Friedrich Merz has been considered a racist since he called education refusers from migrant families “little pashas”. Parts of the political class have apparently decided to simply ignore the reality in German schools

The good news first: In Berlin, the school reports will soon be gendered. That’s what the school senator ordered. The school administrations are required to refrain from “addressee-related formulations that ask for the determination of gender”, as it says in a statement.

So from the summer: “The learner Hassan made an effort.” Or even better: “Ens Hassan took part in the lesson.” “Ens” is the new, inclusive personal pronoun.

Does Hassan know what gender is talking about? One of the less-noticed aspects of the discussion about the new language rules is that they make an immensely complicated subject like the German language even more complicated. Many are in a bind when the teacher refuses to accept “Gehsdu Kotti?” as a substitute for “Shall we meet at the Kottbusser Tor?” and stubbornly insists on subject, predicate and object.

On the other hand: When in doubt, the elementary school student Hassan is still at the level of a preschooler when it comes to understanding the language – like a third of his year. It doesn’t matter much whether he understands everything in his testimony or not.

We have it in black and white: Around 30 percent of fourth graders miss the so-called minimum standards when writing, i.e. the minimum requirements that are not set at the bottom by chance. Not even half of them reach the standard and thus what is expected of pupils of this age on average. When it comes to arithmetic, things are only slightly better, according to a study commissioned by the Conference of Ministers of Education. In math, the proportion of those who cannot even cope with the simplest tasks at the end of elementary school is 22 percent.

We also know who is struggling the most. These are mainly children from families with a so-called migration background. Despite all integration efforts, the distance to classmates from families without a direct migration history has not narrowed – on the contrary, it has increased significantly since 2017, when the last survey was published.

But is it even allowed to say that? Or does that already violate the anti-discrimination rule?

CDU leader Friedrich Merz got himself into a lot of trouble when he pointed out during an appearance on “Markus Lanz” that there was a core of rebellious students among immigrant families who lacked any respect for the teachers and who complained about break all the rules. Merz spoke of “little pashas”. The statement was perceived as so scandalous that the discussion about it has still not completely died down.

I watched Merz’ performance. I often disagree with the CDU chairman. For example, I found his comment on “social tourism” a bit silly. If something lacks the advantages of a tourist trip, it is fleeing from Syria, Afghanistan or the Ukraine.

But in the case of the little pashas, ​​I don’t understand the excitement. Merz expressly added that the vast majority of people who came to Germany from outside represent an enrichment, yes, that there are many in the migrant community in particular who are particularly annoyed by the young ne’er-do-wells. It did not help. Merz is now considered a racist.

What’s going on there? The only way I can explain the fuss is that people want to avoid a discussion about educational deficits at all costs. Parts of the political class have evidently decided to simply ignore the reality.

I come from a teacher’s household by marriage. My mother-in-law was a high school teacher until recently. Out of consideration for her, I will not mention the name of the school where she worked. I don’t want her in trouble too. But the little pashas who show no respect, she knows them well. She has also had her experience of fathers suddenly showing up at school when their sons are being reprimanded to confront the teacher.

Mind you, we’re talking about a junior high school in a small town in Bavaria. Talk to teachers from Berlin or Frankfurt: It’s amazing what you hear there. There is a reason why there are hardly any educators who are willing to teach at comprehensive schools, where the proportion of students of Arabic or Turkish origin is particularly high.

Of course, the regular green audience also knows what we’re talking about. People aren’t stupid. At the beginning of the new school year, a strange migration movement can therefore be observed in cities like Berlin. Just in time for the enrollment deadline, there is a strikingly high number of re-registrations from districts such as Kreuzberg or Neukölln to Charlottenburg and Dahlem.

Life is great in Kreuzberg: great old buildings, lots of hip pubs and restaurants. But send your child to a school where the proportion of migrants is 80 percent? For God’s sake! So Mom or Dad re-register so that Lisa and Jonas are in the catchment area of ​​a school where the only foreigners you meet are the children of diplomats or Russian millionaires.

I know a journalist colleague who torments himself 40 minutes every day from Kreuzberg to the Westend so that his son can attend a proper school. Four trips a day equals three hours in the car. Of course, the father works for a well-known newspaper that attaches great importance to fighting racism and discrimination.

Who can blame the parents? They have my blessing, I wouldn’t act any differently. However, I also do not give lectures on why the word “Pascha” serves racial prejudices. There may be an explanation for the excitement about Merz’s statements. If life practice and political commitment diverge too far, the only option is to adapt the commitment to life practice – or to deny reality.

As I said, the numbers are clear. And things aren’t getting any better. According to the study by the Minister of Education, the strongest decline in skills is almost always recorded for students who were born abroad. For children who came to Germany with their parents, the gap is between nine months and more than two school years. For children of the second generation, i.e. children who were born and grew up in Germany, it is still up to one and a half school years.

That’s huge. It means that by the time many students make the transition to secondary school, they have barely reached the level of a second grader.

One explanation is the social situation. If you come from a family in which nobody has a high school diploma or university degree, you have worse conditions than your neighbor from the educated middle-class budget. But that can’t be all. Immigrants from Vietnam or Korea don’t have a bed of roses either, but their educational career has been unremarkable for the second generation. Also: If it were just a matter of social background, there should be no difference between those born here and children from lower-class German households. But there is.

You can let it go on like this. It’s going to be pretty expensive. We already spend 44 billion euros every year to support people who either cannot work or do not want to work because what they would earn as unskilled workers is not that far removed from what they get on social security.

Or we decide to take a closer look at what’s going wrong. However, this would require that people stop calling everyone who points to integration problems a racist. Do we have the strength to do this? I’m not sure.

• Read all of Jan Fleischhauer’s columns here.

The readers love him or hate him, Jan Fleischhauer is indifferent to the least. You only have to look at the comments on his columns to get an idea of ​​how much people are moved by what he writes. He was at SPIEGEL for 30 years, and at the beginning of August 2019 he switched to FOCUS as a columnist.

Fleischhauer himself sees his task as giving voice to a world view that he believes is underrepresented in the German media. So when in doubt, against the herd instinct, commonplaces and stereotypes. His texts are always amusing – perhaps it is this fact that provokes his opponents the most.

You can write to our author: By email to or on Twitter @janfleischhauer.