On the test rig

By Henning Kullak-Ublick, June 2018

In mid-February, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper published an interview with the Tübingen academic media expert Bernhard Pörksen. He attested that as a result of the unrestricted access to and constant availability of the media there was a mood in our society in which people were constantly agitated and scandalised and that it was developing into a “democracy of outrage”.

Pörksen is therefore calling for “the principles of good journalism” to be made a part of general education: “Let your work be guided by truth; check first, publish later; be sceptical; try to avoid the lure of ideology, use several sources, distinguish clearly between advertising and reporting; brand only as a scandal what is actually relevant”.

Of course he’s right. The difficulty however, as so often, lies not in “what” we should do but in “how” we do it. Take the ongoing business last year of the emissions scandal. There was unbelievable lying and deception. Anyone who is caught cheating in exams at school or university is either expelled or has to resit the exam. All the while Volkswagen alone generated an operating profit in the first three quarters of 2017 of 13.2 billion euros. It seems that “alternative facts” don’t really harm your prospects that much after all.

When we therefore consider how we can make the virtues called for above a part of general education, we are in the caught up in very fundamental questions about truth, morality – and the nature of exams.

For as we now know, the cheating software was used on “test rigs” while road tests – we might also say real-life tests – were carefully avoided. Does that not suggest the conclusion that people were at work here who never learnt to see exams as anything other than a selection process for personal benefit, for life chances, winners or losers in the fight for survival? People who were never able to see that an exam without self-reflection is nothing more than simple training for a Darwinist view of the world? Who were never allowed to experience what it means to lay into the balance the effect of their own thoughts, feelings and actions on others, on nature, on people near to and far from them and, not least, on their own soul?

What kind of living example are we for the generation that is growing up now? Do we let our children, as they grow up, experience a myriad of lesser and greater tests through which they can learn to understand themselves and the world as actors who perceive with their hearts and think independently; or do we place them as children already on the unproductive treadmill of competition for good exam results which have no intrinsic value but determine life chances?

Before they can turn into individual capacities, the search for truth, the ability to differentiate and thoughtfulness are, as Pörksen rightly demands, above all an experience which children and young people have to see in adults.  Without the self-education of the latter, there is little prospect that these values will filter down into general education.

About the author: Henning Kullak-Ublick, class teacher from 1984 -2010 at the Flensburg Free Waldorf School; board member of the German Association of Waldorf Schools, the Friends of Waldorf Education and the International Forum for Steiner/Waldorf Education – The Hague Circle, as well as coordinator of Waldorf100 and the author of the book Jedes Kind ein Könner. Fragen und Antworten an die Waldorfpädagogik.


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