Undoing School

Posted on April 28, 2015 at 5:25 PM

Following the world wars and independence victory parades, the intoxicating sense that nothing is forbidden in our free land, including the alteration of human nature, prevailed. Big changes were being made to the ideas of parenting, family and community. Children were being passed on from localities into the custody of schooling experts.

The dreams of Charles Darwin and Francis Galton would become reality through the agency of public schooling, designed top-down like every other post-war institution to check the proliferation of the unfit. The dough for the bread called “trickle-down economics.” The scientific method of population control.

The reason given for this enormous upheaval of family life and cultural traditions was, roughly speaking, threefold: To make good people. To make good citizens. To make each person his or her personal best.

These goals are still trotted out on a regular basis, and most of us accept them in one form or another as a decent definition of public educations mission, however short schools actually fall in achieving them.


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Many students, especially the poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They teach them to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new.

The imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value and to confuse the process with the substance. Once the meaning became blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success.

As a result, when exiting the institution medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the 40-hour work week rat race for meaningful productive work.

Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavour are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question.


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Institutionalization of these most sacred of services and values leads inevitably to physical pollution, social polarization, and psychological impotence: three facets in a process of global degradation and modernized misery. This process of degradation is accelerated when non-material needs are perceptually transformed into demands for commodities; when health, education, personal mobility, welfare, or psychological healing are defined as the result of services or “treatments.”

In our compounded ignorance after passing through such institutions ourselves, most of the research currently going on about the future of education tends to advocate further increases in the institutionalization of services and values. We have now created conditions which would permit precisely the contrary of education to happen. We need research on the possible use of technology to create institutions which serve personal, creative, and autonomous interaction and the emergence of values which cannot be substantially controlled by Technocrats. We need alternative research to current futurology.


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Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the operational style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue’s responsibility until it engulfs his pupils’ lifetimes will deliver universal education.

The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs and interactive networks which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of their living into one of learning, sharing, and caring. Such a process ensures that the pupils that exit such a system will seek and implement learned alternatives to other established and seemingly unchangeable services, institutions and industries.


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