Why does school make people stupid? Ruthless Criticism

Why does school make people stupid?

1. Its true: school makes people stupid. This does not represent a failure of school, but is one of its official tasks. What is stupidity? It is not stupidity if someone can't name all the tributaries of the Mississippi, does not know the chemical formula for lead, has never heard of Feuerbach, nor masters geometry. This is a lack of knowledge that one can learn if one wants. The extremely sparing transfer of knowledge and skills to the majority of students, who from an early age are sorted out for the lower levels in the occupational hierarchy because training them any further involves nothing except costs, is also not about stupidity, but the exclusion from continuing education organized by school and desired by education policy. In the “knowledge society,” higher education is open only to the elite, hence those whose knowledge promotes the national capital location, and to those who practice the functions of ruling it needs: lawyers, journalists, politicians, teachers and other state officials.

2. Stupidity is not what one does not learn. Under stupidity falls much more what one learns, both as an elementary and as a high school student. The early acquisition of a healthy portion of stupidity is needed for those services which the citizens of this country have to constantly perform: namely, for the subordination of the free will to all the pressures and constraints of this society. This includes, first and foremost, the delusion that schools and universities, all the political institutions, and not least the job market and the occupational world have somehow been created so that, with some effort, one can achieve one's freely chosen interests in it – when one nevertheless has to get by in all these departments of society. And this belongs, in the second place, to the endowment of the mind with noisy wrong judgments about the reasons why this so often does not work out. Stupidity is the sum of partisan thinking by which the educated person manages to process all the political and economic restrictions on their own interests and in doing so to remain well-behaved.

3. It is not difficult to find examples of this. For example, as a responsible citizen one believes in the stupidity that elections are important because through them one can move politicians to consider one's interests. Someone who abides by the stupid saying that in this society anybody can get something for himself if he only makes a decent effort is already well educated and convinced in himself and his abilities as a competitive subject. And then there are still the stupidities which one gets to know in the name of morality, with which the critical individual traces everything that disturbs him back to an absence of equality, justice or freedom and disregard for human dignity; this is what he then routinely blames politicians for.

Why are they stupidities?

- The friend of the vote praises a right to vote by which the electorate choses alternating personnel for government tasks that are very much fixed in principle; and then there is nothing more to this process than letting the elected leaders dictate the conditions of existence. Anyone who appreciates it as freedom to obey no other authority than those whose election he has participated in is – in the above-mentioned sense – stupid.

- The friend of meritocracy praises the competition which has firm control in all the crucial areas of life – school, job market and occupation – for the fact that class society no longer distributes its jobs according to national origin, religion, gender and race, but to all equally and democratically according to achievement. He thinks nothing of the fact that this competition generally only exists where its makers skimp on the number of winner's positions and admit the mass of the competitors, according to their criteria, into loser's jobs; where consequently before the start of the competition its main result is already certain: the occupational hierarchy of class society. Whoever praises the state-ordered permission to be allowed to take part in the competition, thus to possibly make all co-competitors losers, and moreover imagines that his efforts would give him control over this is – in the mentioned sense – stupid.

- And the friend of higher values ultimately always has a great awakening when he discovers that his interests, or those of the majority, do not work out the way they are supposed to. Then he complains – which a democracy graciously permits him and for which he then also shows his gratitude – about the politicians and their violations of equal opportunities and social justice, reproaching restrictions on freedom and intolerance. The diagnosis is as a rule abuse of authority, failures of the politicians, because “instead of approaching the core of the problem, they scratch only its surface,” as critics say. Whoever explains politics and competition as institutions which are really obliged by lofty principles to serve his interests; who thinks that in this country everything could really run harmoniously and to the satisfaction of all if the teachers, politicians and managers would not always sin against their real tasks; who in this way idealizes all the paths to success authorized in this country for school and career is – in the above-mentioned sense – stupid.

4. Why these stupidities belong to the education mission of both state and private education is easy to recognize: they are the intellectual lubricants of democratic capitalism with which the free citizen is equipped. What is not determined is why they keep them in their heads when they are nevertheless contradicted by all their concrete experiences when pursuing their life plans in this society. After the election (at the latest) one can hear from voters that, nevertheless, those in high places do whatever they want. (Again a stupidity.) Anyone who is laid off and accuses the entrepreneurs of ingratitude (also a stupidity) knows that unemployment is not a result of his refusal to work. And even the critical moralist, who always lines up with his demands undaunted by those state agencies which cause him so much trouble one reform after another, knows that he must create “some pressure up above,” which probably means nothing other than that his morally valuable arguments are not heard “above.”

5. All these theoretical stupidities are learned in school. The content of learning instructs one in such partisan thinking. School likewise ensures that wrong judgments pass by as a rule unquestioned. Learning is organized so that the bad habit does not arise in the first place of examining the content of learning for its coherence. One learns in school what is useful. Every school-required reasoning performance is organized as a performance test. The measure of successful learning is a good grade, not something like comprehension. Good grades reward those who return what is required in the required way in the required time. The relative indifference to the content of the subject matter belongs to school's compulsory form of acquiring knowledge, skills and opinions. Even the promise of later practical relevance counts as an effective motive for learning. What students themselves then often construe as useful “practical relevance” views a thing according to the following determination: I will only allow in my head what will later make me useful in the service of state power and money. In short: the enforced instrumental attitude to the acquisition of knowledge almost prohibits the examination of a subject matter for its truthfulness. Therefore, the stupidity that there is no such thing as truth also belongs to higher education.

6. If criticism of school – as has been suggested here – is routinely confronted by the question of the alternative, or else it is supposed to be disgraced, then this is not only another learned stupidity, the imperative of constructive criticism, but also an admission: It is well known that the state in this country is vigilant against its citizens holding alternatives to democratic capitalism; it wants them to refine nothing but the international success model. Vice versa, it categorically closes off any rational organization of social organization – see for example the laws which protect private property. And it is ultimately under this alternativelessness to the ruling living conditions – the (objective) compulsion to set up one's life under the regime of money and private property, competition with its conflicts of interests, legal system and violence monopoly according to achievements summoned by the free will – that the learned stupidities unfortunately usually harden into unfazable points of view. Whoever then uses the state-power effected proscription against any alternative to the ruling system to accuse the critic of, of all things, a lack of realism in their criticism, has already ended up with his stupidity in the normal partisanship.