Bitten By the BUG: Bildung – Unlimited Growth


Not only have I spent the past month in Stuttgart, I am also digging myself into German and the roots of German thinking. At street level, I still speak like a 3-year-old, but my reading is improving tremendously. I am also realizing how vibrant the German debarte is and that the lack of a pan-European intellectual conversation is killing not only European identity and coherence but also national school systems and culture.

Here are some of the things I have learned in December 2015:

I am more German than I realized (and so are all of us if we went to school in the Nordics). The focus on personal development in each child in our school systems has its roots in Wilhelm von Humboldt's university reform in 1809. Humboldt's work sparked intense debates among intellectuals and educators in the Nordics in the following decades, and though the patterns of implementation varied a bit among the countries, we nevertheless created educational systems that are fundamentally very similar. In Denmark, Grundtvig turned Bildung into an agenda for the enlightenment of the rural population, in Sweden, university professors were among the first to pick up the new ideas and later the workers focused on study circles.

I knew I had to check out Wilhelm von Humboldt in order to understand the Nordic concept of dannelse / bildning, since we got it from his concept of Bildung. But I had no idea that this endeavor would take me all the way back to Kant and Schiller, nor how rich and clever the current German debate is compared to what is said and written in Denmark.


National agendas are ruining our national as well as European culture. In each Western country, intellectuals and educators are having the exact same, frustrating debates over how PISA tests are ruining the school systems, they keep the discussions within the national borders and therefore have no impact. The OECD is trans-national, and so are the McKinsey and others who work as consultants to our governments. National debates are helpless against this.

Germany is way ahead of the Nordic debate. The Bildung debate that has just caught on in Denmark has been well underway in Germany for at least 5-10 years and German intellectuals know what they are talking about. As the picture shows, I am currently reading Julian Nida-Rümelin and a number of other German Bildung thinkers.

Nida-Rümelin is a professor of philosophy in Munich and for some time he served as Germany's minister of culture and media. He is also a Social Democrat, and coming out of the Nordics, I have to say: reading a Social Democrat who can think is a new experience! (Well, actually, reading anybody active in politics who can think is exotic.)

As you may be able to tell from the highlighted text (if not, click here to get the picture full size), Nida-Rümelin connects the dots of Bildung and unlimited growth. I like it. And it inspired me to the "Bitten By the BUG: Bildung – Unlimited Growth" heading this post.

Which inspired me further to a few loose thoughts on Bildung Without Borders - Bildung Sans Frontiers - Bildung ohne Grenzen; I'd be among the first to be bitten by the BUG and sign up to be a Bildung teacher somewhere if such an organization existed. Heck, I might even start working for it to exist. As a matter of fact, it would make sense to just get started within the EU or even within the Nordic countries with some cross border Bildung.

And on that note, please enjoy this fabulous interview with the Dutch philosopher Rob Riemen about what it means to be European. It's in Dutch but Google Translate does a decent job.

Also enjoy, please, this global call for an end to PISA tests and for the OECD to keep their hands off the way that our schools work. It is telling that this international outcry does not seem to have had much attention in national debates.