive struggles, i.e. to interpret them as such.

– In German studies and related subjects, all kinds of philosophical messages are pulled out of artistic forms in a pleasurably awkward manner – sometimes the poet has expressed it elsewhere in a sufficiently trite, but usually much more complicated, way elsewhere, which – one thinks, but wrongly – is “merely” aimed at enjoyment and not exactly at profundity. Even the skeptical beginner thinks it’s daring when his discipline reveals whole worldviews, including social conditions and a poet’s biography, in the nutshell of a little poem; and he must ask himself: Can I ever do that too? The principle of interpretation in which nothing is debated more fervently and bitterly morally than taste and enjoyment only becomes respectable through the appearance of expertise, already guides young citizens through their pre-academic private life.

According to their ideological quintessence, the subject-specific questions are thus all drawn from the bourgeois stock of unchallenging worldly wisdom; the student is not roused out of the lullaby of civic moralism when he learns it; he is assured in it. On this firm basis, recipes for posing problems are offered which no one would think of without such methods. The only way to acquire them is by following them – never by seeing through them; then one would leave it be.

Incidentally, this pattern of thinking is best fulfilled by a mass subject, unscientific from the outset, which has become a discipline of its own in the cosmos of the modern humanities and social sciences: jurisprudence sorts everything and anything with razor-sharp precision on the basis of laws and collections of judgments which initially give the first-year student much to marvel at – however familiar a healthy sense of justice may be to him on the other hand. Instead of a scientific method, it is legal practice and commentaries that put the doings of people as a whole in a peculiar light, namely that of the state’s monopoly on the use of force, which raises questions of law; these questions are first to be learned, and in the only way that is possible with this type of “problem,” namely by heart; therefore, secondly, they have to be “internalized” specifically to form the habitual way of judging.

Students in the other humanities and social sciences have to work in much the same way. Their learning necessarily has a lot to do with familiarization and it is not a coincidence that it involves the almost vocabulary-like practice of the subject-specific vocabulary of foreign words and formulas. At some point they dare to use such difficult words as “socio-psychological redundancy”, “psychophysical stereo effect,” or “transcendental parliamentary constructive theorem”; and when the seminar leader nods, they have the necessary positive reinforcement. Then more and more such insights are written down in papers; the knowledge of the authorities in the subject, as well as the keywords they have contributed to the problem-forming capacity of their discipline and through which they have become authorities, inevitably advances. The student finally knows where to go in his subject – and already problems of a new kind come into view:

Test anxieties

overcome the young academic. After all, this is what every seminar teaches: the ability, gained from experience, to distinguish between the important problems posed and the forgettable embellishments and a suitably equipped memory are only means to an end. It is about authority in dealing with the question-posing strategies of the subject as well as being able to present them orally, in writing, or both. And in such a way that convinces the lecturers, namely that someone has gotten accustomed to the subject with understanding and sympathy. After all, this is not the point of the matter, but the exam, which everyone knows will be screening out a percentage of failures that has been fixed from the outset. No one wants to be one of them; so it becomes an overriding concern for everyone, without distinction, to distinguish themselves. This is how the effort begins, with knowledge of theories and authorities, problem-solving as if one came up with it on one’s own, repartee and other formulation skills – showing off.

This no longer demands just memory and intellect, but the whole man or woman. Studying becomes a way of cultivating one’s image and preparing for the good impression one must promptly make. Exactly at that decisive moment, however, despite all the preparation, chance retains its role: how the examinee feels on that day if he does not overdo it with Valium, but above all the mood of the examiner who is accustomed to fulfilling his duty with his propensity for one and against another form of self-presentation. So extra efforts are needed for calculating one’s chances. Information about the examiners becomes more important than learning long scripts; otherwise one ends up just noticing the wrong thing.

Above all, however, the psychological impression that the irrevocable uncertainty and unpredictability that the examination makes on the candidate must be overcome. Criticism of the exam and its irrationality is of little help since one wants to pass it. The only thing left to do is to focus on one’s own personality, which is constantly unsettled by uncertain prospects; and all the more so, the more he depends on himself as the only means of passing the exam. Perhaps autogenic training is needed to supplement the learning that has been picked up? In any case, the art of showing off still needs a few additions. One candidate starts whining out of sheer calculation and annoys the examiner with excuses; the other candidate tries it with arrogance, at least if she knows that the professor likes brash women. In short, under the pressure of exam anxiety, the student matures into a personality with character.

Students of natural science, by the way, are not excluded from this educational event, which lays down the real difference between educated and non-educated humanity, merely because its material has a more reasonable character than that of the humanities. After all, they also have to sort themselves by performance tests, that is, by their knowledge, although it is true that they have to master the arbitrariness of the selected exam questions and have to cope with a well-justified anxiety. Thus, they too get used to handling their good knowledge as a means of their competitive success and quality mark of their academic personality and wrap it up in the arts of self-problematization and self-encouragement. Although

The rewards of anxiety

are only half over after the exam has been passed, even then one is not free from it.

The examinee is immediately reimbursed for the psychological expenses. After all, he now has an official certificate that his personality is suitable for an academic career; his self and its presentation have found the recognition that mattered. The unreasonableness of the procedure by which this success came about no longer presents itself in retrospect as frightening at all, but rather as exhilarating. Every graduate, and even more so every doctorate, knows from his own experience how many coincidences his “pass” was actually based on; how little it had to do with solid technical knowledge; how perhaps even the examiner embarrassed himself; no exam without the corresponding exam anecdote.

But this does not detract from the respect for the “certificate of achievement” that has been attained. On the contrary: the mockery of the passed exam, which had previously darkened the student’s life, testifies to an even more dignified pride in one’s character, which, as the certificate proves, has mastered the decisive cliff that many fail at, and has done so easily. It doesn’t matter that the knowledge, acquired laboriously enough, is forgotten as soon as the examination is over: The graduate’s self-satisfaction does not refer at all to the scientific insights he takes with him through the rest of his life. That his intellectual activity is correct according to the standards of the knowledge recognition procedure and that he can see that this makes him different from the vast majority of humankind gives the habitual skill of problematization and bragging about it a secure basis for later life.

The material reward, of course, lags behind this emotional remuneration for the time being; and this again ensures modesty. After all, the finished academic has yet to get into a real, viable career; passing the exam does not give him the slightest right to that. The labor market provides the necessary disillusionment, in the meantime even among finished doctorates. The educated personality is immediately required again as a means of competition; employers or hiring authorities want to be infatuated with a good impression. The finished academic is nothing else; he is merely dependent on someone else’s interest, and this humbles him almost as much as it does any wage laborer or employee.

But only almost. After all, the jobs that a successful examinee still has to get by sucking up are on the other side from the start. The career, when it starts, is in the social elite. And what the educated and examined person brings with him, in addition to the specified entry requirements, is his highly personal fitness for the character mask of this excellent status.

In his very person, he vouches for the two living lies of democratic racism:

– First, the better people, who measure themselves by higher needs than ordinary people and are therefore allowed to claim recognition as their role models, would only be better because they possess the accumulated knowledge of society and would thus belong to the top of a rationally organized society. It is true that academics are a single refutation of the belief in a purely functional division of labor as the dominant social principle of distinction and order: the authoritative interests are not based on their knowledge, but vice versa; and where knowledge of nature is not involved, it consists in an intellectual activity of the most peculiar kind, useful only in a very fatal sense: it replaces and censors an interest in correct knowledge of social and political issues. Precisely for this reason, however, science does not allow any criticism of itself or of academia, but does everything it can to confuse official authority and expertise, domination and division of labor, knowledge and power. Its realm is the contradictio in adjecto: “intellectual leadership.”

– Second, educated people, with the “second nature” they have acquired by studying, bear witness to the lie that they are the better people because only those like them would even qualify to see it through and become something better. This, too, is true only in a rather damning sense: to pass academic exams, to embark on a career, and to be proud of it as an achievement that distinguishes one as a member of society of the better sort, requires a conceit held against all better knowledge, which in fact, over time, completely takes over the person. Thus, in the end, position and character belong together quite inseparably – which speaks against both. Last but not least, for those who have both.