Misunderstanding “equal opportunities” Ruthless Criticism

Misunderstanding “equal opportunities”

If every student was allowed as much time to learn the material in addition to the means and assistance which they need in each case, then the concern with equal opportunities would be done with. To acquire knowledge and learn one does not need opportunities and certainly not equal opportunities. They only get in the way then. Only circumstances which correspond to the individual conditions of the learner are needed. Everyone knows this from personal experience: anyone who out of one's own free will and completely privately wants to acquaint oneself with some area of knowledge or learn an instrument because it is interesting to them, grasps the material, means and devices with which one understands and/or practices these from experience easiest, and one does not make the satisfaction of one's theoretical interest dependent on a predetermined time period. It would just be silly and a contradiction to the pursuit of the subject of interest if one abandoned the learning process and kissed goodbye to one's own own intellectual concern just because a certain number of hours have passed. One may interrupt studying or take breaks, but only in order to resume it again later on – it is just about one's interest, as long as and as intensely as it takes.

Equal opportunities have nothing to do with a rational organization of learning. To the contrary, it is irrational that school organizes learning as a learning performance, thus as a competition between all the students of a class or age group. And whenever learning is about an efficiency comparison, it is bent under a criteria foreign to learning. When learning is to depend on the fact that everyone has to finish the lesson and/or the achievement test in the same time, that they have to enjoy access to equal learning material and help learning, or else help has to be refused to them all equally, etc., they can be compared only if all students are set with the lesson or the achievement test under the same conditions. Otherwise no differences can be determined! If one wants to know who among ten young people is the fastest, one cannot let everyone run as long and as quickly as he wants. They must all set themselves up at the same starting line, take off at the same time and run the same distance. The time comparison then results in winners and losers, hierarchically sorted from one to ten. Now the school learning competition is, however, at the same time more than a race. Their results hold, are fixed and the basis for influencing career decisions far after school. The possibility of payback, on which the contest lives, does not exist! Anyone who has flunked a math test does not get in school the opportunity of a “re-match” in which he can prove that he has since understood the material. Anyone who would point out to the teacher that he has caught on and understood fractions in order to remedy his mistakes and asks whether his level of knowledge is now correctly or falsely quantified in the grade book gets only a mild smile for his naivety. Indeed, competition is not a sport, not play, but bitterly serious.

We maintain: school is about learning and, in addition, at the same time always about being in the learning achievement competition. In it winners and losers are determined whereby ultimately the winners mostly go on to the university, the great mass of the losers by contrast to community colleges or vocational schools, to those careers that their parents just did not have in mind when they hoped that “our child should do better than us!” And the logically necessary procedure for this school sorting process which identifies performance differences is called equal opportunities. School is necessary to identify the best achievers among the young in the great education test, and indeed quite independently of their social origins. These winners will subsequently be entrusted to social leadership. The losers may bounce around in the pay scale between the median wage and general assistance. The democratic state has abolished the feudal school system which metes out different training for children of different classes and strata and replaced it with achievement-based schools.

Invariably, when a lack of equal chances is deplored by parents, teacher associations or critical pedagogues, a misunderstanding is present and a criticism is made which – gently said – is too shortsighted. The material for the complaint is taken from the results of the equal opportunity achievement test: it has long been well known that – apparently paradoxically – in achievement tests over and over again children excel who have grown up in a home with parents with an “academic spirit”; while the losers come disproportionately from those with “weaker education backgrounds” and are sent after schooling again into the “educational background”; thus in its results the democratic achievement-based school proves once more to be a class school. One should, however, not accuse it of lacking equal opportunities in the procedure of the learning achievement. This paradox has its cause in the fact that children with most different intellectual preparatory training and intellectual endowment have to take the equal opportunities test. Someone who has already learned to read or do multiplication tables with parents or siblings possesses a lead in elementary school over those children who do not even know letters or numbers. And it is easy to predict the early termination of someone's educational career who falls behind in school. Deficiencies in learning in this country are not systematically eliminated, but accumulate.

So much for the misunderstanding from which the annoying yardstick of the criticism is to be inferred in no time. What would actually change, if one would be able by school or pre-school efforts to level all differences in the intellectual prerequisites with which children have to position themselves in the achievement test? What would be won if children with identical cognitive endowments would undergo the equal chance procedure? A beautiful, socially just sorting process would be won! An achievement test in which nothing would count except academic effort, “undistorted” by differences in origin! A test in which the students must, however, still subordinate an interest in learning to the competition imposed on them; in which continued indifference to any knowledge becomes second nature, in which henceforth all that really matters is by all means be winners, join them, and make the others losers and lord over them with fear and bullying. An assortment result would be won which would distribute winners and losers, like before, into the identical hierarchy of occupations ordered according to class; only with the difference that perhaps more children of university graduates would now end up on the assembly line and more children of workers would ascend into the political and economic elite. But what kind of criticism is it to hold that the contrast of the social classes in capitalism is solely the sum of the differences with which children go into the school competition, and which reminds one solely to organize school's contribution to the reproduction of capitalistic class society “socially more fairly”!

The organizers of the education system would not thereby spoil anything: for them it really only matters that the education system always spits out the necessary supply of people trained for the demand found on the labor market, sorted into to an elite and a mass which improves the competitive power of the national education location. One knows: the wailing of politicians about “lack of equal opportunity” results in a transformation of the national school system which aims primarily to aggravate achievement pressure.