The Be-all and End-all of “Verbildungssystem” & its consequences


“Non scholae sed vitae discimus” – a sentence that is still written into the school or by the school, depending on the perspective. And depending on the perspective, it may or may not be true. However, it is also a fact that Seneca – the younger one, mind you, and not the one you had to deal with in Latin class – did not say it like that. Rather, he criticised the “school” of his time, which corresponded to completely different circumstances than the educational institution that we use the term today, with the exact opposite formulation. He, too, was suspicious of school because it did not teach people how to live.

Thomas Mohrs, professor and head of the Centre for Personal Development and Talent Promotion at the University College of Teacher Education in Upper Austria, whom I had the pleasure of getting to know in my time as the person responsible for the radio series “Nie mehr Schule” (No more school), which I initiated on the more or less free Vienna radio station Orange 94.0, and who once also engaged me as a speaker for a pedagogical conference he organised, gives free rein to his thoughts on the Austrian school system in a guest article in STANDARD. He addresses and expresses what I, too, have become painfully aware of in my life as a pupil, father and teacher and talks about degrading schooling, stuffed goose pedagogy and the education system; but also of space, time and leisure (to whose ancient Greek equivalent scholé the term school actually refers), which are needed to learn what is actually important for life: for example, nutritional awareness, creativity, soft skills such as empathy, solidarity, helpfulness or other practical life skills such as taking out an insurance policy and questioning consumer behaviour, and much more.

The decisive factor in the educational process is always the interest of the learner: without this, any endeavour to impart content is wasted effort. It is also about a relationship based on respect and mutual appreciation between teachers and learners. In my experience, the opposite is inherent in the school system and this is also neglected. And democracy cannot be learnt in these structures either, which – as the German psychologist Franziska Klinkigt says – are potentially violent; rather the opposite.

Somehow, in this context, the question arises for me as to who should provide the initial spark for a new start in education – after so many attempts have failed so miserably. Is it the learners or the teachers? Hen or egg? And indeed, the former have been providing essential pointers for decades by refusing to accept the system in one way or another – and the latter, in their distress, are calling for further reforms to relieve them of the burden of teaching should. However, both remain unheard and the “PädagogInnenbildung NEU” (new teacher training programme) does not live up to its postulated claim either. More people like Thomas Mohrs are needed to show those who want to call themselves teachers what is important.

I will soon be able to discuss the background to his analysis with him as part of a “Kamingespräch” (fireside chat) for the independent media platform Idealism Prevails, which I am really looking forward to. Because people like him have recognised the crux of the matter, i.e. the hidden curriculum, of our education system, call it by its name and provide valuable information on what needs to change and how in order to meet the needs of young people – and thus secure nothing less than the future of society, which does not consist of more of the same but in the willingness to tackle the necessary changes. Thomas Mohrs also has the staying power it takes to confront those who have cast the status quo in concrete and ultimately disempower them.

If we look at the world events of this week, we can also draw conclusions in all respects about what Mohrs refers to as the “deformation” of those in power who control world affairs. This time, let’s start with sport and the unspeakable machinations of the world football association FIFA. Its president, Gianni Infantino, actually managed to get Saudi Arabia a World Cup these days. After Australia “officially” withdrew its bid for the “Games” in 2034, the way was clear for this pet project of the busy FIFA boss. The fact that everyone continues to play along may have something to do with the many millions, if not billions, that are distributed in this business. “Pecunia non olet” is what the Roman Emperor Vespasian is said to have shouted to his son, who criticised him and his tax policy. And indeed, the smell of money, which, as we all know, has no mascot, can only make you vomit in a figurative sense. But still.

Can the SPÖ really achieve a turnaround and, with its proclaimed new shining light Andreas Babler, convince voters of a necessary social democratic turnaround in a rather conservative Austria? There are no signs of this before the party conference in Graz next Saturday – and even after that, it will be a long march to convince people of their own policies on election day in around a year’s time. The supposedly populist announcements to put a stop to the constantly rising cost of living by stipulating a cap in the constitution are probably not just too steep an idea for Linz’s SPÖ mayor Luger. Even the introduction of an additional week’s holiday (which in my view will not bring the economy to a standstill, but could possibly even have a positive effect, because it helps employees to relax and regenerate and thus has a positive impact on their performance) or making up for public holidays is unlikely to win over any potential voters. And if you look at the programme or the motions for the party conference, it is noticeable that the topic of education does not play a role. This in turn feeds the suspicion that educated people are not a good basis for populism of all kinds, which is currently fashionable in politics in all camps, and that there is therefore no willingness to change the current “Verbildungssystem” (which means something like a twisted or flipped education system).

Speaking of power: the struggle for power usually leads to dubious and ineffective conflict resolution strategies that turn the struggle itself into an instrument. For more than a year now, we have been experiencing the effects of this right on our doorstep and in every other corner of the world. In my perception, there was and is no epoch in the entire history of the world in which there has actually been a longer continuous period of peace worldwide. And this is still true in the 21st century. If you follow the basic ideas of Frederic Vester, who is known as the father of networked thinking, then education is the solution to all problems. In his hit game from the 1980s called “Ökolopoly”, the only strategy for creating a peaceful society that also lives in prosperity and “reproduces” to a sufficient degree is to invest in education. I don’t dare to judge whether it is actually that simple, but the fact that the right “education” – and not what is sold to us as such – can actually work wonders has been impressively proven in many a life. Heart education included. Incidentally, his website also contains the results of a study he conducted on terror prevention.

Whether an initiative of the ÖVP Upper Austria at the Municipal Political Forum, to which municipal officials are invited to Bad Schallerbach every November, will bear fruit cannot yet be conclusively assessed. This time, the “Herzlichkeitsbeauftragte” (cordiality officer) Mahsa Amoudadashi was invited as a guest speaker to explain “how enthusiasm can be transferred through appreciation”. Experience shows that such impulses fizzle out the very next day in everyday political life.

But what can we say when the Austrian Education Minister Polaschek once again applauds himself because his “Klasse Job” initiative has increased the number of student teachers in the winter semester by 17 per cent compared to the previous year. Of course, there is no need to discuss the content of the degree programme, as Thomas Mohrs demands, or the proportion of those who actually switch to the teaching profession after graduation or are permanently available for it. Numbers games like these can be exposed for what they really are, even without any knowledge of higher mathematics: dubious attempts at whitewashing.

Speaking of maths: with a basic understanding of this unpopular subject, which is completely overloaded with content, one could have guessed long ago that the “SIGNA empire” of Tyrolean investor René Benko stands on feet of clay. How long can an economic strategy that primarily consists of buying properties cheaply in order to sell them off many times over a short time later continue to work? This was apparently also the background to all his retail investments, be it the German Kaufhof or the Kika/Leiner furniture chain. But now this is over, as the co-investors, including building tycoon Hans-Peter Haselsteiner, have unseat Benko and handed over the operational business to the German reorganiser Arndt Geiwitz. A recently rumoured insolvency of the SIGNA Group is not imminent, but the body-snatching can nevertheless begin unabashedly.

Benko’s decline has apparently also accelerated with the departure of Sebastian Kurz from Austrian politics. Their close relationship has presumably contributed to the fact that cracks in SIGNA’s woodwork have not become an issue. The former chancellor has been working as an entrepreneur since his more or less involuntary departure. Back in October, he founded the start-up “Dream Security” – what a euphemistic name – with the Israeli inventor of the Pegasus spyware Shalev Hulio, which was used against journalists and high-ranking politicians. It is dedicated to protecting critical infrastructures such as energy and water supplies from hackers and terrorists. Government organisations in Europe are potential customers – and Kurz has excellent contacts with them. The trial for making false statements is currently entering the next round, and this has also been reflected in the Swiss underground newspaper “Untergrundblättle”. The article entitled “Kurzer Prozess” (Short trial) attempts to categorise the events and find out who they really benefit.

Recently, the editors of Idealism Prevails received an email from youth researcher Prof Bernhard Heinzlmaier, in which he ironically and sarcastically points out that children in Sweden are “forced” to visit a Viking museum and write runes, which is why – in his words – a statement of facts should be submitted to the public prosecutor’s office. His bitterness is understandable, as he was reported to the police in August of this year because he had worn a T-shirt with runic writing – more precisely with the lettering of the Lower Austrian heavy metal band Steinalt – at the presentation of a study, which had been recognised by the Greens as presumably National Socialist. However, as no initial suspicion could be recognised by the responsible public prosecutor’s office, the investigation was dropped. Truly educated people would most probably have refrained from this intervention, but the ignorance that Thomas Mohrs has noted and that I have perceived in all my “roles” in the education system often means that nothing is really too stupid. I will soon have the opportunity to talk to Bernhard Heinzlmaier about this and about excessive political correctness in general in a “Kamingespräch” (fireside chat).

Finally, let’s cross the seas. The education system in the USA certainly needs to be scrutinised: it has many issues that are beyond the scope of my weekly commentary. The fact that the fight against abortion could now prove to be a boomerang for the Republicans – including in the 2024 presidential elections – was already foreshadowed this year on the traditional election day on the second Tuesday of November. In Ohio, 57% of the votes cast in the poll were in favour of a constitutional amendment to allow access to abortion “despite a whole series of obstacles in a thoroughly Republican state where Republican elected officials had uniformly opposed the measure.” And in Virginia, Democrats not only retained control of the state Senate, but were also able to take control of the local House of Representatives. The right to abortion did not explicitly become an election issue there, but in fact it may have been decisive in the election. It cannot really be proven that these decisions have anything to do with people’s level of education, but it cannot be ruled out either.

Which brings us full circle and leaves me with the following comment: Let us not take the currently prevailing education system as natural or even God-given, but recognise it for what it is: it is man-made and therefore – like so much else in this world – can be changed by people at any time.

Picture rights Sebastian Kurz:


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WG – 2023 KW44-E-YT Wolfgang Müller CC BY-SA 4.0