It is my firm belief that the net effect of schools is indeed the prevention of Education. A few come out of their school years more intrinsically interested in Shakespeare or maths or biology than when they went in, but most have their interest in the world and in learning and analyzing damaged or driven out. When they come in at the age of five they are very interested in the world and in learning, but where is the research showing that by their fifteenth birthday these dispositions have been enhanced?
The supreme goal of Education is not cognitive; it is affective. It is to develop an intense and lasting intellectual curiosity which will motivate a ceaseless quest to more adequately understand the world, oneself, one's society…. There is therefore no such thing as an Educated person, as if the task could ever be completed, let alone by graduation day. The goal is a personality which derives deep intrinsic satisfaction from continually increasing the capacity to make sense of the world, and continually seeking the new knowledge, ideas, skills, challenges and experiences that will facilitate the journey.
Clearly schools are not there to Educate, or we'd check whether that is what they do. They are there to reproduce consumer-capitalist society. That's what everyone wants them to do, and they do it well. That is why schools cannot be fixed. They cannot be reformed to not be riddled with authoritarian relations, pettifogging rules, learning masses of irrelevant and boring stuff, timetables, exams, credentials, failure and human rights abuse. If these features were eliminated then schools would not reproduce consumer-capitalist society. If you want schools that
Educate you can only have them in a very different society, one which does not need schools designed to reproduce this society.
In my The Transition to a Sustainable and Just Society (Envirobook, 2010) I detail the argument that consumer-capitalist society is plunging towards ecological catastrophe…and that it cannot be fixed. Its fundamental, defining characteristics inevitably generate the alarming global problems surging all around us now. Solutions cannot be reached unless there is transition to The Simpler Way, i.e., a society in which there are mostly small and highly self-sufficient local communities under participatory (not representative) democratic control of their own local economies which they run to meet local needs from local resources, with minimal state and international systems, with no economic growth and a far lower level of production and consumption per capita than at present. Above all there would have to be astronomically huge value change abandoning all interest in competing or getting rich. In my view the chances of us having the wit to make such a transition are negligible, although rapidly increasing numbers in the Transition Towns and eco-village movements are working in that direction.
The last part of Chapter 9 of the book details the implications of The Simpler Way for Education…the main one being that it would thrive. If Education is conceived in terms of an endless process of increasing one's capacity to make sense of the world, to think effectively, to reflect and appreciate, to take social responsibility, to grow "spiritually", to become a wiser and more humane person, etc., then this is most likely to flourish in conditions where there is no pressure to compete and survive, no threat of unemployment, no interest in monetary wealth, and where the formal and informal community structures and processes are expressly designed to enable and encourage personal and spiritual growth. In the much more relaxed pace of The Simpler Way the training of workers, technocrats and professionals would still be necessary, but would be a minor task and we would have a lot of time left to devote to Education. Because our collective welfare would depend on how well we ran our local economies and ecosystems it would be clear that informed, thoughtful, critical, and responsible citizens were crucial. All citizens would be "teachers", more accurately mutual facilitators of intellectual, emotional and spiritual growth, and the formal institutions such as universities could shift their primary concern from training technocrats to nurturing intrinsic interest in books and ideas and learning about the universe.
So there's your stark choice. If you want to reproduce industrial consumer society, which requires all that diligence, competition, training, obedience, passivity and conformity you had better stick with schools more or less as we have them. But if you want Education you will have to join those of us working for the transition to a society that makes it possible.
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