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[The following is a rough English translation of my piece:]


About four weeks ago, on the occasion of the Russian military invasion of Ukraine that had just begun, I formulated some remarks on the role and significance of the Beutelsbach Consensus in historical and political education and, in this context, also took part in a programme in the series „Campus und Karriere“ (Campus and Career) on Deutschlandfunk radio1. My central concern was to clarify and reaffirm the significance of the Beutelsbach Consensus– especially by reflecting on possible misunderstandings in its application.

The intensive public discussions of the last few weeks and days on the question of how Germany can and should act politically in this situation have shown, in my opinion, that such clarifications continue to be necessary, and that the Beutelsbach Consensus – correctly understood and applied – remains indispensable as a guideline, but can also be problematic, even misused, if misunderstood and misapplied.

The focus is primarily on the second principle of the „Beutelsbach Consensus“, the principle of controversy. What is controversial in science and (I would add: or) society must also appear as controversial in the classroom. Four weeks ago, I argued that this commandment is precisely not one of neutrality, of freedom from values. I would now like to elaborate a little further.

First of all, every conflict, every difference of interest, every subject of political debate and decision-making, which is somehow a topic, must be presented in a „balanced“ way, if necessary structured by tasks and supported with material in such a way that in the joint analysis of the material, the processing of the tasks, the consideration of the problems, i.e. in the factual and value judgements, a balance always results. It is not possible to derive from the Beutelsbach Consensus’s requirement of controversy that every conflict of interest and every difference of interest that is somehow the subject of political debate and will formation must be presented in a „balanced“ way, structured by tasks if necessary, and supported by material in such a way that the joint analysis of the material, the processing of the tasks, the consideration of the problems, i.e. the factual and value judgements, always result in a balance in the sense that „both“ (or all) sides are given equal weight, equal chance of agreement, etc.

If it were, historical-political education would remain a kind of value- and concept-free exercise in techniques, but would not promote the acquisition and development of competences and insights. Controversy certainly requires the possibility of a plurality of factual and value judgements, of quite different insights, but neither a mechanical, formal „balance“ and „equilibrium“ in which every position has equal „chances“ and equal weight, nor uniformity. What is at stake is rather the insight into the fact and the structures that such questions (from the small, everyday to the large) can never be considered from only one perspective, that different interests are naturally, even necessarily given in heterogeneous, diverse and plural societies, that it is therefore normal that questions are judged differently – but that it is by no means irrelevant from which perspectives, with which categories, But that it is by no means irrelevant from which perspectives, with which categories, on the basis of which concepts and values these questions are analysed, discussed, judged, but that precisely the discussion about such questions of judgement, the clarification of perspectives, positionalities (such as being affected) and positions, terms and concepts is suitable and necessary to contribute to clarifications that neither overwhelm, exclude, discriminate against some at the expense of others, nor prevent any clarification.

Controversial thematisations should thus neither aim at common, uniform insights, decisions, judgements etc. that are binding for all – be it by majority decision, be it prescribed by the material, by the assignment etc., suggested by expected grading or otherwise. However, it also does not make sense to promote the impression that agreements – for example, in the form of compromises or by means of voting – are fundamentally not possible and not to be strived for because of the commandment of controversy and an orientation towards plurality. Neither seems appropriate in contexts of controversy-oriented political education: neither the idea of having conclusively clarified an issue (after all, the framework conditions and the available perspectives etc. are limited within a lesson) nor the idea that there are no further possibilities of convergence, compromise, shifting perspectives on the problem etc. does justice to the importance of controversy in society. Thus, neither directive „talking things out“ nor complete openness to results are suitable modes of thematisation.

As far as I can see, however, this question of the extent of openness to results dominates the debate on the controversiality requirement – though less with a consensus-oriented „discussion out“ as a counterpoint than with the question of the extent to which certain controversies are not to be addressed „directly“ per se, i.e. with a fixed result.

It is often deduced from the controversiality requirement (not only) of the Beutelsbach Consensus that „everything that is socially controversial should be put up for discussion in class and subjected to the individual judgement of the individual pupil“.((This is the formulation of the contribution of history lessons to the guiding perspective „value formation / value orientation“ in the current draft of the Hamburg educational plan for the study level. Cf. Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg; Behörde für Bildung und Sport: Bildungsplan Studienstufe Geschichte. Online:, p. 7.)) This formulation corresponds to the broad view that the principle of controversy requires that „matters that are controversial in political and scientific debates should also be discussed controversially in class“, although it is debated to what extent (or for which subjects and questions) such discussions should be „open-ended“ or „directive“.((Drerup, Johannes (n.d.): Politische Bildung und die Kontroverse über Kontroversitätsgebote. In: Praefaktisch (Blog), n.d. Available online at, p. 1f; cf. also Hilbrich, Ole (n.d.): Kontroversität, Dissens und Streitkultur – Zu Zielen und Formen demokratischer politischer Bildung. Eine Antwort auf Johannes Drerup and Johannes Giesinger. In: Praefaktisch (Blog), n.d. Available online at
To decide on the openness and/or „directivity“ of such discussions, three perspectives are used in the international debate, which – in a response to Johannes Drerup – Johannes Giesinger characterises very succinctly as follows:

„According to the ’social‘ criterion, all that is actually controversial in society is to be presented. According to the ‚political‘ criterion, the basic principles of liberal democracy are to be taught in a directive manner, while controversial religious-ideological questions are to be presented with an open outcome. The ‚epistemic‘ criterion, on the other hand, assumes standards of truth and moral rightness and states that what is obviously untrue and incorrect should not be presented controversially.“((Giesinger, Johannes (n.d.): Zur Kontroverse um das Kontroversitätsgebot: Ein politisch-liberales Kriterium. In: Praefaktisch (Blog), n.d. Online:

The original formulation of the Beutelsbach Consensus((Wehling, Hans-Georg (1977): Konsens à la Beutelsbach? Nachlese zu einem Expertengespräch. In: Siegfried Schiele, Herbert Schneider and Kurt Gerhard Fischer (eds.): Das Konsensproblem in der politischen Bildung. Stuttgart: E. Klett (Anmerkungen und Argumente zur Historischen und Politischen Bildung, 17), pp. 173-184, here p. 178; again in Jochen Schmidt and Steffen Schoon (eds.): Politische Bildung auf schwierigem Terrain. Rechtsextremismus, Gedenkstättenarbeit, DDR-Aufarbeitung und der Beutelsbacher Konsens. Schwerin: Landeszentrale für Politische Bildung Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, pp. 67-77, here p. 73; cf. also Wehling, Hans-Georg (n.d.): Der Beutelsbacher Konsens: Entstehung und Wirkung. Online:, last accessed: 06.08.2021; my emphasis; see also Landeszentrale für Politische Bildung Baden-Württemberg (o.D.): Beutelsbacher Konsens. Standard für den politisch-historischen Unterricht in allen Schulen, o.D. Online:, last access: 11.05.2022.)) obviously corresponds to the „social“ criterion, whereas Drerup – according to Giesinger – combines the other two in order to counter the problem of ultimately having to admit positions that are objectively nonsensical (according to the epistemic criterion) and/or (according to the political criterion) contradict the liberal-democratic basic values in such discussions. The latter aspect in particular establishes a close connection to the challenge of dealing with value judgements in the classroom and teaching judgements, which are bound to liberal norms – and it thus also explicitly concerns the current question of addressing the invasion of Ukraine.((Cf. Drerup, Johannes (n.d.): Nicht werten? Demokratieerziehung in Zeiten des Krieges. In: Praefaktisch (Blog), n.d. Online:

It is questionable to what extent the questions that arise in practice, both on the concrete subject of the „Ukraine attack“ and in general on the question of the meaning of controversy, can already be clarified with the help of these considerations. Not only does the epistemological criterion itself prove problematic insofar as controversies do not only (but also) concern questions of value judgements in the sense of the Beutelsbach Consensus, whereas all problems to be clarified factually and reduced to questions of correct application of principles of knowledge could ultimately be withdrawn from them and would thus have to be addressed „directly“, for after all, controversy is also a fundamental structural element of science – and especially of the natural sciences. If one does not want to restrict the formulation of the Beutelsbach Consensus on what is controversial „in science and politics“ from the outset to the political sphere in the narrower sense, it must be recognised that not only normative questions and value judgements, but also factual judgements, i.e. on the correct application of concepts, terms, methods, etc., are controversial, and that such controversy must also have its place in schools if they are to prepare students for participation in a society in which the results, principles and procedures of science are ultimately accessible to public reflection and debate. Drerup’s application of the epistemological criterion to factual questions((Giesinger points out that the epistemological criterion was previously formulated by Michael Hand precisely for moral questions. Cf. Giesinger, ibid.)) can be agreed with factually, but in my opinion it is not suitable as a justification for a directive, mediated thematisation, either in relation to moral questions (as with Hand) or in relation to factual questions: pupils must also experience that and how even questions that are amenable to rational clarification cannot simply be considered to have been clarified – especially since the state of knowledge and research that has been achieved is constantly being called into question anew.

Neither in general nor in relation to the problem dealt with here are the three criteria sufficient to adequately clarify the nature of controversial thematisation. Perhaps it helps in this situation to take another look at what the controversiality requirement actually demands. Is it really the case that controversiality means that there must always be discussion – regardless of whether it is open-ended or goal-oriented?

This in particular does not seem at all compelling to me. Certainly, discussion, the experience of political argument culture and discursiveness, also the experience of the significance of an agency in arguing, in contradicting and maintaining contradiction, belong to those basic experiences of democracy as a way of life that must always have their place in school. So I am not concerned here with pushing fact- and value-based discussions out of the classroom – on the contrary. Nevertheless, it seems to me quite questionable that the direct discussion of controversial questions in class is the only and for all questions suitable form of doing justice to the controversy requirement of the Beutelsbach Consensus. It is to be asked whether there are not other facets and forms of addressing controversy as a basic social principle as well as actual, concrete controversies, which can take over important functions in addition (for example, in the run-up, between several instances of such discussions) or in their place – depending on the structure of the subject matter, the involvement of learners, their families and peer groups in these controversies, as well as for pedagogical reasons.

The following considerations are in no way intended to exclude or discourage direct discussion in teaching contexts: Debates about social controversies are always useful in the classroom. At the same time, however, the self-evidence cited should be subjected to reflection insofar as the manner of controversial thematisation must be considered not only in terms of the quality and structure of the topics and questions, but also in terms of the possible demands on and effects on the learners and the structure of social controversy.

As already mentioned, the controversy requirement in its original Beutelsbach version does not mean that the controversial questions must be discussed by the students in a contentious manner.
Rather, the formulation states that
matters “which are controversial in intellectual and political affairs must also be taught as controversial in educational instruction“.((Wehling, Hans-Georg (1977): Konsens, p. 178, translation by German original: „Was in Wissenschaft und Politik kontrovers ist, muss auch im Unterricht kontrovers erscheinen“, verbatim: „What is controversial in academics and politics must also figure as controversial in teaching“.))

This means, first of all, neither to deny nor to conceal the controversial nature of such questions, but to make clear the fact that they are discussed in society and that (in the vast majority of cases) this controversiality is part of the normality in plural and diverse societies and must be endured and dealt with in democracies. However, there is no mention of a mandate to put such questions up for discussion in class, to „let“ controversial questions be discussed in class, i.e. in a context that is precisely not voluntary and not free of hierarchies, or even to let them be „discussed out“ and perhaps even to force learners to make known very personal concerns and/or opinions.

Also the following – questioning – formulation whether the teacher „should not even have a corrective function“ insofar as „[….The following – questioning – formulation also does not contradict this – on the contrary: it affirms that it is not about the discussion of positions and argumentations that exist in the learning group anyway, but about the insight into the social controversy and the spectrum of perspectives, positions, arguments, logics and values.

Of course, this does not mean that there should be no discussion and consideration in class – on the contrary. Pupils must be allowed to express their own, quite different, opinions on controversial issues in class – and this especially where these opinions are not yet firm convictions, but where learners are looking for certainties and positions, struggling for them, seeking certainty in the availability of knowledge, terms and concepts and criteria. In this respect, school must offer a certain protective space, especially in subjects where convictions and orientations are at play. Confessions and final judgements, however, must not be demanded. It is often useful and possible for learners to try out certain judgements and the considerations, values, hypotheses on which they are based, not as themselves, but by adopting a more or less foreign perspective (also role), so that they are enabled to draw their own personal conclusions, if necessary, individually and for themselves. In many cases, it will not be the major conflicts themselves that can be fruitfully addressed in class, but rather the existing discussions in society about attitudes, terms, concepts and positions. This is especially important for history lessons. As useful as it may be to explore past conflicts and the options for action of the actors in a „role-playing“ manner within the framework of role-playing and simulation games, the impression must not be created that the considerations and hypotheses in the lessons even approximate the real situation and that valid solutions can thus be worked out in a certain way in the lessons. Accordingly, it is not a matter of „discussing“ one’s own attitudes to the conflict, but rather of using such role-playing games to make the multi-dimensionality of conflict situations and (this is relevant for this paragraph) the value-relatedness of the actors‘ actions accessible.

Perhaps a first attempt at a typology of discussions will help:

  1. Problem-oriented discussions: Starting from a problem – if necessary prepared by problem-oriented development of basics with regard to subject and concept knowledge, development of positions and arguments – related factual and value judgement questions are put up for discussion with the aim of finding a common solution and both positions, arguments and reasons are exchanged so that at the end either an (open) vote on a common judgement/position or a (secret) „opinion“ becomes recognisable.

  2. Open disputation: Similar to the problem-oriented discussion, positions and arguments as well as reasons and evidence are exchanged, certainly with the aim of convincing others, but intentionally without a (trial) vote or opinion, but with the proviso that each individual’s judgement cannot be finalised.

  3. Analytical discussion: Starting from an (open and/or anonymous) initial survey of different positions and argumentations on a problem and value question, in which learners can contribute both their own positions and those they have encountered, their differences in terms of premises, values, norms, etc. are identified and analysed in class – certainly also in terms of their plausibility and coherence, without the learners having to express their own position on the question itself again at the end. Instead, insights and questions about individual positions, arguments, etc. can be formulated and compared.

Four weeks ago, against this background, I was concerned that not every conflict, every dispute can be interpreted in the same way as a „controversy“ in the sense of the Beutelsbach Consensus, but rather that the nature of different forms of dispute, argument etc. must also be assessed and learned to be assessed. The existence of different positions, parties, etc. alone cannot lead to the conclusion that there is a common structure of „conflict“ or „controversy“: Not every conflict is a controversy, not every act of violence is a „conflict“, etc. Rather, it is precisely the concepts, positions, criteria and values necessary and used to characterise, assess and evaluate different problems and issues, i.e. those of the „antecedents“ and „environment“ of political disputes, so to speak, that are much more central to political learning, insofar as they are controversial in society and academia and their (increasing) clarification is necessary for the participation of the members of society and is thus a central dimension of learning for the learners. Often, therefore, it is not the major conflicts and questions that constitute the actual controversies, but the controversies about concepts, values, etc. that precede, follow and surround them.

This is the only place where the current (and recent, but also earlier) events in Ukraine (and its surroundings) come into view. This is where important controversies arise that are essential for our actions and debates as members of society as well as for historical and political learning. It makes a difference whether or to what extent the military action of all or some actors there is described and assessed as „war“, „special military operation“, „armed attack“ or otherwise, and whether and in what way these concepts are mutually exclusive, compatible with each other – and what follows from this for the assessment and evaluation. None of the characterisations and assessments is simply either „right“ or „wrong“, none captures „the nature“ of the events in forms that can simply be read from them. Often even their applications are contingent and ambivalent.

This is anything but trivial:

    • The very question of „whether“ it is a „war“ or a special military operation, an „armed raid“, genocide/genocide, war crime or something else is problematic in its binary whether/not form. Is there (only) one concept of war that has been clarified over all times and for all contexts? Hardly. Are „genocide“ and „war of extermination“ mutually exclusive? Are they alternatives?

    • Although combinations and uncertainties can be marked with their help, in my opinion the formulation of the question or problem, „to what extent“ these characterisations apply to current events, does not do full justice to the matter, because it also presupposes, to a certain extent, clarified concepts, which then only have to and can be checked for „fit“. At least two further differentiations are thus necessary:

      • Do we judge or mean „the event“ as a whole, or is it necessary to distinguish between actors with different positions in it? Are the defensive actions of the Ukrainian army „war“ in the same sense as those of the Russian military that invaded the country? So what does it mean when we talk about „war“? Can (may? must?) one simultaneously outlaw „war“ as a means of politics and consider it wrong and support the defence of Ukraine?

      • What do the concepts and terms we use imply? The Russian government does not refer to its actions in Ukraine as „war“, but as a „special military operation“, whereas international (Western) politics and reporting have predominantly used the term „war“ immediately. What does this imply? If one understands the question in terms of which term (alone) is applicable and tries to answer it on the basis of characteristics, one only gets so far. It is only the question of whether „it“ is „a war“ or not, but also what the use of the terms implies. If, on the one hand, the use of the term „war“ as opposed to the term used by official Russia clearly marks that we are dealing here with an international „conflict“ ( see below for more on this) and not with some kind of „internal Russian“, quasi domestic political action (for example, in the sense of enforcing higher state law against separatists), it also implies at the same time that we are dealing with a more or less recognised, even regulated form of political action. Where there is war, there is martial law, and at least the killing of enemy combatants is not „murder“ in the criminal law sense. Is this what is/should be implied here? After all, war has not been declared in the formal sense. One can (must?) also consider to what extent the events cannot be described as (state) for the Russian side only because of the attacks on civilian targets and the brutal killing of civilians, because it is precisely not an action in a „normal“ interstate conflict? To what extent, then, does it make sense, and what are the consequences, to distinguish between Ukraine’s defensive actions as legitimate actions in terms of international relations and the law of war (right to go to war), but the actions of the Russian side as not? On the other hand, to what extent is it not necessary to demand compliance with the provisions of the law of war for the latter as well (for example, with regard to the treatment of prisoners, the prohibition of their public display, etc.)?

      • „Conflict“: The situation is similar with the category and the term „conflict“. Appeals for a (return to) peaceful conflict resolution are and remain necessary. But to what extent is what is happening in Ukraine a „conflict“? To what extent does the use of this term imply or at least connote an at least formally equal agency of the parties, the participants? Calls for overcoming the „logic of war“, as formulated by the left-wing politician Bernd Riexinger on Twitter, are urgently needed, but imply that there is an even remotely similar object of conflict. Counter-positions formulate that this is at least highly problematic in view of previous and interim „interpretations“ that Ukraine is not a state of its own, that there is no Ukrainian people, in view of the goals of destroying the state structure or even Ukrainian identity.

These questions, too, cannot be answered conclusively – as can the whole series of others that follow: for example, whether or to what extent the concept of „genocide“ is both appropriate and helpful in characterising the actions of the Russian military and the Russian government (for example, insofar as it is based on concepts of people and, if applicable, does not exclude Ukrainian parts of the population in any „ethnic“ sense). If the concept of „genocide“ is both appropriate and helpful to characterise the actions of the Russian military and government (for example, if it is based on concepts of people and does not exclude Ukrainian parts of the population in any „ethnic“ sense), and if critiques of concepts of nation and national culture in relation to Ukraine are appropriate in view of the fact that Ukraine was denied the quality of being (or having) its own state, nation and people for the purpose of invasion or as a justification for it, then the recognition of the identity formation that took place during and in defence must not lead to the exclusion of the limits and problems of such concepts of nation. Again, it cannot only be a matter of factual and value judgements about „whether“ or „to what extent“ Ukraine constitutes a „nation“, and whether it may understand itself in this way or be understood in this way, but what the use of these concepts implies in each case, what they achieve, to what extent they also remain problematic and must be differentiated or linked with others.

Most of the questions addressed are, on a first level, questions of factual judgement, questions of the assessment of phenomena, conditions, structures, actions on the basis of concepts, which in turn are to be assessed in terms of their definition, scope, implications – and this in a differentiated manner. However, the questions always imply – not least because of the latter implications and ranges – value judgements, which are controversial in a similar way and can often only be separated from the factual judgements analytically (whereby the distinction itself is conceptually and didactically necessary, is itself by no means trivial and is itself sometimes controversial, but can also be processed cognitively).((On the problematic and inconsistent nature of the distinction, also among theorists and practitioners, see e.g. Fauth, Lisa; Kahlcke, Inga (2020): „Perspektiven oder Kategorien? Die Unterscheidung von Sach- und Werturteil in der Forschung, in Unterrichtsmaterialien und bei Geschichtslehrkräften [Perspectives or Categories? The Distinction between Factual and Value Judgements in Research, Teaching Materials, and History Teachers].“ In: GWU 71 (2), 35-47, but their own solution is unconvincing. A much more viable, but also more differentiated conceptualisation can be found in Buchsteiner, Martin; Düwel, Jan (2021): „Urteile im Geschichtsunterricht [Judgements in History Education]“ In: Geschichte für heute 14 (2), pp. 49-64.))

And in this sense, it is also value judgements and action dispositions in our society that are controversial in such a relevant form – and they also contain (one would almost like to say: naturally) different references to factual judgements – be it that they build on such judgements, be it that they in turn underpin other factual judgements.

These include, among other things, attitudes to war and peace both abstractly and in concrete cases. For many members of the political left (not just the party, but the spectrum of attitudes and positions), for example, they are based not least on a basic anti-fascist stance, which is often summarised in the formula „never again fascism – never again war“, and which in the component „never again“ at least has substantial correspondences with other normative commitments from the experience with National Socialist tyranny and its invasion of other countries, as well as the persecution of various „minorities“ (including their exclusion as such). But what this „never again“ concretely entails, what it refers to, is by no means as unambiguous and clear as the quoted formula makes it seem. Natan Sznaider, among others, has analysed the plurality of these outwardly identical imperatives in his most recent book „Vanishing Points of Memory“((Sznaider, Natan (2022): Fluchtpunkte der Erinnerung. Über die Gegenwart von Holocaust und Kolonialismus [Vanishing Points of Memory. On the Presence of the Holocaust and Colonialism]. 1st edition. Munich: Hanser.)) . Different ones are possible – from a „never again (to) us“ from a particular Jewish victim memory, to a „never again by us“, an equally particular perspective of memory that faces up to its history and is thus by no means self-evident, as well as clearly more abstract or unversalised demands that „something like this“ should „never again“ take place at all, i.e. by no one. The quoted anti-fascist formula „Never again fascism – never again war“ also fits into this spectrum.((This formula is sometimes quoted as the „Oath of Buchenwald“, for example in ‘Nie wieder Faschismus, nie wieder Krieg’ [‚Never again fascism, never again war‘] (2017). In: Junge Welt, 09.05.2017, p. 8. Online: In the original of the oath spoken on 13.4.1945 by surviving prisoners of Buchenwald concentration camp in several languages (including in Russian by Boris Romantschenko, who was killed by Russian troops on 18 March 2022 at the age of 92 as a civilian), however, this formulation is precisely not to be found. Instead, the oath is to continue the fight „until the last guilty person is sentenced by the court of all nations“, after explicitly thanking the „allied armies of the Americans, the British, the Soviets and all freedom armies who fought for our lives and the lives of the whole world“, as well as F.D. Roosevelt by name. (The text versions of the sheet probably used as a lecture script – Buchenwald Archive NZ488 – and the quotation in the Buchenwald News No. 5 of the following 20.4.1945, p.1., differ slightly. The „t“ in „erkämpf(t)en“ indicating the past and thus a conclusion of the thanked struggle is only found in the latter version, but crossed out there. Cf. The formula „Never again militarism, fascism and war“ is then found at the latest 9 years later (13 April 1954) in the title of a report in Neues Deutschland on a ceremony in Buchenwald, under which a completely different text was presented as the „Oath of Buchenwald“ (Cf.: „The true Europe swears: Never again militarism, fascism and war! The peoples of Europe recognise the German Democratic Republic as the representative of the new, peace-loving Germany Ceremonial conclusion of the International Liberation Day in Buchenwald (1954)“. In: Neues Deutschland, 13.04.1954. Online:, and in the form „Never again fascism and war [“Nie wieder Faschismus und Krieg”]“ in Otto Grotewohl’s speech at the inauguration of the memorial in Buchenwald on 14.9.1958 (quoted in Menzel, Claus (2008): Nie wieder Faschismus und Krieg”. In: Deutschlandfunk Kultur, 14.09.2008. Online: Subsequently, there has been an accumulation of „Oaths of Buchenwald“, so to speak, through combinations of images of the group of figures on the memorial with other anti-fascist oath texts. Cf. for example the GDR stamp from 1970 at,_MiNr_Block_032.jpg.)) Depending on how it is read, different positions and actions, i.e. historical orientations, can be derived or justified. Is any war to be avoided and thus also any support for warring parties – even if it is a matter of anti-colonial, anti-imperialist or anti-fascist defence? Or does it rather follow that such support for defensive wars – for example by means of arms deliveries or even intervention – is virtually imperative?

The debate about conclusions and positions on what concrete consequence should be drawn from Germany’s particular responsibility is thus a valid controversy in the context of the war in Ukraine, both in the abstract and in the concrete case, especially since it is not only a binary opposition of conservative-national(istic) to militaristic positioning on the one hand and history-conscious, responsibility-oriented to left-wing positioning on the other, but also different argumentations and conclusions can be found „within“ essential basic political orientations.

All these questions are therefore controversial in the sense addressed by the Beutelsbach Consensus: It is about factual and value judgements that are neither arbitrary nor simply already answered in our society, and whose more or less different answers are also not without consequences. It is not a matter of achieving a solution in the social controversy and then declaring it binding with all possible consequences, nor is it a matter of prescribing such a solution to the learners in a binding manner in learning processes. Rather, social discussion and debate as well as learning processes must illuminate and clarify the achievements and limits, the conditions and consequences of different positions, understandings, interpretations, etc., without ultimately depriving the individual of the possibility of his or her own understanding and attitude – but also of the responsibility for it, because (this is also part of discussion as well as learning) one’s own thinking, judgement and action does not take place in isolation from all others, nor does it remain without consequences for joint action in society. Even more: For such common action, it is by no means necessary, but rather even harmful, that everyone thinks and does the same, and that everyone assumes that such uniformity prevails – but it is a prerequisite for such action to orient oneself across the spectrum of different positions and judgements as well as maxims of action and in the society thus structured – including the again discursive (and thus controversial) clarification of the limits of what can and should be recognised in terms of positions, values, concepts and criteria.

Pupils who consider, discuss and try to clarify questions such as those outlined above learn more – even if they do not arrive at a uniform, memorable and retrievable result – than if they simply learn to apply given characteristics and properties of certain concepts and structures that supposedly transcend time, space, culture and case. (Which criteria do not thereby become worthless, but must always be more and different than an instrument of judgement, namely always also the object of the same).

In terms of teaching, i.e. didactically, either the questions must be formulated differently – so that they do not primarily represent decision alternatives, but rather aim to develop the underlying concepts, insights, values, etc. – or the answers to questions formulated as decision alternatives must be transformed into such differentiations. The controversy requirement of the Beutelsbach Consensus does not demand that the controversies that pupils encounter in their everyday lives (e.g. in the media, at home) and that naturally occupy them (including discussions among themselves on the way to school, during breaks, in their own peer group) be dealt with in the classroom, but to contribute, in recognition and disclosure of their existence, to opening up to the learners their foundations and structures, which the individual positions and parties with their interests, ways of thinking and rationalities both, so that they can recognise, assess and judge them individually as well as in their interaction.

This, in turn, by no means prohibits the socially virulent questions of judgement and decision-making from being formulated in this way in class, but it does, on the one hand, prohibit the discussion from arriving at an individual solution that is binding for all or that can only be justified to the group and the teacher. This personal decision-making, one’s own judgement, lies outside the area in which the school may demand a concrete performance. What does fall within this area, however, and where schools are allowed to make offers, set challenges and also demand performance, are the foundations for these ultimately personal decisions and attitudes. Among other things, this can be done in such a way that students are not required to disclose and justify their highly personal thoughts and judgements – but rather to think, speak and judge hypothetically from a foreign position in a discussion. Especially when it is a universally accepted condition that one’s own „real-world“ judgement must not be inferred from the performance in class, judgements, justifications, concepts and norms can be discussed in terms of their inner consistency and quality as well as their combination. Here too, however, care must be taken that students are not ultimately „held liable“ (e.g. through the way the discussion is conducted) for argumentations they have tried out vicariously, or that they are not put under pressure by positions formulated by other members of the learning group that come too close to their own or even to a clichéd attribution of such a position. The extent to which students should therefore be allowed to express their actual views in such „as if“ discussions within the framework of a certain amount of leeway and freedom must be decided on a case-by-case basis. In principle, it should probably not be forbidden. The guideline should probably be that wherever it is a matter of thinking and judging from a perspective shaped by norms and values as well as political positions, a hypothetical performance from a non-own perspective may be demanded, but own, real positioning and judgements should remain possible (especially since it can be a matter of clarifying actual uncertainties, insecurities and irritations), as long as this does not promote conflicts in the learning space and individuals are marked or even stigmatised. Without differentiated and tactful perception, such learning processes can thus hardly be structured and guided.

Thus, even where the centre of a learning process lies in a (non-real, but hypothetical-representative) airing of controversies, the focus of the learning process must not lie in the decision, but in the clarification of the presuppositions, understandings, implications, etc. of positions.

So how can such thematisations of „controversies“ on current events in Ukraine look like? A few examples:

  1. The fact that our society is currently debating whether Germany should supply Ukraine with (heavy, offensive or only „defensive“) weapons may, indeed should, not only be mentioned as a controversy in the classroom (and then relegated to private discussions), but should also be the subject of a lesson. The controversy must appear as such, without just saying that one can „just“ see it this way or that way. Yes, one can hold different positions, but not „just so“, but with mutual perception, also (fundamental) recognition, but at the same time discursive and also self-controversial clarification of different premises and values made in each case. Thus, not all learners have to recognise all positions and ways of argumentation as equally valid, equally valuable, but they must also not simply gain the impression that some are fundamentally (i.e. before such clarification, or without it) more correct than others. The outlined controversy then breaks down quite quickly into a whole series of different but interrelated questions, which are in turn controversial and presuppositional; for instance

    1. What is it about Germany’s responsibility from its history – more precisely: what are the different understandings of this responsibility, how are they justified, what norms and values underlie them (see above)?

    2. What about the fears of a NATO or EU alliance collapse that could occur with such arms deliveries?

    3. How do those involved in the debate relate the values and options of „helping the invaded Ukraine“ and „avoiding an escalation“?

    4. What possible positions and options may arise depending on whether Germany is addressed as an individual state, as a member of the EU and NATO, i.e. an organisation of collective defence, and as a member of the United Nations as an organisation of collective security? What influence do these simultaneous roles and positions have on the options for action – and how are the latter to be assessed on the basis of the respective different logics of action?

  2. The same goes for the question of whether or to what extent one currently agrees to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, etc.

  3. In a similar way, it is certainly very conducive to learning not only to address positions and attitudes to peace and war in an abstract and general way, but to weigh up different constellations and understandings. This concerns clarifications of different concepts of war (see above) as well as questions as to whether immediate peace at any price is always preferable in any situation, or to what extent even certain forms of peace as non-war mean anything but peaceful conditions for actors and can even promote conditions for later resumptions of war or further aggression.

  4. In the above-mentioned Deutschlandfunk programme entitled „Friedenserziehung“ (Peace Education)((Hübert, Henning (2022): Friedenserziehung (Campus & Karriere). Deutschlandfunk, 12.03.2022. Online: , in addition to a decidedly Christian religious education perspective, the Service Agency for Peace Education of the Landeszentrale für politische Bildung Baden-Württemberg also presented the Bundeswehr’s „POL&IS“ simulation game project, which dates back to the 1980s, in which pupils work out the basics of security policy and strategies and possible courses of action in corresponding conflicts in a simulation game under the guidance of Bundeswehr officers. This is in clear contrast to the categorical rejection of any invitation of youth officers (and other representatives) of the Bundeswehr in schools, something that is common in many areas of the left. From the point of view of the Beutelsbach Consensus’s requirement for controversy, it must be said that both approaches are problematic in their own right – the assignment of the topic to the Bundeswehr as well as its exclusion from it. Rather, it is urgently required that schools and lessons make the controversies that appear in the background of such positioning explicit and thus reflectable. This must include neither encouraging a pure identification of peace with militarily guaranteed or brought about absence of „hot“ wars nor excluding this dimension and options for action from the outset from the discourse in the classroom. Both simulation games and ethical and religious considerations thus make sense – but neither alone nor separately from each other, but only when the learners not only have the opportunity to form their own views on everything, but when they are given the opportunity and support in class to consider the respective premises, value and action concepts as well as the areas of tension arising in and between them. Again, these questions must be addressed and considered in class, but not (necessarily) discussed out“. The aim is to enable students to form their own views and opinions and to deal (peacefully) with other views and opinions, but not to form these views and opinions themselves.

Many more examples can be found. And it would probably not be a limitation of the learning value if at the end of such instructional treatments there were no absolutely clarified positions (even if there are several), but only a clearer perception of further possible understandings of concepts, norms, values, of respective other positions and ways of thinking, together with more concretely formulated questions. It is not the task of school and teaching to equip students once and for all (i.e. for the rest of their lives) with absolutely fixed convictions and orientations, but with the ability, skill and willingness to reorientate themselves independently (and that also means constantly themselves, even if not in isolation) in the face of changing challenges and under changing conditions and to participate in the associated debates.

  1. Hübert, Henning (2022): Friedenserziehung (Campus & Karriere). Deutschlandfunk, 12.03.2022. Online: []