too short;didn't understand - Why Literacy 2 is needed for all

School development despite teacher shortages?

Recently, in the Facebook announcement of his video on the "self-learning revolution", Jöran asked whether it was still opportune to work on school-developing teacher education at present and in the foreseeable future, since "every working hour [...] must now be spent against teaching shortages, and sustainable measures for staff and school development [...] no longer [have] a chance."

Yes, of course, we have a glaring educational emergency and the conditions for teaching all the children in the republic even literacy (i.e. reading and writing and thinking in causal relationships) are very poor. But only if we think about what we would actually need as an educational outcome - that is a concrete utopia - can we deal sensibly with the personnel for it that we still have left, because without these realistic ideas of a better education, to which teacher training is oriented, one comes up with such thoughts as the German-Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder, who understands the teacher labour market in a typically capitalist way and calls for teacher poaching from other federal states. One can also already see what is to be expected, namely that the teacher shortage will force individual teachers, for the sake of their survival, to "quit internally", to put their commitment on the back burner, and to do only the most important daily tasks and, beyond that, best to look for exit options.

And it is not only the consequences of an increasing teacher shortage on the mere technical operability of schools that we have to keep an eye on (fulltime-day is dead, and classes five days a week are already being abandoned in some places) . It is also about what the next generations of pupils will have in their heads: How they will think and act. Keywords: the search for "simple solutions", "for a leader", Manichean thinking in terms of friend and foe, good and evil, what is now called the tendency towards a conspiracy-ideological view of the world - this will not be able to be dealt with under such conditions, when the educational institutions themselves will presumably return to authoritarian frontal teaching and class management in order to provide a symptomatic short-term answer to undoubtedly rising class frequencies with increasing cancellation of classes. Whether it is then helpful to send one's child to the Waldorf school for rescue, which in many places is still the only alternative school locally, should only be decided once one knows the world view taught there.

So working out a concrete utopia of what kind of education society needs concerns the survival of the whole society.

Why do we need a redefinition of education today?

It is no coincidence that cybernetics, systems science and complexity thinking emerged in the same historical period as computers and digitality. Technological development is not only a product of society; as a condition for further developments, it also has an effect on society and its understanding of the world. This has consequences for education - for its goals and objects as well as for its methods. Today, it is no longer just about understanding as many individual objects ("contents") as possible, but also about understanding their interrelationships and their dynamics. We also need to talk about the concept of content or objects.

Educational content is by no means only the objects/topics of the individual subjects or subject sciences and their methods. Educational contents are also the methods of dealing with these contents - one can call them the 1st order contents. To do something with them, to place them in a context and to concretise them there after having grasped them abstractly and theoretically. These methods of thinking could be called 2nd order content. At this level, educational contents are easily recognisable not as fixed things ("bodies of knowledge"), but as activities of the "educated". Intellectual activities as well as practical ones. But even the contents of the first order are in reality linked to activities. Not only is the acquisition of the skills for these activities a special activity in itself (learning activity), they are historically the results of corresponding research activities. And these in turn are often more or less easily recognisable as historically negotiated and as not absolutely objective facts (aka state of research and discussion). With the distinction between educational content or learning objects of the 1st and 2nd order, one saves oneself the superfluous dualistic dispute between "knowledge vs. competences". For this already establishes a connection between the two. And it should also be clear that second-order learning does not follow first-order learning, but that both are somehow intertwined from the beginning of the learning process.

How learning has changed

At the same time, along with work and communication, digitality has also changed learning and continues to do so permanently - whether we plan for this contradictory process or not, whether we welcome the effects that occur or not. That it is becoming increasingly difficult to get students (and teachers) to read, understand and produce longer texts is a truism from educational practice in all sectors of education. It is equally clear that this has to do with the fact that social communication apparatuses and thus communication and learning habits have changed. tl;dr - learned in media socialisation on the "social media" as normal behaviour and now the ChatGPT, which seems to take away our ability to write (and think) for ourselves.

If we want to influence this process of society becoming digital in the sense of our ideas and desires and not simply accept it in its form, then we must develop the most adequate understanding possible of its conditions and mode of action. Up to now - as supposedly pragmatic - a distinction has usually simply been made between desired/undesired effects ("gains and losses") and then attempts have been made to combat the undesired effects symptomatically and, at best, to fathom the positive application potentials of already developed forms of technology. This is currently clearly illustrated by the understandable excitement about the effects of ChatGPT on homework and examinations in schools and universities, in which the first question is whether and how the teacher can distinguish AI texts from real student texts and thus detect deception. However, such symptom treatment is less and less sufficient. Instead, we need to steer the development of technology as a whole (differently) than before. For of course it is controlled, the process does not run in a deterministic self-progression, which technology as an agent of development supposedly determines neutrally out of itself. Not only application-oriented technology, but also so-called basic research is based on societal decisions. The BMBF's (German Federal Ministry of Education and Research) statement on AI, for example, is revealing in this regard. There, in the very first paragraph, it states:

"The aim of the strategy is to strengthen Germany as a location for research, development and application of AI in international competition.”

So it is all about the economy, about the competitiveness of the national bourgeoisie in an area of enormous future capital accumulation opportunities. Billions are invested annually for this purpose. Even though the next paragraph claims that it is about "responsible and public welfare-oriented development and application of AI systems", we can confidently assume that, just as in the text, this provision comes second in case of doubt.

Scientific and technological development proceeds in a complex and contradictory manner within the framework of social conditions. And this is neither completely random nor completely predetermined. This process has a specific spin, a tendency that depends on the current social power relations at the time. For there is no such thing as neutral digitalisation, just as there is nothing neutral at all in human, i.e. living, social affairs. At the latest when we complain about the platform capitalists and their domination of our communication channels, we become painfully aware of this. But simply migrating from Twitter to Mastodon or hoping to contain digital monopoly capital is unlikely to fix it. Nor will fixing the ChatGPT problem by exposing exam cheating or inventing alternative "exam formats".

As always, the question is: what kind of technology do we want? And in working through this question, we come up against the overarching question: what kind of society do we want? And then the next question is: How do we get there?

Addressing the higher-level problems

Technological development is a means, not an end. And no, our main problem is not that we in Germany are not good at STEM but, according to the BMBF, we absolutely have to become AI world champions. If we are really good, we might manage to develop this means not to optimise national or global capital accumulation, but as a means to solve the problems that are burning under the nails of the majority of people worldwide. I see two complex problem areas for this:

Firstly, to ward off the threat of fascisation and to combat the further increase in social inequality. Secondly, to prevent the impending climate collapse. I certainly do not need to explain that both problems are interrelated. But this much should be clear: Neither the one nor the other problem can be solved with technology, and certainly not with technology that has yet to be developed. For those climate rescue technology enthusiasts among the shift readers who still exist, here is just one current hint from the climate sciences:

The climate goal of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees compared to the pre-industrial level is hardly realistic, according to Hamburg scientists. (...) The scientists do not draw this fatal conclusion because it is no longer physically possible to stop global warming. They rather attest political and social blockades than technological ones.”

So it is clear that we have less urgent concern for STEM wisdom than for people's political wisdom. This also becomes particularly clear when it comes to the field of combating increasing tendencies towards authoritarian or fascist developments. Widespread, even in academic liberal circles, is the simplistic notion that the increasing tendency of between 25-50% of populations worldwide to adhere to conspiracy ideologies and even demonstrably want to elect fascist leaders is due to hatred as an emotion and a lack of morality as an attitude. "Where does all this hate come from?" is a popular question of perplexity, the answer to which leads almost exclusively to individual-psychologising answers.

It is therefore not only the right-wing development in the minds themselves that is cause for great concern. The naivety and simplicity of the explanations for this fact in liberal minds, which play a not inconsiderable communicative and even structure-forming role in the formation of common senses, is also highly disturbing. For accordingly, the programmes for prevention and democracy education are predominantly based on moral and attitude training. But morals or an ethical "value-based" attitude alone are not enough. "That you do not set people on fire" is something everyone knows, as Jan Philipp Reemtsma noted in his important essay "Why memorial sites" . But under certain social conditions, it was and still is possible to undermine this "moral knowledge" in masses of people, so that "completely normal people become mass murderers", as Harald Welzer explained very convincingly almost 20 years ago.

And it is precisely the knowledge of these certain social conditions that matters. On the one hand, these conditions are historically concrete, i.e. always unique, on the other hand, as Welzer proves, they follow general laws in whose dynamics there is a point of no return. So the main thing is to do the right thing about it in time. Incidentally, this is also one of the most important lessons from the anti-fascist German resistance.

The knowledge that war cannot be fought with war also follows the same insight into the genesis of conditions of complex developments and the timeliness of intervening with the right means. Here, too, morality alone is at best a weak anchor; at worst, distorted by other framings, it can even be a driver of undesirable developments.

Political wisdom - and that of the masses - is therefore called for. Political in the broader sense, in the sense of what, unlike nature, concerns culture, what constitutes the social side of being human - individually and socially, psychologically and societally. This includes understanding the complexity of this subject.

We need to learn something new: complexity thinking as educational content.

We need to reach out further and go deeper into analysis and strategy instead of (or in addition to) fighting symptoms. The popular wisdom "the devil is in the detail" is usually read as the need for even more detailed information about a specific subject. But what exactly does precise mean? To get even closer to the object with the magnifying glass, the microscope? What apparently decisive detail was overlooked when something was driven up against the wall? And is it possible to know all the details? And is that even necessary? If none of that, then what is it?

Ten years ago, Andreas Schleicher already called for the general education of versatilists , i.e. to equip people with the ability to be versed in both deep detailed knowledge and broad interdisciplinary contextual knowledge and to link the two, instead of thinking mainly as generalists (like Leonardo) as in the pre-modern era and mainly as specialists in the modern era. What is meant, in other words, is the ability to think in complex terms.

The reason for this is easy to understand: We live in a complex world society that produces complex problems. These problems and the social mechanisms behind them require adequate thinking that is itself complex enough to understand them. Such thinking is neither reduced to blinkered high specialisation nor to a merely vague overall view. Applied to the most complex problem situation we have at present, the task is: at what level of complexity do we have to think (understood individually and socially) in order to be able to build a (world) society with which we do not further destroy the foundations of our lives? The complexity of the problem and the task of solving it can be seen in many discourses that quickly drift into such a helpless line of argumentation: Why can't we all work together for a sustainable way of life ...? Yes, the economy! But we can't do without the economy either. And the economy has to! And in the end, consumers in Germany do not want to change anything in their lives, that is just the way people are ... and so on. One suspects a vicious circle. But strangely enough, the idea that we need to know more about this connection in order to overcome it, which might even pop up, comes up against white opaque terrain in the knowledge map. For neither at school nor at university did one learn a systematic knowledge of coherency For all knowledge is traditionally systematised in subject knowledge (corresponding to the individual sciences), indeed school is based precisely on this compartmentalisation with curriculum, timetable, specialist teacher training, examinations, etc. Compartmentalisation, the breaking down and assigning of a real complex problem into partially responsible pigeonholes, where it is then simply processed causally, permeates our thinking and our school. It is the content of classical literacy. There are ethical problems with AI? Ah, we need ethics, especially AI ethics. That is what is supposed to fix it. There is a recurring problem with maladjusted student X? He is probably got a screw loose and needs to see a psychologist. We have, socially approved so to speak, no theory, no idea of systemic connectivity and connections. If they are sensed or suspected, there is an immediate suspicion of conspiracy ideology, because in fact the majority in society, the common sense, has only learned that society consists of people, that society is just another term for a large group of people. Complex theories of society, such as Luhmann's systems theory or Marx's dialectical materialism, which can explicitly distinguish between person and structure, between individual and society, without opposing them dualistically, are only presented in school in a grossly simplified form, if at all. And then they are distorted and criticised for their allegedly inherent practical consequences or denigrated as unscientific "grand theories". Thus, not only are individuals and society left without explanatory frameworks for complex problems, the actually reasonable desire for a coherent explanatory framework is often disavowed as an alleged desire for "simple explanation".

Systemic or complexity understanding does not mean merely stating a connection between elements ("everything has something to do with everything"). What matters is to understand the way, the respective concrete mechanism of the interrelationships, to recognise their laws of motion with their mutual preconditions and consequences. This means, above all, to determine in a useful way the way in which the individual and society are interrelated. Only then is there a chance of finding suitable strategies for successful development planning, instead of merely settling into a quasi-fateful development after the fact or, at best, reactively preparing for a predicted one. But it must also be possible to understand the limits of plannability and the influence of contingency and to draw adequate practical, above all political, consequences from them.

We all need an understanding of complexity

This new kind of understanding is not only necessary in academia and other areas of knowledge work, but also for everyday understanding, which is the basis for many socially effective decisions. We are facing a necessary turning point in the thinking of all people, of humanity as a whole, comparable to the turning point that began in the Renaissance, accelerated at that time by the change in the leading media as a result of printing. For the new age was based on the fact that the mass of people had to be able to read. In the long run, this necessity resulted in the literacy of the majority of humanity - with "gains and losses" compared to the epoch before, analogous to those found for the leading media change into digitality.

We can formulate a Literacy 2 as an educational goal for the turn today, historically analogous to this literacy. For in order to survive reasonably well as a species, we must enter a new age in which the mass of people can "read" complex social conditions and derive behavioural consequences from the results of this "reading". And just as with the historical precursor, this is a turning point that contains something fundamentally new - at that time scientific instead of religious thinking - formed by a connection of new contents and new methods. However, it is not a matter of course to implement this new thing, just as general literacy was not predetermined deterministically and without alternative at the time and did not happen automatically.

Understanding the media

The idea of organising the epochs of human history according to leading media only emerged with the development of digital media. It is a useful criterion that makes it possible to understand society and communication in a narrow context of meaning. The associated emphasis on the (always already) medial character of communication or society also makes it possible to overcome the outdated understanding of technology as something merely subordinate to learning. For media are not, as previously understood, external to pedagogy, but a constituent element of it. To state that "media material sticks to every educational content", as Michael Giesecke says, means to recognise that media or technology are involved in goals, objects and methods of learning and that these four levels cannot simply be deduced from each other.

Moreover, the goal dimension no longer plays a role upstream of the learning process, as it does in Klafki's didactic analysis, and is determined solely by the educational plan and the teacher. Instead, it is, on the one hand, a determination related to society as a whole and, on the other hand, is to be placed as a significant element at the centre of the entire learning context and within the reach of the learners. For no one learns to think independently and in a complex way if the learning goals, i.e. the meanings of the learning objects down to the last detail and even their results, are already predetermined because they are either normatively justified or could supposedly be derived objectively from the learning object.

What is learned about an object depends not insignificantly on the learner. Thinking is always one's own thinking, even when comprehending the thought processes of others. All the more so, therefore, when hitherto socially unthought thoughts are to be developed, the personal perspective and motives can no longer be "factored out" of the thinking and thinking learning process. The students' question to the learning object, "What does it have to do with me?", i.e. the personal meaning (Aleksej N. Leont'ev, Activity, Consciousness, Personality) therefore becomes the starting point in contemporary learning process settings, especially with regard to problem definition. And this is not only for motivational reasons, but also for epistemic reasons: For multi-perspectivity instead of supposedly absolute objectivity has its basis in the explicit acceptance of perspectivity in general as well as in the awareness of one's own perspectivity and perspective.

Thus, the (digital) media are not neutral carriers of detached content that could just as well be learned and taught by means of other carriers. Nor are the (digital) media split off from this "content" as a so-called "cultural technology" to be learned in addition to the "old technologies". Instead, digital media are inseparably and complexly linked in learning and teaching practice with something substantially new that would not exist socially without them. This novelty is above all thinking at the level of complex logic.

What is the new thing to be learned? Literacy 2

Just as relativity theory and quantum physics are not simply an addition to Newtonian physics like a new storey on top of an old house, but transform the entire house through and through, so too the new thing in Literacy 2 is not something that is added "on top" of everything previously learned. The new does not reject the old, but turns everything old upside down and at the same time contains it in a new way. (This is, for example, a dialectical concept of coherence; "translated" into systems theory, the same would be thought of as emergence as the unity of difference).

Two-valued - dualistic - thinking is included (dialektisch aufgehoben) in multi-valued thinking. There are no longer only two options (either A or B), but always at least four: A, B, both A and B, and neither A nor B.

Everything is context-dependent. What something is depends on the concrete-historical circumstances in which it stands. What is generalisable becomes an important question to be answered anew. To what extent becomes a key methodological question. To what extent is something x and to what extent is it not x at the same time? To what extent is it concrete-special, to what extent abstract-general? This multi-valued (complex) way of thinking, which is unusual for everyday consciousness, has great social and at the same time individual significance for all areas of existence and for all social groups. The distinction between facts and fake news and between fact and opinion, which we have tried to convey in education so far, is anything but sufficient for everyone and for everything.

Systemic understanding does not mean going beyond the individual and then recognising connections. It does not mean first understanding things in an essentialist way, i.e. as things "in themselves", and only then putting them into interdependent relationships. Instead, it means understanding them from the outset in their relationships and their permanent movements to each other, as elements of a whole and in their temporal and spatial context, as well as in their contingency, i.e. in the possibility of being completely different. Thinking itself is also not a stringing together of individual thoughts, but the movement of a connection.

This thinking sounds complicated, and it is complicated - at least as long as it has not become a matter of course, i.e. "normal" for everyone. But when it has become so - just like simple causal thinking in the course of literacy - then it will also influence the early socialisation of all - in an age-appropriate form, of course.

Literacy 2 could be summarised with the famous 4 C-skills - critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity - and their subordination to a 5th C - complex thinking. Learning to understand and master the digitality of communication as a historically current stage of social development in all its dimensions - the instrumental, the medial, the social and the cultural (which includes the general way of thinking) - is not only a prerequisite, but also a product of the educational process. This means that all learning takes place under the condition and consideration of digitality - even if in the concrete case perhaps no digital instruments are used at all.

What remains, however, independent of the media forms used, as a social as well as individual task, is one's own thinking, which is always linked to written speech. For although it is linked to society (communicatively) as a mental activity, it is at the same time bound to the organic side of the human being. Neither does the brain think (as the biologically oriented brain researchers like to believe) nor is it exclusively socially determinable and possibly to be outsourced to technology called artificial intelligence. Both reductions are the respective flip sides of the same dualistic coin that has been in play for centuries. What we need is an adequate understanding of the connection between mental and social systems (aka individual-society, aka nature-culture), rather than the continuation of centuries-old attempts to imitate life activity in inanimate matter.

And everyone is supposed to learn that? That will never work!

Yes, everyone should learn that! In the previous epochal upheaval, an elementary scientific approach to everyday and social problems, which follows the principles of causal logic, replaced the belief in fate for the general public. And now, historically analogous, a generally widespread at least elementary thinking according to the principles of complex logic is necessary as a prerequisite for coping with the complex systemic global-local problems. These concern the "big political" questions that people have long left to an intellectual elite, however legitimised. Increasingly, more and more people feel that it is precisely these questions that determine their lives and that they must therefore participate in their clarification, whether they are allowed to or not. Participation has many prerequisites, the first of which is to understand what is going on.

But why should it not be possible? In the 18th and 19th centuries, no one even dreamed that (almost) everyone in the world would be able to read, write and do arithmetic at the end of the 20th century. But with the implementation of free compulsory general education for all - a historically new model of educational structure - it became reality. This kind of school was the structural condition for the possibility of literacy (1) for (tendentially) all.

Forms of learning process design

As already mentioned, it has already become clear, not least because of the high cognitive demands made by the difficult subject of Literacy 2, that it cannot be learned in the traditional teaching form of systematic instruction and training alone. How something is best learned is determined above all by the subject matter itself. Being able to run a marathon must be learned differently than the basics of algebra or critical thinking. There are no so-called "learning types". But the subject matter itself does not set learning in motion. The learner learns, and for that he/she needs at least one motive.


In order to learn an object, a motive is needed that demands learning of the object. "Want to have" is the object-related feeling for it. Why the learner wants to be able to or understand this object can have many reasons, obedience, i.e. avoiding punishment, is also a motive. The development of learning motives is always a connection between environmental stimuli and inner need. The distinction between "intrinsic" and "extrinsic" motives is therefore not convincing, as it is based on the idea that the individual and the environment exist independently of each other, which is of course not the case. Motives are fleeting and do not have to be conscious in order to operate. They can neither be imposed from outside nor generated from within by desire. One cannot wish one could want to play the piano. However, the lack of motives to want to do something or learn something at all is common, it is a major problem and can end in depression and, in the worst case, suicide.

Motives for learning the same subject can be different for different people. The motive for acquiring an object can change during the learning process. There are strong and weaker motives. Whether the motive to learn is strong enough for an object is determined by the learning itself. Motives respond to needs. Here also lies the possibility of influencing the emergence of learning motives, of promoting or stifling them. For example, everyone knows the need for recognition and social affiliation, and probably everyone has experienced and used the motive based on this need to learn something with which they can impress people important to themin order to satisfy this need. When the maths teacher calls you to the blackboard to show everyone the exemplary-elegant solution you have found, practising with big sister at home has been "worth it".

However, not every motive fits every object, although the motive mentioned above, based on a basic need, can be a strong motive for everything. But also probably not in the long run, because who cares as an adult whether the maths teacher from the 8th grade still shows him appreciation today? Won't one then have to keep changing the subject of one's learning efforts, depending on the tastes and interests of the people who are important to one's life at the moment? A mathematician will only become a mathematician if, in addition to or after the recognition motive, she experiences another motive that becomes much stronger and carries her longer, perhaps even through her whole life. Leont’ev calls it a "meaning-giving motive".

Literacy 2 as an object needs a special motive: the recognition motive. The corresponding feeling is: "I want to know exactly". This can be about "God and the world", sub-areas of it (how do ecosystems work), highly specialised questions of mineralogy, quantum theory or big connections like the one between nature and society. Precise does not always mean detailed, as we have already seen above. For just as the devil can be in the detail, he is in the context. What exactly depends on the context of the problem. What we need now are many more people who want to know exactly how the relationships work.

Problem orientation

Without problem-orientation there is no insight. Simply looking out of curiosity and letting everything sink in so openly and neutrally and without judgement is possible, but it becomes disinterested and very fleeting motivation. The moment something else catches our attention - e.g. a rustling in the bushes - we focus our attention and interest on it. And what we see as a problem is not only dependent on the object, but also on ourselves, who perceive something related to an object as problematic for us. Problem orientation in the learning process is a condition for learning independent complex thinking.

That is not going to happen any time soon, is it?

Back to the teacher shortage. Yes, the conditions are very bad right now. But that does not change the long-term necessities. In my eyes, it is like this: I can not go back to incoherence. I.e. I can only pursue my short-term goals (and be it sheer survival in the worst case) with a view to what I want to achieve in the long term. I cannot, at least not over a long period of time, pretend that sheer survival is in itself the goal or the meaning. It is only the condition for to keep going at all. But the goal is in the where.