Educational reforms and “Change Management” put to the test

Educational reforms and “Change Management” put to the test

Conference Report: Time for Change?

by Professor Dr Karl-Heinz Dammer*

cc. Time and again Current Concerns publishes critical articles to current developments in school and education. From different perspectives we have also revealed the undemocratic nature of enforcement and implementation of changes in schools imposed on teachers and students top down. Educational scientist Professor Dammer now reports on a conference with this topic, as one can only wish for. This report provides a solid overview of the course of the conference. Individual conference contributions and aspects will be explained in more detail in further editions of Current Concerns.

Under the title “Time for Change?”, provided very wisely with a question mark, the first annual conference of the Gesellschaft für Bildung und Wissen e.V. (GBW)1 (Society for Education and Knowledge) took place on 3 February at the
Bergische University of Wuppertal. Its topic was the paradox of the permanent change to which not only the German educational system has been exposed since the publication of the first Pisa study 2001. Therefore, the meeting obviously met the interest of many colleagues who arrived not only from all over Germany, but also from Switzerland and Austria and who made sure that the meeting with over 400 participants was the best visited of the GBW so far. Among other things, the great interest may be related to the fact that, for the first time, considerable space was dedicated to practical reports from schools or from colleagues committed to educational policy. This resulted in a wide range of practical and theoretical criticisms, which gave rise to some skepticism, but also conveyed encouraging examples and perspectives for intervention in the idle reform process.

Decreed innovations

The conference was thematically introduced by Jochen Krautz (conference organiser and Professor of art education at the Bergische University of Wuppertal) and Ursula Frost (Professor of general and systematic education at the University of Cologne). With some quotes, among other things on school development, Jochen Krautz revealed that all this talk about change does not require objectives and justifications, but that it only propagates change as intrinsically valuable and that it operates with simple juxtapositions of old and new. On the basis of Edward Bernay’s major work “Propaganda” Krautz showed that as early as 1928 strategies were developed how to manipulate people in terms of decreed innovations, namely, by staging disturbing events, the consequences of which can then allegedly only be prevented by the intended innovation.

The historical perspective

From a historical and systematic perspective, Ursula Frost recalled the double function that was attributed to the school in the early nineteenth century by Schleiermacher, namely to adapt future generations to society, but at the same time enabling them to judge in order to be able to examine the existing. Thus, it became clear that the adjustment of pupils to the needs of the labor market intensified by the Pisa study is nothing fundamentally new, but new, says Frost, are the technologies’ intensity and spectrum with which this is taking place. With reference to the Milgram experiment, she urgently recalled the potential consequences of thoughtless adaptation to what was predefined.

Change Management

In his committed lecture, Matthias Burchardt (Academic Councillor in the field of educational science at the University of Cologne) explained in his dedicated lecture on the psycho-techniques used by Change Management. He used relevant quotes to illustrate how to break self-will and individuality that Change Management makes use of. Murmur in the audience and occasional applause led to the conclusion that many of the attendees were familiar with this from their own practice. Originally, Change Management had legitimate political goals, because it goes back to the social psychologist Kurt Lewin, who wanted to make adolescents who are not conspicuous in society fit for reintegration: By “unfreezing”, they were to discard their socially problematic behaviour patterns and then become open to the acquisition of prosocial patterns, which were finally stabilised in a third phase. According to this three-step process of “unfreezing”, “moving” and “stabilising”, Change Management is still taking place today when it comes to manipulating people in the sense of propagated change.
The fact that subtle strategies are not always used in school life was proven by the subsequently read reports of teachers (a small selection of several hundred sent insights into forced adaptation). Their skepticism or even refusal in certain situations was answered with partly open, partly covert repression.
This was supported by the subsequent panel discussion with staff representatives: 70 years after the end of the Nazi dictatorship, training courses entitled “Leading and following” are once again becoming acceptable, “innovations” which in practice weaken the quality of education are being pushed through, partly under the influence of private economic interests, against the declared will of those affected and output-oriented school development operates with dreadful indicators, such as the cost of repairs to measure the success of social learning (!).

Manipulation in education

After lunch break, Silja Graupe (Professor of Philosophy and Economics at the Cusanus University in Bernkastel-Kues, which she founded) deepened the statements of Matthias Burchardt on Change Management in her lecture on “Influencing and Manipulating in Education”, showing that this was the result of a large-scale attempt to establish an economically compatible image of man. This process has already lasted for almost a hundred years and has been promoted by the cognitive sciences: Human thinking is divided into two systems: System 1, in which intuitive actions and unconscious patterns of interpretation are stored, and System 2, which is responsible for deliberate contemplation and power of judgement. According to Graupe, System 2 is being stigmatised as too heavy and sluggish because it prevents the implementation of innovations. Whoever strives for this, must therefore “edit” System 1 by “deleting” its contents and “overwriting” it anew. As Graupe proves, the strategies applied are in principle the same as for brainwashing, only less brutal, but guided by a “libertarian paternalism”, as the Nobel laureate for economics, Richard Taylor, calls it. What is meant is a system of public manipulation in which an elite dictates the majority, for whom thinking is too burdensome, the desirable thinking patterns. This also begins with the “unfreezing” of System 1, i.e. the deletion of the patterns, social practices and self-images stored in it, in order to open up the people, who are infantilised by disorientation, to the new concepts of meaning, which are then to be stabilised by hammering in key terms and phrases. System 2, which could object, is paralysed by the occupation with meaningless, formal activities. Thus, Graupe concludes, a new concept is implemented namely that of the market as the universal valid principle of society. Silja Graupes’ study on the representation of the market economy in current economics textbooks ( is recommended for anyone who wants to know more precisely how this reductionist image of man is conveyed.

Democracy without education?

In his speech, Volker Ladenthin (Professor of Education at the University of Bonn) answered the question “Why democracy without education is not democratic – and education without democracy does not work well”. He started out from a criticism of those responsible for the PISA study who with astonishing ease postulate a normative education concept primarily aimed at economic functionality, even though they are neither educators nor education politicians. This method of encroachment calls for a fundamental clarification of who is responsible for what in a democracy. Ladenthin argued that, in contrast to ancient and medieval philosophy, modern scientific thinking is based on an open horizon of questions and an unfinished search for truth. Science has a constitutionally certified freedom and an exclusive responsibility concerning this search for truth. On the other hand, politics has only a limited time horizon in which to make decisions that cannot be deferred until questions of truth have been clarified. It is the task of democracy to organise this decision-making process in terms of the common good, and this in turn requires objectively informed and capable citizens, and thus education. So in Ladenthin’s eyes, the facilitation of education is the supreme task of politics.
Against this backdrop, Ladenthin presented three examples to illustrate how this “division of labour” is actually being circumvented in education today by way of the curricula: unambiguous truths of educational goals, contents or methods are set as norms – a unique process in the history of democratic curricula which thus fell back into pre-modern thinking, as Ladenthin emphasised.

What is to be done?

Subsequent to these three critical lectures, which shed light on the ideology of Change Management from different perspectives, it was Jochen Krautz’ task to answer the necessarily resulting question “What is to be done?” in his concluding lecture.
He did this taking recourse to ancient philosophy as his predecessor had done, namely falling back to Aristotle’s definition of the téchne as an art theory based on knowledge, practice and experience. In this sense, pedagogy should also be understood as an art theory, in which technical and pedagogical knowledge, action patterns resulting from experience, and situational judgment had to be integrated. Based on this professionalism, it is the task and the responsibility of the teachers alone to ensure the quality of their teaching in social and pedagogical responsibility, and not according to external guidelines. Such guidelines – especially when their theoretical reasoning is contentious – are more likely to result in preventing the development of a professional art of teaching. In a word, Krautz pleaded in favour of taking teachers’ educational autonomy seriously.
This resulted in a clear answer to the initial question. Under the conditions of a high professional ethic striving for perfection in technical as well as pedagogical regard, teachers have the right to resist pedagogically questionable attacks on their professionalism, and this is legally confirmed. The fact that they seldom do, Krautz attributed, among other things, to their not even fully appreciating their situation as “model inmates” in an ideologically constructed test laboratory, since the terms and concepts infiltrated by Change Management are often coupled up with pedagogical concepts that are positively connoted. In the end, Krautz set against this insiduous deprofessionalisation a return to objectivity and thus to knowledge and judgment as well as sociality, that is to say the recollection of the pedagogical relationship of older and younger generations and of class instruction as joint work on the common cause.
The concluding podium discussion of this inspiring conference made clear that resistance can be worthwhile and successful if different interest groups identify themselves with the same case, consistently seek the public and consistently make use of the possibilities of democratic opposition. In both panel discussions it was impressive to note how activists with very different motives and representatives of different associations pulled together in spite of these differences.    •


1     The Gesellschaft für Bildung und Wissen, GBW (Society for Education and Knowledge), ( was founded in June 2010 and examines critically the path taken towards the economisation of education and the levelling of qualifications since PISA and Bologna. The GBW warns against their risk potential for the German location for education and science. Members of the society can become anyone interested in education and knowledge – especially teachers in schools and colleges.

(Translation Current Concerns)

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