Education Gets an F

Education Gets an F

Education Failings Blog

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control

I despair of education. More specifically, I despair of the established educational system. I would decry it as unfit for purpose if its purpose were clear. And that there is one of its failings.

Education itself has changed over the centuries. A significant shift during the 18th and 19th centuries was towards large educational institutions and mass teaching of elementary skills in literacy and numeracy. One force driving this was the belief that it would produce more obedient citizens through instilling common beliefs and values.

Another force has been an ever increasing dependence on technology and communication which requires a higher level of education if people are even to participate in modern society. It’s primarily the needs of society–of the state–that determine the shape of the education system.

In essence, schools are factories. The raw materials are children, the end product is model citizens. And just like in factories there is an emphasis on measuring the consistency and quality of the product. In this case it’s formal examinations, where children are assessed and graded like farm produce.

One thing that schools aren’t set up to do is stimulate thought. Non-compliance, questioning, is discouraged and instead students are pushed to conform, obey, and meet the arbitrary targets.

Imagination and creative thought are restricted and discouraged, limited to elective subjects that are devalued by the powers that be. Arts subjects labelled as useless and dropped from the curriculum: the education system not willing to manufacture its own critics.

We end up with a world in which most people can’t even imagine that there could be other ways of educating children. The system we have in place is the only one they know and it’s not set up to give them the tools to question its purpose or fitness. To think about alternatives.

Society is becoming fragmented and diverse, the old certainties and security where change could be ignored are breaking down. There is a real need for creativity and insight, rather than young minds dulled by repetition and moulded into a single shape.

We as a society are doing our children a disservice by continuing down the route of uniformity and a one-size-fits-all approach to education. Elementary skills of literacy and numeracy are certainly more important than ever, but so are the skills of creative, critical thought and a hunger for knowledge.

In an age where more information is accessible to a greater number of people than ever, the reliability and accuracy of much of that information is questionable. There’s more and more evidence of it being used to manipulate and control populations. But the education system itself was created in large part to do the same. To help produce citizens who would comply and obey. Who would be amenable to control.

Education beyond an elementary level is not there to improve lives. It’s there to strengthen the state, bolster productivity. There has to be radical change. The needs of the people going through the system need to be considered. They’re not grist for the mill, they’re not cogs in some infernal machine. They’re individuals, people.

In so many fields now there is increasing recognition that people benefit from individualised approaches. From medical treatments tailored to their unique physiology to items that are adjustable or available in a range of shapes and sizes. And yet education continues to stamp out interchangeable cookie-cutter shapes.

Gerald Scarfe’s famous animations for Pink Floyd’s The Wall include the iconic meat grinder, the teacher turning the handle and processing schoolchildren into indistinguishable worms. That criticism of the education system stands today as it did then: it’s time to stop breaking children down so they can be remoulded as we see fit.

The report card is in. I’ve assessed the education system and determined that it fails our children. It doesn’t teach life skills, it doesn’t encourage enquiring minds, it stifles creativity and individuality, it emphasises conformity, compliance and obedience. And it maintains the illusion that it is the only game in town. It’s not. It’s mechanised, industrialised, standardised and depersonalised.

I’m one who came out of it damaged. I was an overachieving academic high-flyer, and it broke me in ways that echo through my life today. I know so many others who were harmed by the institutions and practises of the education system as it exists across most of the world: they’re all variations on the same theme and all failing the next generation.

It’s not a case of “must try harder”. It’s a systemic failure, rotten to the core. The education system is set up to solve the wrong problems and must be replaced by something that encourages healthy development and growth in our children, addressing their individual needs.

10 thoughts on “Education Gets an F

  1. I grew up in a small factory town, and I clearly remember a moment back in 2nd grade, (1953), when I realized that we were being taught and prepared to – work in a factory, just like our parents. Another student had asked a dumb question, about something we had already covered, and just like that, we couldn’t go forward, but had to go back. This realization had been developing for some time before that moment. I was bored with school because it was so slow and mundane.

    Much later, in 7th grade, I recall a moment when they were teaching us our ‘school song’. “Ours are the colors yellow and blue, to junior high we’ll always be true -” and I thought, “We’re really being propagandized here. What song are they teaching kids in the next town?”

    I didn’t become an overachiever. I just became BORED! And the social rules in junior high sucked… so superficial, so artificial. All grown up now, and Nothing has changed.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. A lot about the school environment is artificial: being divided according to age, so that it feels normal to see those older as more advanced/educated and those younger that you as being behind you.

      It’s difficult not to view those younger than you as less able, which distorts your view as you leave school and progress into adult life.

      So much of school seems purposeless. It will have no relevance once most leave.

      And examinations are the worst: betting your future on what is often a one-off performance. It reduces 12 or more years of education to essentially one number. And that grade is a number that says nothing useful about your ability to do most work.

      But it’s the way it’s been done for so long that most simply accept it as the way things are.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve always said this: I always suspected I was autistic in high school, but my good grades would have prevented me from getting any support or accommodations that would have helped me. At that time, no one would have believed me. Grades shouldn’t be used to determine how well someone succeeds in the workplace. They certainly didn’t help me one bit.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Yes, I can relate to that. If it wasn’t for my history of mental health problems I don’t think my GP would have been as willing to refer me for assessment because autism is still seen so much in terms of deficits and support needs.

          The thing is, I did have good grades but I also had problems at school, and things fell apart at university in ways that support such as an assigned 1-to-1 mentor could have addressed. But the fact that I was able to get past that and hold down full-time jobs does count against me in some eyes.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. To make matters worse, some of those children who are taught not to ask questions, not to think for themselves, grow up to become teachers who lack the ability to teach even the essential skills of literacy to the next generations. (I have a degree in education — I taught high school art for a brief time, years ago — and while I was at university learning to become a teacher, I was appalled at how undereducated my classmates were and how much they lacked any ability to think critically or creatively.)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I had some wonderful teachers for whom it really was a vocation rather than simply a job. But I do feel that the system fails to give them anywhere near enough opportunity to inspire a passion for learning.

      I have always loved the pursuit of my interests and acquisition of new knowledge and skills. The way I was constrained, forced to narrow my scope and specialise when my interests encompassed a breadth of subjects with no real regard for boundaries, still rankles.

      I have a strong suspicion that these divisions imposed between subjects and the subsequent premature overspecialisation are detrimental because they in turn impose limits on thought. Some end up sat in a hole of limited perspective, unable to even imagine that the world exists beyond their little circle of sky.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I have been thinking about this recently as well, and I agree with a very large part of what you are saying. (I am wondering if maybe we saw the same short video on education ;
    And yet… One thing the school system also does is expose children to other children with different backgrounds, and to basic knowledge and the basic values of society. Those values that make it possible to even have a society: the values of equality, human rights, science, etc. The current system has managed to produce science that has given us medicine, that has dispelled erroneous beliefs about the world and about people who are different from the norm, etc. There is value there.

    I am still struggling to see how we can find other ways to educate children, to tailor their education to them and yet at the same time make it possible for large groups of people to share a geographical area and not kill each other over being different. Maybe I am seeing this too black and white and I just don’t see enough options between mass education and “home schooling”. But a system that focuses too much on individuality and creativity does also have its drawbacks.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. “One thing that schools aren’t set up to do is stimulate thought. Non-compliance, questioning, is discouraged and instead students are pushed to conform, obey, and meet the arbitrary targets.”

    Now that I’m switching into teaching, I’m noticing the same things. You’re cramming a lot into a short period of time and expecting students to learn at that exact pace. You try to make sure each person gets what you’re saying, but what really ends up happening is that maybe 70% of students really get it, but then the rest either know how to do the question but don’t understand it well enough to apply it somewhere else or are just completely lost. Students don’t have time in class to just nitpick and analyze a question to death.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I do think we need to examine the way we are teaching students and what we are teaching students. We can’t expect all students to be taught the same stuff, the same way, and at the same time. We are creating citizens and not allowing our children to be unique. It is all about passing the state tests so they can get more funding. I am going into education to help my students realize their uniqueness and to follow what they are good at. I want to be able to show them they don’t have to be what they are told and they need to work hard for what they want. I wish we could change it, but until we get better ideas on how to change or fix the system we won’t see major changes. It would be awesome if we had unlimited funding to help each of our students be successful, but it doesn’t seem as if they are going to make an drastic changes soon. I am going to try my best to help each of my students pursue what they are good at and learn how to become a better person. I hope there are more people that are going to try to do that as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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