“Columbus discovered america even without a degree”

How to integrate into a disintegrating society? The "advancement through education" has become a hollow promise for migrants as well. Part 2 of the series on integration and education

In the first part "Turks are the true burgers of education" I investigated the prejudice that cultural reasons – namely the Islamic pragmatism – prevented oriental immigrants from seeking educational integration in Germany. Solid quantitative studies show that this prejudice is not only wrong, but even distorts the facts: Immigrants are always characterized by a high level of educational aspiration, i.E.H., on average, they make greater efforts to obtain a good education than do natives with the same qualifications.

Why do they do this? And why do we notice so many immigrants for whom this effort has obviously failed??

The certificate as an entrance ticket

Today, when we talk about "Education" it usually means education (here as well). For most graduates, school and university education serve as a qualification for the job market; the diploma therefore serves as a ticket to a high salary and a secure existence.

Only this motivation can explain why someone studies economics or law at all. And it is all the stronger among immigrants who, by their very nature, have no family capital to build on. This explains the high educational aspiration of migrant children. It also explains why they study business and law slightly more often than Germans, medicine and engineering about as often, and linguistics and cultural studies less often. Those who are to be the vanguard of the family in the better life will not choose a breadless art.

Unfortunately, even this path is not without substitutions. And I do not mean the ever-present possibility of failure. But the observation that all too often the effort is not rewarded. Foreigners are like women in this respect: They have to be twice as good as a German man to achieve the same thing.

This results in what Dutch researchers call in the title of their article the "paradox of integration" have described: Although better-educated immigrants have more contact with and are more open to the native population, they feel more strongly rejected and discriminated against. In the worst case, this experience leads them to turn away in disappointment. With possible criminal consequences: Another study from the Netherlands found that adolescent Moroccans who had been taken into police custody came from socially superior families, were better integrated and spoke better Dutch than peers who had not attracted attention.

The experience of not being accepted, no matter how hard you try, is shared by many immigrants. It is not enough for foreigners to integrate – they must also be integrated.

"Even if I work my ass off, I’m still a foreigner"

In her master’s thesis, my wife investigated the different strategies foreigners choose in order to be accepted in German society. Education is a possibility, but there are also friends and acquaintances who do not think much of it. They have had a different experience: In Germany you are respected if you have enough money. If you drive a Benz, you are taken seriously.

That is why some of them have put all their business acumen and ambition into becoming rich. And with success. Germans usually have no idea how much money can be made with a doner store – if it is well located. Or a Turkish hair salon – if you own it (not if you work there). Not to mention landed estates in Turkey.

My wife has interviewed some such immigrant millionaires. Their statements full of self-confidence, peasant smartness and denudation are worth quoting:

"The immigrant connoisseurs are nice and courteous to you, the non-connoisseurs are scowling, skeptical and look at you like you were a tax evader. Even if I am an employer, they look at me as if I have received money from the state. My wealth is my protective fence."

"I personally don’t think much of the German education system, Germans are subject idiots. They learn only their subject, but how to deal with the clientele, they do not know. They are not resourceful. They have little knowledge of human nature and they are not friendly either. (laughs)"

What do you have to do to integrate?? What strategies are there?

Answer: Nothing. You can move a little with the language, but you can’t do much about it. They see you as they see you on TV, even if you are a doctor. With strategies, I only see money and maybe language.

What does integration mean to you??

Answer: To make yourself small in relation to the Germans, to say yes and amen.

What is education good for?

Answer: Education is overrated. I have many students who work for me to make ends meet. I see them later after graduation, they are unemployed, have a lot of debts. How does the? Bafog, yes. Or they work as cab drivers, women as nannies, oh man, no, no. Columbus discovered America even without a degree.

Are you integrated?

Response: I don’t give a damn, even if I work my ass off, I remain a foreigner. Write that down in big letters! That’s why I don’t try to integrate.

My wife also interviewed migrants who had successfully studied in Germany. They feel better integrated overall, but they are not satisfied with their reception either:

"It’s like this, I’ve been here for such a long time, sometimes I feel integrated, sometimes not. If something about me is seen positively, I am integrated and seen as German. If something about me is negative, I’m a Turk again. The Germans are like the weather, sometimes they are like this, sometimes they are like that."

"I know almost only German, I think and act in German, I have a German wife and German children. Still, when I go to some patients, they look and talk to the German resident and ask him their questions (laughs). I look almost like a German, but my name is Turkish, and already I slipped into the lowest category."

Some time ago "Caliban theory of integration" called, after the sottise of Oscar Wilde in the "Dorian Gray": "The nineteenth century’s aversion to realism is the rage of Caliban, who sees his own face in the mirror. The nineteenth century’s aversion to romance is the rage of Caliban, who does not see his own face in the mirror." The German Caliban sees himself as a man of culture in the wake of Goethe, and goes into a rage when foreigners hold up a mirror to him: "They only care about money!" – Yes, Caliban. You too. Because the romantics among the migrants who try an academic career are not similar enough to you.

Social participation is a strong motivation in every human being. Everyone wants to belong and be recognized. The insinuation, "the foreigners" do not want to integrate, can only flourish in the absence of knowledge of human nature. On the contrary, they try. Some by going to universities, others by driving a Benz. (And it is always a Mercedes – so German, so German.)

If it does not work, it is not up to them.

Educational trip to Jerusalem

Let us therefore take a step back. Is it appropriate to promote education as the royal road to integration?? (And, it follows from this, to vilify those who refuse education as those who refuse integration?)

On the one hand, it is true that a high level of education is a necessary condition for well-paid and highly respected professions. But it is by no means a sufficient condition. There are many unemployed and even homeless academics. Moreover, as is well known, a high level of education is not equally attainable for everyone. Social permeability in Germany is very low by international standards. Children from lower-class households are much less likely to graduate from high school or university, even if they have the same qualifications.

So it is rather the other way round: It is not a lack of education that leads to poverty, but poverty that leads to a lack of education. And likewise: Not education causes wealth, but wealth causes education. That an "advancement through education" is, as Christoph Butterwegge recently wrote, a myth. At best, there is relegation without education. This fear of relegation explains (as Stefan Gartner did not hesitate to point out in his unfortunately terminated column) the doggedness with which the bourgeoisie of education in high schools defends the privileges of its offspring, and probably also explains the aversion to the new competitors from the Orient, which has become partisan.

Which is of course also due to the fact that we are dealing with a game of musical chairs. The good jobs are rare and become rarer, the social wealth is concentrated on fewer and fewer people. Giving to those who already have is the very definition of capitalism. For more and more there is less and less left. The manic struggle for good school and college graduates is thus the frantic race for the chairs that are becoming fewer and fewer. For every person who succeeds in moving up into the society of chair-seaters, at least one other person is bound to move down.

Those who have been on the sidelines since the first round of the game have known this for a long time. Secondary school students who are taught in class how to fill out the Hartz IV application have realized that they are not needed in this society. Who can blame them for resigning?? And prefer to rely on those skills that ensure them dominance in the immediate environment: Muscles, violence, loud sounds, expensive clothes?

According to Wilhelm Heitmeyer’s disintegration theory, social participation has three dimensions: participation in social wealth, participation in social institutions and decisions, and participation in social recognition. For more and more people in the lower class, in the so-called precariat, this participation is no longer possible. They experience on a daily basis that they cannot get money, that their voice pays nothing and that their personhood is disregarded or even despised. These people are not integrated into the society. And this is true regardless of whether their last name is Muller or Yılmaz. Even Germans cannot be integrated in Germany.

It follows: When the disillusioned losers of the system tear each other apart, when primal German educational losers channel their disenchantment and powerlessness into racist rage – it’s bickering in the arena sand while the upper classes snack on hummingbirds on the perches. Racism in any form is the attempt of the rich – unfortunately all too often successful – to turn the losers of capitalism against each other. As long as the plebs are busy with themselves, there is no danger for the patricians.


Integration is not a culture problem, but a class problem. People with a migration background are even more motivated than average to achieve social advancement through a good education and thus to acquire social participation. If they fail, it is not because of supposed cultural reservations – Islam, patriarchy, moral concepts, etc. – but because of the low level of social acceptance. -, but to the low social permeability of our society, which also causes the failure of native German members of the lower class.

"Refusal of integration" is not an original problem, at best a secondary one: like immigrants everywhere in the world, migrants in Germany also observe with very alert eyes what behavior is expected here and try to deliver it. Only when this is made impossible for them, do they turn away, possibly defiantly.

Whoever, seeing this, imagines something about his supposed cultural superiority and locates the problem with the foreigners, only stabilizes the system that also makes him a loser. This is not very clever.

My wife’s master’s thesis, to which I refer with this article, has also been published: Devrim Lehmann-Kaya (2015) "Integration: Master or Mercedes." Bibliotheca Academica, Sociology Series, Volume 12, published by Ergon-Verlag.

My integration comedy "Love love pilav. A Summer Night Marche" is published in 2019 by Deutscher Theaterverlag (DThV). The first performances have so far unfortunately failed Corona.

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