Learning culture not arms

Henning Kullak-Ublick

The reason for arming the janitors was the shooting spree at a primary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in which twenty children and six adults were killed. A few days later the powerful National Rifle Association, NRA, called for schools to be armed with the argument that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun“. 

In Germany people tend to shake their heads at the idea of equating civil freedom with the possession of firearms and express their disgust about turning schools into fortresses, as has happened in Mexico for a long time and is now gaining ground in the USA. But what about the fears which underlie such an arms build-up?

We are far removed from conditions such as at the Chicago John Middleton primary school in which the children enter the armoured entrance hall in which they have to hand over their IDs after a camera face check by the school psychologist. But the journalist Reinhard Kahl recently pointed out that he was increasingly seeing headlines in German newspapers which sounded like “slogans for an educational arms build-up”. Thus the Hamburger Abendblatt wrote about “Germany’s strictest school” and the Lübecker Nachrichten reported on the detection of mobile phones during exams under the headline “Schools are arming themselves”.

Control, order, discipline become a problem when they are accorded value without a concrete context. The educator Bernhard Bueb struck a raw nerve a few years ago with his book Lob der Disziplin (In praise of discipline) although this secondary virtue is just as dangerous as it is useful in the absence of a value system which each person has obtained for themselves. In school the necessary discipline should always arise from the work itself, but that can only happen if the work is important because it is connected with life.

A school can only be permanently free of anxiety if it is organised as a joint learning and development venture by adults and pupils. Living forms of collaboration are much more engaging than controls based on a lack of trust because they form a learning culture which is based on initiative and cooperation. School is always an expression of the way that a society sees itself. There is no difference between the lived practical collaboration in a school and the content which the children learn. The armed janitors in Ohio want to protect the children in their school. Let us do that with the resources at our disposal, without arms.

Henning Kullak-Ublick, class teacher from 1984 -2010 at the Flensburg Free Waldorf School; board member of the German Association of Waldorf schools and the Friends of Waldorf Education as well as Aktion mündige Schule (www.freie-schule.de)