In the Wake of the Erfurt Tragedy:
Return to Classical Education, Now!
by Helga Zepp-LaRouche
April 29, 2002 (EIRNS)—The following statement was released today by Helga Zepp-LaRouche, Chairman of the Bürgerrechtsbewegung Solidarität (Civil Rights Solidarity Movement) party in Germany, and Direct Candidate for the German Federal Parliament (Bundestag) from Berlin-Mitte District.
All Germany has been shaken by the gruesome rampage of 19-year-old Robert Steinhäuser. His cold-blooded murder of 17 people has cast a spotlight on the fact that something in our society is completely out of kilter—indeed, something much more fundamental than this particular criminal act. The fact that Rainer Grube, the chief of police in Erfurt, announced that the police had found computer programs glorifying violence, along with videotapes featuring horror and violence, in the perpetrator's home, shows what is really at stake here: on the one hand, the general moral state of our country, and, on the other hand, the general acceptance of violence in our news and entertainment media.
On Feb. 20, 2000, at a conference of the Schiller Institute in Washington, I made a presentation on the topic of "The New Violence," in which I pointed out the indisputable connection between violence in the media—particularly in Nintendo video games—and the dramatic increase in violent criminal acts commited by young people. Long before the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton was making headlines, the United States had been witnessing literally thousands of cases of violence, and even murder, in schools and in residential neighborhoods, all committed by children and teenagers. And in virtually every single instance, a direct connection was found between this juvenile violence and the repeated consumption of violence-glorifying films, such as "Basketball Diaries," "Natural Born Killers," or killer videos such as "Doom." At that time, I called for an international campaign against these violent videos and films. I now renew that call.
It must be recognized that originally, killer videos had been used by the U.S. military for the training of new recruits. The experience of World War II had shown that only approximately 15% of all soldiers had been prepared to shoot at the enemy with the intent to kill. By means of computer simulation, this natural inhibition threshhold was to be lowered, so that soldiers could be molded into blind executors of orders, in keeping with Samuel Huntington's idea of an imperial professional army. These computer games have been used for many years in the United States not only for the training of military and police personnel; they have also been used by commercial firms, for the "entertainment" of children, teenagers, and adults. In its training courses, the U.S. Marines used a version of "Doom"—precisely the same game which 14-year-old Michael Carneal had played in order to train himself to kill three girls in 1997 in Paducah, Kentucky, with accurate shots to the head—even though he had never handled a real weapon before that time. The murdered girls' parents have sued the producers of those films and videos for $130 million in damages.
After decades of being inundated with ever more perverse, violence-glorifying Hollywood films and interactive violent computer games, it should hardly come as a surprise that official German statistics now report that 175,000 teenagers are "violence-prone." This is even less surprising, when one takes into account the public toleration of easy access to drugs in the schoolyard. Any society that permits all of this, shouldn't be surprised when what it has created, strikes back.
The massacre at Erfurt was merely the detonation of something that has been building up for a long time. Its pre-history goes back to a 1963 report commissioned by the UN's Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and authored by Dr. Alexander King, who was assigned to lay the groundwork for educational reform in the OECD nations, such as that carried out in Germany in 1970 under Chancellor Willy Brandt. In his report, Dr. King explained why the remaining hold-overs from the Humboldt educational system, which were still being taught in Germany, for example, had to be expunged from the curriculum. The "educational ballast" of 2,500 years of European history had to finally go, he argued, and instruction had to be re-oriented toward narrow pragmatic social requirements.
The outcome of this educational reform is well known, and the recent results of the 2000 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) only highlight facts that have long been clear: One-quarter of all 15-year-olds are categorized as a "risk group," whose knowledge of mathematics is insufficient to hold any job whatsoever. Forty-two percent have never read a book for pleasure. This result also means that many teenagers do not have even an inkling of Germany's Classical tradition, and that they cannot even recognize the names Lessing, Mendelssohn, Schiller, Heine, or Mörike--and the list could go on and on.
The Humboldt educational system was concerned not so much with the concrete content of education, as with the formation of the student's character, and with the achievement of beauty of character as the aim of all educational activity. And now that this goal has been so long neglected, with the schools no longer offering a Classical humanistic education: Where are our children and young people to find personal values in a society which is otherwise completely obsessed by mindless "pleasures," and whose adult population's predominant mind-set is rife with boundless egotism and social Darwinism?
We shall not overcome Germany's profound crisis, unless and until we immediately find our way back to Classical humanistic values. We need a curriculum that is oriented toward von Humboldt's idea of the perfecting of the individual--curriculum which will assist in developing all of the student's innate capacities, and which will, at the same time, educate the student into a citizen who has a deep concern for fostering the General Welfare.
If we want to prevent a repetition of tragedies such as has just occurred in Erfurt, we need to return immediately to a humanistic educational policy. If you help to elect us, the BüSo, to the Bundestag, one of our very first agenda items will to put that demand into action. Help our campaign!