mort about education


monsters from a 9 yr. old, more images after the text

randform reader spitzketreiber wrote in a comment to the last blog post:

so you don’t want to mingle your kid with the normal kids in that school, isn’t that elitistic and in contradiction to the egalitarian views you expressed here on this blog?

What do you mean with egalitarian? I think every human has the right for half-way decent living conditions that is in particular everybody should have access to food, housing, education and health care, but thats not egalitarian as in the usual sense.

Moreover I didn’t say that I don’t wan’t to mingle my kid with the “normal” kids.

On the contrary. I do think that it can be good to bring rather different types of kids together. However the size of the classes and the ratio of teachers and or supervisors/social workers to pupils/group members matter a lot if you have different types of pupils/group members. I worked in the early eighties in a preschool where disabled, mentally retarded and “normal” children were brought together in one group. I found it was for all children a win. However for this project the ratio of teacher/supervisor/kid was about one teacher for 1-2 kids and this ratio was definitely necessary.

In general it is important that each kid has something to work on, something were it can grow its abilities. If you have a group of very different kids it is often not so easy to find the right means to realize this.

Like in the case of specific mind tasks you have to keep the intelligent kids busy enough with suited and meaningful tasks so that they don’t start to get too bored. Likewise slower kids need to get a task, which is adapted for them, a task were they feel not swamped and were they have enough freedom to work at their pace. Alpha animals have to be often kept at distance, cultural obstacles have to be resolved, some people need a special amount of physical workout, some people talk a lot, some people are better able to adapt etc. In general one can say the more different a group, the harder it can be to “keep the group together” for a longer time while simultanously get some work done with some portion of efficiency. Moreover with a smaller teacher/kid ratio the evaluation of abilities is more difficult. So it may happen that very different people supplement each other and may easily form a group however in the generic case one can rather observe that often either people sort themselves (“social segregation”) or that they are sorted prior to forming groups and/or that they are “streamlined” via pressure and rules (please see also the comment on the moderation of groups). Thus school classes are e.g. formed by sorting via grades and/or other aspects, like tuition etc. The bigger the classes, the less teachers there are, the more streamlining and sorting may be necessary in order to keep a certain standard. Ever done chemistry experiments with a bunch of over 30 ten year olds in a small room? I did this and I can say it can be challenging.

In a lot of the Berlin gymnasia which are mentioned in the previous blog post there seem, at least by what we have heard, to be less social and cultural differences than in that gymnasium in Marzahn-Hellersdorf at which our kids are currently. In that sense it seems the social and cultural components of difference may be lower in these schools then in this school in Marzahn-Hellersdorf and thus if you have the same amount of too many pupils this may be a learning advantage.

In the case of our son we thus have – apart from the Berlin-Bavarian problem with spanish as a second language (which wouldn’t be resolved by sending him into a “normal” class at this school and I am still quite angry that they didn’t tell us when we applied for that school that french is going to be eliminated) – to figure out wether it is better for our son to stay in his “presorted” class with a higher teacher ratio per kid, however with a higher teaching speed (“fastgoerclass”) or to change to a rather crowded class with probably more tensions due to more and more different pupils. I should also say that depite the fact that his class was already more “sorted” than a “normal” class (kids in these kind of classes have often parents which have a high interest in good education) there were already big overall tensions (especially among the boys) and that the math teacher spend his free time to speak with the boys and to establish a kind of anti-bullying system. One should also mention that the school had to undergo a major restructuring and that there is a rather high fluctuation of teachers, because of e.g. changing pupil numbers, the restructuring and school reforms. So for example my daughters class has now the fifth math teacher (temporary staff not included) in four years. Moreover an overall higher teaching speed (as said the gymnasia in Germany were roughly shortened by a year in recent times) together with higher challenges of a technological society put additional pressure on schools and kids. This school in Marzahn-Hellersdorf has some excellent teachers and it is frustrating to see how they are struggling. There was recently also a study, which displayed that the current german school system produces a lot of “loosers”, from the article Deutschland, Land der Schulabsteiger

“Selbst in Sachsen, dem informellen Sieger der neuen Studie, kommen auf einen Schulaufsteiger elf Schüler, die aus dem Gymnasium in eine niedrigere Schulform herabgestuft werden. In Niedersachsen sind es 12, in Berlin gar 14.”

translation without guarantee:

Even in Saxonia, the informal winner in the study, it was that for one fast climber there are eleven pupils which are decending from Gymnasium into a lower school form. In Lower Saxonia there are 12 and in Berlin even 14.

Big classes are of course motivated by economic considerations and similar dynamics with high teach speed and bigger “classes” take place in higher education. For example a year and a half ago Tim had to give lectures in front of about 1000 ! students – he had already to think about wether it may be necessary to split his lecture via a video screen into two lecture halls. I call this an academic Musikantenstadl.

The New York times had recently an article which conscisely summarized two major components of these dynamics. One effect is the socalled “Baumol’s disease”:

Some of that growth has resulted from a phenomenon called Baumol’s disease, after the economist William J. Baumol, who described it in a 1965 article he wrote with William G. Bowen. The basic idea is that while productivity gains have made it possible to assemble cars with only a tiny fraction of the labor that was once required, it still takes four musicians nine minutes to perform Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 4 in C minor, just as it did in the 19th century.

College instruction more closely resembles a musical performance than an auto assembly line. Although information technologies have yielded some productivity growth in academia, instruction still takes place largely as it always has.

In some sense one can see this dynamics as a indication that humans (the training of, the maintanance of etc.) are loosing against the market competivity of machines and this is not only the case for the industry sector but increasingly also the case for the socalled knowledge economy. Note in particular that teaching becomes especially part of the monetarily sucessful section of knowledge economy if it is not mainly concerned with teaching “mentally weak” humans (or whoever appear as such) but humans which are able to construct, run and maintain high tech, i.e. “machines.”

This becomes also apparent in the second phenomenom which lies according to the New York times in “prestige hunting” (and the corresponding tuition costs):

“After adjusting for inflation, starting salaries for most graduates have remained essentially stagnant for several decades, while those at the bottom of the group have actually declined. Only the highest-paid graduates have enjoyed significant salary growth, and among those a very thin slice at the top has seen truly spectacular increases.

Because of the bitter competition for those premium salaries, elite educational credentials are often a precondition for even landing a job interview. With so many applications for every vacancy, many consulting firms and investment banks, For example, now consider only candidates from a short list of top-ranked schools.”

That is consulting firms and investment banks are of course to a great extend part of what can be seen as “knowledge economy”, in particular sophisticated financial instruments make extensive use of computers, i.e. “machines” and the humans, which are assumed to be able to create e.g. the best computer programs and financial models are thus more sought after.

More components like growing social inequalities and declining ressources play of course also a role.


car and gadget design from a 10 yr. old

dragon from a 9 yr. old


dragons from a 9 yr. old


fight from a 9 yr. old


monsters from a 9 yr. old


mom and batman from a 8 yr. old


seizure from a 11 yr. old

10 Responses to “mort about education”

  1. Hazel Says:

    Wasn’t Hitler killing mentally retarted people?

  2. nad Says:

    You probably mean the euthanasia program called action T4 which was initiated during the Hitler regime.

  3. Irmgard Sheltow Says:

    Parents of disabled children should get all our sympathy, it is such a fate.

  4. Irmgard Sheltow Says:

    Oh and I would like to supplement that of course also the disabled children themselves deserve all our sympathy.

  5. nad Says:

    Irmgard Sheltow wrote:

    Parents of disabled children should get all our sympathy, it is such a fate.

    Oh and I would like to supplement that of course also the disabled children themselves deserve all our sympathy.

    Apart from the preschool I also briefly worked in a cabinet maker workshop in which handicapped persons worked. I think that it is important that one provides appropriate means in which a handicapped person can contribute to society, where the person has the possibility to show that it can do useful things and where it can gain some recognition for this effort.

    So in particular parents want to get concrete support, like with financing therapies etc.
    I know a case, where the daughter is very handicapped (she can’t walk etc.) due to a physicians mistake at birth and where the parents had to fight very hard for every tiny bit of support and justice. They said that it is especially this fight which is extremly strenous.

    Parents may want to see that their children have the chance to live at least halfway a life on their own within a society. If you treat someone as a pure burden then this person won’t feel integrated.

    Of course from a purely commercial aspect a workshop for handicapped persons is a nonprofitable business especially if seen in competition with high end workshops. However it is not that there are purely unuseful and unneeded things produced. On the contrary self made things from workshops for handicapped (and of course also from nonhandicapped) persons can be very beautiful and the knowledge which is there is often incredible. So it is not that this work is “unneeded” per se but that it is “unneeded” from a commercial point of view.

    A nice example is the Blindenanstalt here in Berlin, where I actually recently visited the Flechtmanufaktur and where I learned a lot.

    The more the overall competition rises (including the competition with machines) the more difficult it gets to finance such places. And if one sees that already about half of the “healthy” spanish youth is “commercially unneeded” then this looks rather bleak for the future of disabled persons.

  6. Irmgard Sheltow Says:

    Nad wrote:
    “The more the overall competition rises (including the competition with machines) the more difficult it gets to finance such places. And if one sees that already about half of the “healthy” spanish youth is “commercially unneeded” then this looks rather bleak for the future of disabled persons.”

    Oh yes of course that economic crisis in Spain and Greece is really troublesome. I think these countries should better follow the advices of leading economists. Austerity is bad – there needs to be more investments into good managers.

  7. Homo Ludens Says:

    Nad wrote:

    “So for example my daughters class has now the fifth math teacher (temporary staff not included) in four years. Moreover an overall higher teaching speed (as said the gymnasia in Germany were roughly shortened by a year in recent times) together with higher challenges of a technological society put additional pressure on schools and kids. This school in Marzahn-Hellersdorf has some excellent teachers and it is frustrating to see how they are struggling.”

    I don’t know wether this helps, but it is written that on this webpage:
    about studiolab project that:

    Studiolab projects focus on three main themes at the frontiers of science; the Future of Water, Synthetic Biology, and the Future of Social Interaction. Across these three themes and three strands, Studiolab partners are developing products and activities with educational, social, cultural, or commercial value as well as a unique programme of activities which promote science and creativity among Europe’s citizens.

    So may be their unique programme will encompass some activities for kids in Marzahn-Hellersdorf. There is a phone number, you could call them and ask.

  8. Myrmecologist Says:

    nad wrote:

    “I think that it is important that one provides appropriate means in which a handicapped person can contribute to society, where the person has the possibility to show that it can do useful things and where it can gain some recognition for this effort.”

    Yes but as you pointed out this can get very costly. I mean handicapped/retarded persons should be treated decently – the above mentioned Euthanasia is of course not acceptable – but for the survival of a society it is often not possible to generously pamper the “unuseful” part of a society. For example in these workshops the care for the handicapped/retarded also keeps you from doing actual work and if resources are scarce then it might be a too luxurious thing to care too much.

  9. Sara Drück Says:

    I agree with Myrmecologist. Finally – of course this example is very exagerated and maybe not fully suitable and shouldn’t be understood in the literal sense – but: you wouldn’t teach your rabbit how to use your Iphone, but rather eat the rabbit.

  10. hochkompetetivebau Says:

    Myrmecologist said:

    Euthanasia is of course not acceptable – but for the survival of a society it is often not possible to generously pamper the “unuseful” part of a society. For example in these workshops the care for the handicapped/retarded also keeps you from doing actual work and if resources are scarce then it might be a too luxurious thing to care too much.

    I think the main problem here is that it is often difficult to find appropriate and efficient means to care for the “unuseful part” of society. That is you can’t compare the efficiency of a runner with a weight lifter. One has to find adapted solutions.

    Sara Drück said:

    but: you wouldn’t teach your rabbit how to use your Iphone, but rather eat the rabbit.

    Wrong. I think technology is the key. The solution CleverPet for example is an innovative solution where dogs can enhance their cognitive abilities. For me it is a key model for fostering a true animalistic (vs human) industrial democracy. With CleverPet dogs can engage in a truly mind-blowing future science innovation. It is an adapted solution where their entrepreneurial spirit is challenged by embracing a new independence within a novel open sustainable high-achiever kick-ass cutting edge tech environment. No wonder that venture capitalist probably spurred the CleverPet crowdsourcing campaign at Kickstarter

    From the campaign website:

    The CleverPet uses cutting-edge algorithms based on behavioral science to reward your dog when she learns something new.

    and

    – All day interaction thanks to games that adapt

    – Arrive home to a dog that’s been challenged and active

    – Join the community that’s transforming pet parenting

    And I hope the CleverPet Team around Leo Trottier will still try to
    kick off their engaging 400 000 dollar Top Dog challenge of a game changing geeky multiplayer community!

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