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.