What Makes the Difference?

(This psychological poem can also be used as a guess game. )

What are people with moral principles called who try to solve problems and conflicts  …

– through deliberation?a virtuous person,

– through discussion with others?a good citizen,

– through violence?a terrorist,

– through deceit?a demagogue,

– through bowing down to others?a blind follower of demagogues.

What makes the difference?

Answer: Their moral competence, that is, their ability to solve problems and conflicts on the basis of moral principles, but through thinking and discussion, instead of through violence, deceit, and bowing down to others.

Reference: Lind, G. (2016). How to teach morality. Promoting deliberation and discussion, reducing violence and deceit. Berlin: Logos.

(Dieses psychologische Gedicht kann auch als Ratespiel genutzt werden.)

Was macht den Unterschied?

Wie werden Leute mit Moralprinzipien genannt, die Probleme und Konflikte durch Mittel zu lösen versuchen wie…

  • durch Abwägen? — Tugendhafte Personen

  • durch Diskutieren mit Anderen? — Gute Bürger

  • durch Gewalt? — Terroristen

  • durch Täuschung? — Demagogen

  • durch Unterwerfung unter Andere? — Blinde Anhänger von Demagogen.

Was macht den Unterschied?

Anwort: Ihre Moralkompetenz, das ist ihre Fähigkeit, Probleme und Konflikte auf der Basis moralischer Prinzipien, aber durch Denken und Diskussion zu lösen, statt durch Gewalt, Betrug oder Unterwerfung unter Andere.

Literatur: Lind, G. (2015). Moral ist lehrbar. Berlin: Logos.

(If you have a version of this poem in another language, you can add it as a comment.)

First life-time certificate as KMDD-Teacher awarded

I am very happy to say, that Martina Reinicke is the first person who has earned the life-long KMDD-Teacher certificate. She successfully completed her second, final training & certification program on July 16, 2017. This is, of course, also a great day for the KMDD and me.

Martina has been ethics-teacher for many years before she started her KMDD training with me. Compared to many other further learning programs, this training requires not only much time: a one-week workshop-seminar and several days of preparation; a training-on-the-job of at least 80 hours spread over three months including self-directed efficacy assessment, a “best-practice video,” and a documentary portfolio; plus a final KMDD-Teacher training similar to the first one with the additional requirement to write a 10-page theoretical paper on some aspects of the KMDD. This training requires most candidates also to re-assess their own teaching practice and their objectives, because the KMDD literally puts the learner into the center of all teaching efforts rather than the curriculum and testing standards: The teacher is to be quiet most of the time to allow for thinking and discussion of her students!

Martina was a good ethics teacher who loved her job. But she felt something was missing. So she took up this new challenge. She took up the KMDD training besides her full teaching load at her vocational school center in Saxony. At the end she did not just fulfill the requirements for a KMDD certificate but went far beyond it. Instead of the required small self-directed efficacy assessment, she submitted a full-fledged experiment with a complex design which allows us to get a deeper understanding of the conditions of an effective teaching. She submitted not only the required 10-page theory paper, but wrote a 50-page booklet: “Moral 4.0” in which she passes on her experiences and materials gained during her KMDD training — in a lively and colorful voice.

Her efforts do not only tell us much about her working spirit but also about the KMDD training program. Her start into the program, she told me once, was not easy because of the many new requirements of the KMDD certification: self-directed, experimental assessment of her teaching efficacy instead of a supervisor’s judgment; best-practice video instead of tests and essays as proof of achievement; focus on students instead of curriculum; allowing and estimating silence and thinking in the classroom; cooperating with a learning partner, etc.. Often she doubted whether she could make it. At one time she wrote jokingly that she hated me. But obviously there was something in the KMDD training program which provided an incentive for going on. I believe the decisive “something” was the question which participants get to hear during the KMDD training over and over again: What did you learn?

Teachers must always learn — about their students and their subject, but also about learning, and about teaching. Teachers need to keep learning in order to be a good role model for their students, too. If they stop learning, they will have no success and no fun anymore. Therefore, the last question in each assignment during the KMDD training is: What did you learn? The whole portfolio has as final requirement: Write on two pages: What have you learned during your training? Two pages? For most participants this limit is too tight, they say, because what they have learned does not fit on two pages. Martina needed almost seven pages.

I admit, Martina’s seven page summary of what she has learned during her three years of working with the KMDD as a trainee and a certification candidate, is the most competent and most readable summary of the KMDD that exists so far. Since I am the developer and trainer of the KMDD, this is not easy to admit for me. But I admit it also with some proudness. It is (almost) all that I ever wanted to achieve since I started doing research on moral competence development over 40 years ago as an experimental psychologist. Namely I wanted to turn the valuable research findings of many scholars in this field since Piaget and Kohlberg’s landmark works, into something useful for mankind. I say “almost” because one more step is needed. I still hope that sometime we will be able to establish a KMDD-Teacher trainer program in higher education so that the KMDD will stay when I go.

Martina’s reflection on her learning process is contained in her fine 50-page booklet “Moral 4.0 – eine Aufgabe der Schule?” (Morality 4.0 — a task for the school?). At the moment, it is available only in German and only directly from Martina:  m.reinicke@primacom.net. She is still looking for a publisher.

Congratulation, Martina !


Georg Lind

Martina’s blog

Flyer on the KMDD training and certification programs in Deutsch and in English.
List of certified KMDD-Teachers.

Next Moral Competence Symposium and Workshop in Poznan, Poland, September 2017.

Reviews and endorsements of my book: “How to Teach Morality

Democracy Requires Basic Moral-Democratic Competence of All

Democracy can work only, if all citizens have developed a certain ability to cope with problems and conflicts on the basis of moral principles through deliberation and discussion, instead of using violence and deceit, or bowing down to power.
Because most people lack natural opportunities for moral-democratic learning, formal education must provide them. [more]
(My translation)

If you send me a translation of the above original English quote in your native language I will publish it on this site. Before you send it, please let other native language speakers review it. Thank you! Send to: Georg.Lind@uni-konstanz.de


Die Demokratie kann nur funktionieren, wenn alle Bürger eine gewisse Fähigkeit haben, Probleme und Konflikte auf der Grundlage von Moralprinzipien durch Denken und Diskussion zu lösen, statt durch Gewalt und Betrug oder durch Unterwerfung unter Macht.
Weil es den meisten Menschen an Gelegenheiten zum moralisch-demokratischen Lernen mangelt, muss formale Bildung sie bereitstellen. [mehr]

La democracia sólo puede funcionar si todos los ciudadanos desarrollan cierta capacidad para enfrentarse a problemas y conflictos sobre la base de principios morales empleando la deliberación y la discusión, en lugar de usar la violencia y el engaño o inclinarse hacia el uso de la fuerza.
Debido a que la mayoría de las personas carecen de oportunidades naturales para el aprendizaje moral-democrático, la educación formal debería proporcionárselas. [mas]
(Translation by Ana Cameille and Juan Carlos Ruiz)

Demokrati kan bara fungera om alla medborgare har utvecklat en viss förmåga att hantera problem och konflikter på grundval av moraliska principer genom övervägande och diskussion, i stället för att använda våld och bedrägeri, eller genom att böja sig för makten.
Eftersom de flesta saknar naturliga möjligheter till moral-demokratiskt lärande, måste formell utbildning ges till dem.
(Translation by Kerstin Weimer)

A democracia só pode funcionar se todos os cidadãos desenvolveram alguma capacidade de lidar com problemas e conflitos com base em princípios morais, através de deliberação e discussão, em vez de apelar para a violência e engano, ou para o poder.
Como a maioria das pessoas não têm oportunidades naturais para a aprendizagem moral-democrática, a educação formal deve fornecêla.
(Translation by Helvécio Neves Feitosa)

Democrația poate funcționa doar dacă toți cetățenii și-au dezvoltat o anumită capacitate de a face față problemelor și conflictelor pe baza principiilor morale, prin deliberare și discuții, în loc să folosească violența și înșelăciunea sau să se încline în fața puterii.
Deoarece majoritatea oamenilor nu dispun de oportunități naturale pentru învățătura moral-democratică, educație formală este cea care trebuie să le-o ofere.
(Translation by Bogdan Popoveniuc)

Diskussionstheater — Eine neue Theaterform für die Demokratie

“Ich kenne keinen Ort, wo die letzte Macht der Gesellschaft besser aufgehoben ist also die Leute selbst; und wenn wir denken, sie seien nicht genügend aufgeklärt, um ihre Macht mit gesundem Urteil auszuüben, ist die Abhilfe nicht, ihnen diese zu nehmen, sondern ihr Urteil durch Bildung zu fördern. Dies ist das wahre Korrektiv des Missbrauchs von Macht.” — Thomas Jefferson.

Georg Lind

Warum brauchen wir eine neue Theaterform?

Die Geschichte hat großartiges Theater hervorgebracht. Vieles wird auch heute noch gern gespielt und gern gesehen. Aber dieses Theater aus vordemokratischen Epochen – von Euripides bis Lessing, Schiller und Brecht – hat einen Makel, über den wir reden sollten: Es ist verbal der Demokratie verpflichtet, aber in seiner Form pflegt es einen vordemokratischen Habitus. Es ist Theater von oben, Theater von der Bühne. Es macht den Zuschauer – entgegen aller Absichten – passiv und wirkt daher unbewusst als Untertanenfabrik und nicht als Lerngelegenheit für demokratische Bürger. Es zwingt die Bürger in die Zuschauerrolle. Sie müssen stundenlang still sitzen und zuhören und dürfen sich nur beschränkt beteiligen, indem sie artig klatschen. Beim Drama werden sie zum Mitleiden und Mitfreuen gebracht, aber das Reflektieren darüber bleibt kaum Raum. Beim epischen Theater bekommen sie Denkanstöße, die sie aber nicht auskosten können, weil die Denkanstöße so dicht aufeinander folgen, dass sie das Nach-Denken unterbinden. Gleichzeitig denken und zuhören geht nicht.

Wie jede kostenpflichtige Unterhaltung, muss Theater unterhalten. Aber vom Theater erwartet man mehr als von einem Fußballspiel oder einem Song Contest. Es soll auch “erziehen”. Das meint nicht Theater-Pädagogik. Pädagogik bedeutet wörtlich Kindererziehung. Vielmehr meint es Agogik. Agogik zielt auf Erwachsene wie auf Kinder. Man darf dazu auch Bildung sagen, wenn man damit nicht die Vermittlung von Werten meint, sondern die Stärkung der Fähigkeit, mit Werten und Moralprinzipien umzugehen.

Das dramatische Theater der Antike zielte auf Gefühle (Empathie, Mitleid, Freude…). Es leistete, modern gesprochen, emotionale Erziehung/Bildung. Im Zeitalter der frühen Aufklärung wurde die Befreiung des Denkens von den Fesseln der Religion und des Absolutismus zur Aufgabe des – immer noch dramatischen – Theaters. Lessing (“Die Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts”) und Schiller (“Ästhetische Erziehung”) haben das nicht nur mit ihren Stücken praktiziert, sondern auch theoretisch reflektiert. Das Theater der Aufklärung ließ die Protagonisten politische Appelle an die Zuschauer richten, sprach aber auch Emotionen an. Oft mussten diese Appelle verschlüsselt werden, um Zensur und Strafe zu vermeiden. Seit Brecht und anderen hat sich das Theater der kritischen Auseinandersetzung mit Kapitalismus und Unterdrückung angenommen. Es brauchte dafür eine neue Theaterform, die – statt die Empathie der Zuschauer – ihren Verstand anspricht, die sie zum Denken und Hinterfragen des Wahrgenommenen und zum Handeln bringen soll. Die Mittel des epischen Theaters sind die Verfremdung und die Erzählung. Um eine rein gefühlsmäßig Identifikation mit den Protagonisten zu verhindern, treten die Schauspieler immer wieder aus ihrer Rolle heraus – und spielen sich selbst, nehmen also doch wieder ein Rolle ein.

Die Demokratie braucht eine neue Form des Theaters, das Emotion und Vernunft verbindet und die Menschen befähigt, Probleme und Konflikte selbst zu lösen, statt sie von ein Elite lösen zu lassen. Sie braucht Diskussionstheater:

  • Auch das Diskussionstheater soll unterhalten – aber nicht nur. Es muss auch moralisch-demokratische Kompetenz fördern, und zwar bei allen Teilnehmern, nicht nur bei den kulturell Gebildeten.
  • Es muss wie ein Drama Gefühle auslösen, aber nur in einer bestimmte Dosierung, nämlich so, dass einerseits Denken und Kommunikation angeregt werden, aber andererseits diese auch möglich bleiben. Zu wenig Erregung lässt den Zuschauer einschlafen, aber zu viel Erregung unterbindet auch Denken und Lernen.
  • Diskussionstheater muss Denkanstöße geben – dem Denken aber auch Raum geben. Es darf die Teilnehmern nicht mit Denkanstöße überfrachten, sondern ihnen Zeit und Gelegenheit geben, die Denkanstöße mit ihren eigenen Denkstrukturen und dem Denken Anderer zu vernetzen.
  • Diskussionstheater darf kein Rollenspiel sein, sondern muss Engagement für die eigene Meinung verlangen. Aber es darf niemanden zu einem voreiligen, unreflektierten und ungeprüften Urteil über schuldig oder unschuldig verleiten, wie zum Beispiel Schirach in seinem Stück “Terrorist”.
  • Diskussionstheater muss Zeit und Gelegenheit zur Klärung der anstehenden Entscheidung im Diskurs mit Anderen geben.
  • Diskussionstheater muss zeigen, dass eine freie, produktive Diskussion nicht nur kommunikationsethisch geboten, sonder faktisch auch möglich ist. Viele Teilnehmer erfahren, wie sie mir sagen, beim Diskussionstheater zum ersten Mal, dass man über Probleme und Konflikte miteinander diskutieren kann, ohne dass man sofort “persönlich” wird, wie sie das oft im Alltag erleben, wo man sich oft schon nach kurzer Zeit gegenseitig “an die Gurgel geht” oder beleidigt voneinander abwendet.

All dies macht das gegenwärtige Theater nicht. Dafür benötigen wir das Diskussionstheater.

Was macht Diskussionstheater?

  • Das Diskusionstheater-Stück “Reden und Zuhören” hat neun Szenen (siehe Lind 2015).
  • Die Anfangsszene, der Vortrag einer kurzen, dramatische Geschichte, gibt den (einzigen) Anstoß. Der Protagonist, um dessen Entscheidung es geht, ist fiktiv.
  • Mit dieser Geschichte sollen im Teilnehmer ein moralisches Dilemmagefühl und Nachdenken ausgelöst werden. Das passiert nicht bei Allen und auch nicht immer sofort. Ein Dilemma liegt im Auge des Betrachters.
  • Die weiteren Szenen geben den Teilnehmern Gelegenheit zur Klärung des “Dilemmas”, falls sie eins sehen; zur Bildung einer Meinung, zur moralischen Fundierung ihrer Meinung, zur Auseinandersetzung mit Andersdenkenden und schließlich zur Reflexion über das, was sie aus Auseinandersetzungen lernen können.


Was Diskussionstheater nicht ist:

  • Es ist kein pädagogisches Theater, obwohl es auch mit und für Kinder (ab ca. 8 Jahren) gemacht wird.
  • Es ist keine Therapie, obwohl es – erwiesenermaßen – therapeutische Wirkung hat.
  • Es ist kein Rollenspiel, obwohl es einen hohen Unterhaltungswert besitzt.
  • Es ist kein Resozialisierungsprogramm, auch wenn es bereits mit großem Erfolg in Gefängnissen eingesetzt wurde.
  • Es ist kein Mittel zur Durchsetzung politischer Zielsetzungen, auch wenn es die Vernunft fördert und damit die Demokratie stärkt.
  • Es bietet keine Lösungen von oben an, sondern fördert die Fähigkeit der Teilnehmer, allein und zusammen mit Anderen selbst Lösungen zu finden.
  • Es ist kein Theater für unterdrückte, sondern für freie Menschen, die aber Angst vor ihrer Freiheit haben und aus dieser Angst Demokratie ablehnen.

Diskussionstheater ist eine Übertragung der Konstanzer Methode der Dilemma-Diskussion (KMDD) vom Kontext Bildungsinstitution in den Kontext Theater (Lind 2015; 2017. Ich habe die KMDD entwickelt, um moralisch-demokratische Kompetenz bei Jugendlichen und Erwachsenen zu fördern. Dabei habe ich bewusst Anleihen beim Theater gemacht, um den Lerneffekt der KMDD zu maximieren. Jetzt bringe ich sie dem Theater zurück.

Wir inszenieren Demokratietheater (KMDD) schon seit mehr als zwanzig Jahren mit Menschen aus allen Altersgruppen und aus ganz unterschiedlichen Kulturen: Europäer, Türken, Südamerikaner und Chinesen, Katholiken, Protestanten, Muslime, Buddhisten und religionsfreie Menschen, Zivilisten und Soldaten, Gefängnisinsassen und Bewohnern von Seniorenheimen, Grundschüler und Medizinstudierende, Professoren- und Lehrerkollegien, Integrationsklassen und hoch begabte Abiturienten. Allen macht es Spaß und alle sagen, sie hätten viel dabei gelernt. Vorher-Nachtest-Tests zeigen zudem eine deutliche Zunahme an moralisch-demokratischer Kompetenz (Lind, 2015).

Öffentliche Inszenierungen habe ich in Konstanz (Bildungszentrum, Seniorenheim Rosenau), Monterrey/Mexiko und Dresden gemacht (siehe Bild unten). Auf Einladung der Stiftung Frauenkirche Dresden inszeniere ich dieses Jahr (2017) “Reden und zuhören” dreimal in der Krypta der Frauenkirche. Nächstes Jahr sind weitere Aufführungen geplant. “Reden und Zuhören”-Inszenierungen findet dieses Jahr auch in Polen, Italien, USA und Mexiko statt, wo ich auch “Inszenierer” (KMDD-Leiter) ausbilden werde.

Diskussionstheater und die Demokratie als Lebensform

Demokratie stellt an den Bürger viel höhere Anforderungen als die Diktatur, in der man nur gehorchen können muss. Nur wenn Menschen selbst und gemeinsam mit Anderen Probleme und Konflikte lösen können, kann das demokratische Zusammenleben funktionieren.

Diskussionstheater kann mithelfen, diese Kompetenz zu fördern. Das ist eine große Herausforderung für die Inszenatoren. Sie müssen dafür gründlich ausgebildet werden. Sie müssen lernen, Geschichten zu schreiben, die bei allen Teilnehmern Dilemmagefühle auslösen. Sie müssen lernen, sie so vorzutragen, dass sie bei allen moralische das Bedürfnis nach Austausch wecken – kein Teilnehmer darf sich ausgeschlossen fühlen. Inszenatoren müssen lernen, wie man Teilnehmer zum Reden ermutigt, wie man in neue Szenen zwanglos überleitet, wie man auf demokratische Weise die Diskussionsregeln administriert und wie man das Stück und den Raum dafür vorbereitet. Sie müssen auch wissen, wie man einfache Sprache benutzt, wie man den Lerngewinn misst, und vieles andere mehr.

Diskussionstheater macht Lust auf Demokratie als Lebensform, weil es die Fähigkeit fördert, Probleme und Konflikt selbst durch Denken und Diskussion zu lösen. Für die Teilnehmer bleibt Demokratie keine leere Formel und auch kein Wagnis, sondern wird real erfahrbar. Eine Reporterin fragte einmal eine 10-jährige Teilnehmerin: “Wie ich gesehen habe, musstet Du auch zu Argumenten gegen deine Meinung Stellung nehmen. War das nicht überflüssig?” Antwort (nach kurzem Nachdenken): “Nein, das war es nicht. Ich wurde dadurch angeregt, nochmals über meine eigenen Argument nachzudenken, ob sie richtig sind.” Ihre Antwort zeigt: In einer wahren Demokratie werden Gegner nicht nur toleriert, sondern als wichtiger Faktor für die eigene Entwicklung geschätzt.


K. Hemmerling, “Morality Behind Bars” (Moral hinter Gittern), Frankfurt: Peter Lang Verlag, 2014.

G. Lind, “Moral ist lehrbar”, Berlin, Logos-Verlag 2015.

G. Lind, “How to Teach Morality. Promoting Deliberation and Discussion, Reducing Violence and Deceit.” Berlin: Logos-Verlag, 2016.

G. Lind, “Moralerziehung auf den Punkt gebracht”, Schwalbach, Ts., Debus Verlag, 2017.

Internet-Portal: “Moral, Bildung und Demokratie”: https://www.uni-konstanz.de/ag-moral/ .

Blog: “Morality, Education and Democracy”

Letzte Änderung: 14.5.2016

Diskussionstheater “Reden und Zuhören” am 21.9.2014 in der Sächsischen Landeszentrale für politische Bildung, Dresden. (c) by artgenossen.tv

Tests are Dead – Long Live Tests!

As a psychologist I recommend to abandon all tests based on Classical and Modern “test theories.” But I am not sure whether my fellow psychologists will agree. many make a living on applying traditional tests. Even those who critically examine test usage do not question their validity and their use in principle. They have not only vested interests but have not heard of possible alternatives to which they could switch. Critical scholars like Alan Schoenfeld, professor of math didactics and former president of APA, warn us of the use of psychometric methods but all they suggest is a moratorium of tests. I think we can do better.

I am a retired German professor of psychology, having specialized in experimental and psychometric methods, besides my involvement in the study of moral-democratic competence and its application in education. Already during my study at university I developed some suspicion against Classical Test Theory and its modern variations (IRT, Rasch-scaling), on which nearly all tests are based. The better I understood these “theories” the more I discovered that they have nothing to do with scientific psychology. Prevailing test theories are a modern form of Vodooism with sacred rituals which are to make the people believe that our sorting and evaluating of people is something rational, scientific. It is not.

Prevailing test theories fail an important standard of sound science: they cannot be falsified by data, they are immune against reality. If a test yields some anomalies, its items are replaced until the data fit the statistical dogma of reliability – regardless of the damage this “item analysis” does to the overall validity of the test. Because test makers have no real understanding of what they measure they cannot answer the basis question of validity: Does the test really measure what we intent to measure? Instead they invent all kinds of “validities” in order to save their assumptions.

No wonder that these tests have all failed. They have little, if any, “prognostic validity”. Even much criticized teacher grading is a better predictor of college success. Moreover, no support can be found for the allegation that their use would improve teaching and learning. I have analyzed many studies of the effects of the high-stakes-testing which began with the Head Start program in 1965, the year when I was exchange student in the US. I could not find any support for this allegation. Some small, short-term increases of test scores occurred but they could be fully explained by growing test-wiseness and cheating. Therefore, tests have to be replaced by new versions at an ever faster rate.

Then it was the first time I had to take a test as a school student. In Germany we had no multiple choice tests in school until PISA started. I was surprised how easy it was to get an A. To answer a 90-minute test, it took me just ten minutes. I did not know many of the answers, I just made guesses. Only much later I understood why my school-mates worked harder but got lower test scores. It was BECAUSE they worked harder. For me tests were just fun like cross-word puzzles. I was not obliged to get credits. For them tests were high-stakes. They scared the hell out of them and confused them. Peter Sacks has shown how test anxiety, students’ background and test scores are connected. Tests cannot compensate for student poverty, bad teacher-education and poor curriculum. On the contrary, they even seem to deepen these disadvantages.

But, if tests are based on well-elaborated teaching goals and on sound psychology, and if they are used anonymously, they can be a great help for improving curriculum and teaching methods. If tests are not used for evaluating people (which I believe is a human rights issue), but for evaluating teaching method and content, and for improving teacher education programs, they can be a real blessing. I have shown how a valid test can help to multiply the effect size of methods for teaching moral competence. Just google for the experimentally designed Moral Competence Test. Its construction principle, Experimental Questionnaire, can be easily adapted for other fields of teaching.

Why We Still Need to Talk about Immanuel Kant

You may not think so, but the present disharmony between American and European politics, and probably also between liberal and conservative citizens in our countries, is deeply rooted in the differences of people’s moral philosophy in the United States and in Europe although these philosophies often are not outspoken. These differences are best exemplified by people’s attitude toward the philosopher Immanuel Kant and his philosophy. Whereas in Europe most people cherish Kant as one of the greatest philosophers, in the United States popular politicians and psychologists let him look like “the most evil man in mankind’s history” (see G. H. Smith). Both are wrong.

Kant’s voluminous work is a challenge even for accomplished readers. In a nutshell, Kant’s moral philosophy emphasizes both individual freedom (autonomy, happiness) and duty (moral obligation, justice), not either … or. He argues that both are essential and both need each other. Without freedom, moral obligations are meaningless, and without moral obligations freedom would result in civil war, that is in a continuous fighting between egoistic, reckless individuals.

It is not surprising that many readers pick out some things, especially those things which resonate in their personal philosophy, but ignore other things which they have not been able to read or which do note make sense to them. Most (but not all!) Americans and Europeans have their own particular bias when quoting Kant.

Many continental European readers are fond of Kant’s concept of duty. But they often use this concept to justify an authoritarian government. They falsely believe that Kant’s concept of duty means a duty defined by society or its leaders. In other words, they believe that Kant had justified the subordination of people under social institutions and under autocratic rules set up by other people, e.g., parents, teachers, and politicians.

Nothing can be more wrong than such an interpretation of Kant’s concept of duty. Kant argues that our duty (or moral obligation) is defined by our moral principles, not by other people. Kant always fought for freedom and against the dependence of people on other people. “Saper aude!” is his famous advice. Trust your own understanding! Rather, he argued, we have to follow our own conscience, that is, our own moral maxims. But, and this is extremely important according to Kant, we  should follow only those maxims which apply to everyone and every time. So we should always ask ourselves: “Can I wish that everyone should act upon the very maxim which I have chosen for guiding my action?” Only if our moral principles are universalizable (Kant called this the Categorical Imperative) they can guarantee true freedom and prevent the rule of people over people. Kant made the most powerful argument in favor of democracy: All people are beasts who need a master. But where should we take this master — from other people who are also beasts? Hence, only  moral principles can be our true master.

American (including Anglo-Saxon) readers have not only overlooked Kant’s advocacy of individual freedom but also his multiple defense of the human right to happiness. Moreover, they seem to misunderstand the right to individual happiness as a moral obligation to happiness: Everyone MUST be happy, they seem to believe. They seem to believe that big success and big money is a virtue which everyone must strive for, although only a few can achieve it, especially since success and money by definition can be acquired only by few people. Trump, Bannon and other leading figures of the present US government rely on this false reading of Kant. Their reading is heavily influenced by the Russian-American writer Ayn Rand, who advocated moral individualism and capitalism, and hated Kant.

In contrast, Kant argues that nobody can be forced to be happy and nobody can be told how one should achieve happiness. In other words, people are free to choose whether they want to be happy and what happiness means for them. They can choose to define happiness as making big achievements in sports, science and business. They can also define happiness as leading a simple life in harmony with other people and with nature.

But there is an important restriction, Kant argues. All striving for individual happiness must not diminish the freedom of any other people. Otherwise the striving for happiness will inevitably lead to violence and deceit, and, in the end, to terrorism and war. Hence from a Kantian point of view, the popular “moral” philosophy behind neo-liberalism and unrestricted capitalism is dangerous.

In sum, we have to read Kant’s moral philosophy more carefully. Just think how those unbalanced, distorted or foolish views on freedom and justice have led to a reckless individualism and capitalism. This has provoked many counter-movements in the world. Many of them are violent, betraying the moral and religious ideals which they allege to pursue through their terrorism.

In the long run, only those movement can be successful which are peaceful, that is, which align their means to their ends. But we have also to talk about which peaceful means are effective. Criticism and jokes are not enough. Even passive resistance is not enough although sometimes it is the only possible means. What is needed is a truly moral-democratic curriculum at our schools, which not only teaches and mimics democratic institutions but which helps children to enhance their moral-democratic competence. Otherwise, democracy remains purely an ideal which can be abused as a slogan by power-seeking individuals, but not something people can really live by. Most, if not all people, desire freedom, but at the same time are afraid of it because they did not have the opportunity to learn how to cope with the dilemmas of life. Therefore, if we want to promote freedom for all we must also foster in everyone the ability to solve problems and conflicts through thinking and discussion on the basis of universalizable moral principles.

Kant has died about 200 years ago, but it seems that today he is more alive than ever. His unbroken topicality is also visible in the many new publications on Kant’s moral philosophy on both sides of the Atlantic. Some of them are not only very illuminating but also readable for non-experts, like the article by George H. Smith. Many of Kant’s original writings are available now in the public domain (Gutenberg Project, Projekt Gutenberg-DE). My favorites are “Answering the Question: What is Enlightenment?” and “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View“.

Georg Lind

Ideologues who don’t (or cannot?) care about evidence.

“One thing has become clear in recent years: Ideologues don’t care about evidence.” (Diane Ravitch, March 8, 2017).

Diane’s observation raises an important question: How does one become an ideologue who does not care about evidence? Obviously, denying reality is an illness that weakens rather than strengthens us. My reading of psychological research is that denying reality is typical for people who have been deprived of adequate learning opportunities in their youth, and who have been humiliated and threatened by their schools through bad grades and test scores. When people have been prevented from learning how to tell right from wrong, true from fake, they can judge others only by trivial attributes like their tribal membership, skin color and apparent strength. They feel threatened by situations in which they must deliberate and choose. It causes them headaches. They envy and dislike people who are able to deliberate like deliberating teachers, journalists and politicians.
Since the time when schools have been turned into test-based competition arenas, the number of such school victims has been steadily growing. Now their number is so large that they can seize power and destroy democracy. If we want to preserve democracy, we have to rethink education fundamentally. Humans are born to learn. If we do not dictate what kids have to learn, we do not need to “motivate” them to learn. A curriculum should not be a straightjacket for students and teachers, but a blueprint for providing them with a wide range of learning opportunities. We must get rid of competitive grading and testing. If we want to educate free citizens who can think for themselves and do not depend on autocratic leaders and their self-serving “truth,” subordination and fear should have no place in our schools. Above all we have to give kids opportunities to acquire skills of thinking and discussion.

Beware of (Bad) Science!

Since many decades the empirical social sciences (including sociology, psychology, and educa­tio­nal research) struggle to become recognized as a science and its findings to be applied in practical contexts (politics, education, therapy etc.).

Alas, much social “science” research does not qualify for the scientific standards that we know from the natural sciences. This is not a problem of the different objects of study but a problem of understanding what science means. The empirical social sciences suffer from an enormously exaggerated emphasis in precision, which is justified neither through the needs of practice nor through common sense. Obviously, many empirical researchers believe that science is nothing more that precision. The dominating theories of psychological and educational measurement (Classical Test Theory, Item Response Theory) have been created solely to enhance the precision of measurement, so that some differences can be detected, however tiny and insigni­ficant they might be.

But these theories have no answer for these two much more important questions:

  • The question of validity: Does an instrument actually measure what one wants to measure? The precision means nothing if we measure the wrong things.
  • The question of effect size: Are the differences large enough to consider them as practically significant?

Instead of giving clear answers to these questions, researchers often give us a multitude of helpless speculations and opinions.

In face of this bleak situation it is astonishing that public and private funding agencies give money only if researchers, schools and teachers use practices that fulfil the dubious criteria of current research. These criteria have little to do with good science but much with money. In order to get „significant” results even though there are hardly real differences, the researcher must use huge samples which is expensive. And they request us to use randomized trials, which are mostly not necessary, but cost much money for paying control groups. Not all researchers have access to that money.

Prof. Stanley Pogrow from the San Francisco State University has analyzed the impact of these funding practices of the department of Education and its institutions on educational practice in the United States. His finding is devastating:

“The only thing worse than practitioners ignoring research that has truly demonstrated practices to be effective is for the research community to certify practices as being effective that are not. It is even worse when the research community encourages government to disseminate, or encourage/require practitioners to use, such practices. Alas, the methodology prized by the top research journals and government panels for identifying effective practices makes assumptions and adjustments that introduce artificialities and errors into the analysis.”

The measurement specialist and developer of the so-called meta-analysis, Prof. Gene Glass has explicitly endorsed Pogrow’s analysis.

Anybody who wants to read about these topics in German can do so already for some time:

I wrote this paper for researchers and practitioners. Unfortunately, my paper has not yet resonated in empirical social science research, but only in marketing research. Their customers do not want to get fooled.

Take science seriously, but beware of bad science! If you want to tell good science and bad science apart, you can now inform yourself.

How to Avoid Autocratcs

While we oppose autocrats like Trump we should not forget their supporters:

– What about seeking contacts? From my contacts with Trump supporters I feel that many are deeply concerned about their idol. They accept Trump’s lies only because they need him as a leader.

– What about a more decent leader who would challenge Trump. Most people have the deeply entrenched need for a leader. I am sure, many would switch over.

– What about a thorough reform of the election process so that competent and decent leaders have a chance to run for office, and not only billionaires and their dependents?

– What about replacing people’s need for a leader through their ability to solve problems through thinking and discussion on their own and together with other people? Then people will have less need to follow blindly someone who alleges to solve their problems and conflicts. We know how to foster this ability and we can show the efficacy of such teaching. There are already many places where this is successfully done. Let’s show teachers everywhere how to do this and let them do it.

Progress in Education Can Be Shown: The Case of Moral-Democratic Competence

Some time ago, Diane Ravith wrote in an article “that in the land of American pedagogy, innovation is frequently confused with progress, and whatever is thought to be new is always embraced more readily than what is known to be true. Thus, pedagogues, policymakers, thought leaders, facilitators, and elected of cials are rushing to get aboard the 21st-century-skills express train, lest they appear to be old-fashioned or traditional, these terms being the worst sort of opprobrium that can be hurled at any educator.”

In her update, Diane Ravitch makes an interesting addition: “If I were to revise the article, I would change its tone to acknowledge the value of the ‘maker-movement.’ This is a deservedly popular activity in which children make things with their hands, some involving electronics, some using tools or fabric or paper or wood. Genuine progressive education recognizes the value of loving literature, delving into history in depth, and using your hands and mind to make beautiful things.”

I strongly agree. From a psychological point of view, opportunities for hands-on experience are the most effective and sustainable way of learning, especially if they are supplemented with opportunities for reflection. This means that schools of education must show teachers how to design such opportunities rather than do lecturing. This change will take some effort and time. But it will be worth-while.

However, she leaves out an important question: How can we be sure that we make real progress in educational theory and practice?  How can we reach agreement beyond our sympathisers? As Alan Schoenfeld said in his presidential address at the AERA meeting in 1998, we need an explict understanding of what we teach and what we measure. We need to define more explicitly the competencies which we want schools to promote, and we need to do more research into the nature of these competencies. Only when we thoroughly understand our educational objectives, we can design effective learning environments. Thorough understanding is also the prerequisite for designing valid measurement methods. We do not need measurement for evaluating people (students, teachers, principles etc.). As has been shown by many comprehensive studies, test-driven education policy-making has completely failed. Rather we need valid measurement for checking the truth of our theories about competence constructs, and for checking the effectiveness of our teaching methods.

Four decades ago, I decided to move beyond smart critique and to follow up my own advice. I singled out one educational objective which seems to be highly needed for living together in a democracy, but is generally neglected in the schools of most countries: moral-democratic competence, that is, the ability to solve problems and conflicts on the basis of moral principles through deliberation and discussion, instead of through violence and deceit. This objective can be found in many general proclaimations, but hardly ever in class-room practice. Progressive  and democratic schools and also some traditional school teachers seek to promote it, but we do not know whether they are effective because there is no evidence besides the testimony of the protagonists.

Therefore, I decided not to think about a new teaching method, but to start with a project to define and to measure moral-democratic competence. This was not easy because at that time I could only chose between two wrong methodologies: on the one hand, the behaviorists’ classical test theory, which is objective, but is unfit to measure internal structural competencies. For test theory, constructs like moral-democratic competence does not exist. Prevailing test theory discards structural properties of human behavior as measurement error! On the other hand, there were qualitative methods like clinical interviews, which claim that they can assess competence and structur, but are susceptible to subjective scoring biases.

I saw no use in mixing these two dubious methods as many have suggested. Rather I turned to Experimental Psychology, which had shown that internal cognitive functioning can be measured objectively. Unfortunately this branch of psychology has been largely ignored by main stream behaviorists as well as by qualitatively oriented educational researchers.

Our endeavors have been successful. We can now measure, and study, moral-democratic competences validly and objectively. We can design an effective learning environment that gives children an opportunity to speak up and listen to others, to solve problems and conflicts peacefully, and, eventually, to build a democratic community. Thanks to the new measurement methodology, we can also show now that such hands-on learning is highly effective and sustainable. Details can be found in my book “How to Teach Morality“.