I, the ghost of Franz Kafka, equipped with a keyboard, a blog password and instructions for using WordPress, will now briefly summarize the system of mathematics didactics.

1. Its structure: The children of the association are gathered in a number of rooms, sorted by age. Every day at a certain hour, an authority presents certain rules for the manipulation of characters on paper and then asks the children to imitate the performance. This process takes about a decade.

(All quotes in cartoons are from Kafkas The exam.)

2. His task:Three explanations are offered for this regime. It is established as (1) useful in daily life, (2) necessary preparation for a small number of desirable technical occupations, and (3) naturally beautiful.

From the child’s point of view, the third is demonstrably wrong, while the first two can be dismissed as contradicting one another. (A common practicability cannot fall under the exclusive purview of elite technicians.) The inadequacy of these justifications suggests that in the eyes of the authorities, no justification is needed.

However, since law and custom dictate participation, most children soon agree. Resignation rather than resentment serves the cause of survival better.

3. Keeping of records: To enforce real effort, rather than just passive compliance, the system uses a sophisticated system of records.

The children are instructed at regular intervals to carry out the prescribed manipulations in silence and under strict time constraints. During such a process, communicating with another child is a disqualification. Performance under such conditions is recorded in a permanent file.

This file is later sent to the child’s parents (who provide food and shelter) and potential employers (who provide the means to purchase food and shelter). In this way, students see an unclear but unambiguous relationship between (1) their performance on math tests and (2) their access to food and shelter.

The individuality of the evaluation is decisive. Playing children against each other in a zero-sum competition helps to dampen and dispel any revolutionary mood.

4th The role of the teacher: By keeping the important records, teachers have a significant impact on the child’s future economic opportunities. Interestingly, many teachers consider themselves subordinate officials who provide neutral and objective reports with little or no real power.

Such denial only makes their judgments more bizarre and dangerous.

5. Conceptual understanding: When the children reach their late teens, authorities can abruptly change the nature of the game. Instead of just symbolic manipulation, they demand an elusive virtue known by several names (“understanding,” “conceptual understanding,” “critical thinking,” etc.).

For the children, this confusing reversal of years of training is offensive. They fought bitterly for success under the old regime and view the new one as an illegitimate foreign usurpation. This is where the authorities put their final and greatest irony:

They judge the children as indifferent and narrow-minded and thus attribute the qualities of the crime to the victim.

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