Monday, August 21, 2006

The Education System Can't Educate

It can't educate because that's not what it was set up to do. This applies both 120 years ago and today. The original concern was creating a disciplined work force with enough basic education to follow written instructions and add a column of figures. The working class was not to be interested in the world of culture or learning, or as U.S. Commissioner of Education, William T.
Harris, 1889 stated in 1889,
"Our schools have been scientifically designed to prevent over-education from happening. The average American (should be) content with their humble role in life, because they're not tempted to think about any other role." (1) This was echoed by Woodrow Wilson, “We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.” (2)

Enough was handed to workers to make them respect “their cultural heritage” as an aspect of nationalism and at the same time feel inferior to the “geniuses” who created this culture. This world, however, was disconnected from them and deliberately so. As far as history and philosophy went, none whatsoever for the latter, and imperial propaganda for the former. Philosophy teaches you to think and reason and that would be fatal for the system if everyone started doing that. (3)

This situation was fine up until the 1960's. Then came the rising consciousness of heretofore oppressed peoples. The crude racist and classist propaganda of the past – combined with ignoring women and minorities, would no longer work. Back-handedly dismiss Native People in a school history text and they protest. Ignore women's role in history and women teachers are up in arms.

This leaves the education system in a bind. No more ham-handedness, but on the other hand, they cannot tell the truth either. The plain fact about the Boer War is that it was blatant imperialism, so too, the suppression of the Metis People in the Riel Rebellion. The First world War was a human disaster that gave rise to the Second World War. Teach the facts and young people are liable to think critically, and perhaps apply what they have learned to the present conflicts. Not a good thing for those who profit from war and empire.

As for literature and poetry, go into any depth into writer's lives, let alone their writings, and you a common factor. Virtually all the great writers, poets (and artists and composers as well) were non-conformists, many of them deeply at odds with the system they lived under. One is supposed to identify with “the greats” , but what is the message of their lives? People you admire, creative people, are non-conformists. Therefore non-conformism must be a good thing, and the system that ignored them, ridiculed them, persecuted them is loathsome. When a youth sees a singer, artist or writer condemned in the media for being a troublemaker, what must he or she think?

One way out of the dilemma is to stop teaching history and culture, and I think this is largely what has been happening.


2. ibid.

3. Take a course in basic logic or read a book like “Straight Thinking Crooked Thinking” by Robert Thouless and you can sit and pick out the logical fallacies in editorialist's and politician's arguments. End result, you think these people are either liars or ignoramuses.


Blogger Renegade Eye said...

Good post. That aspect of education is not discussed much these days. It was a big topic in the 1970s.

11:29 PM  

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