A Few Thoughts on Education – 1

Education is something I’ve been thinking about for the last few years. I thought it’d help me a lot to put down my thoughts somewhere in an ordered manner and consolidate them, and that’s why I’m writing this post.

1. What is Education and why is it deemed necessary?
The young ones of any animal species need to learn a lot before they are able to stand on their own feet, and fend for themselves. This is true for every species, more so for mammals and even more so for human beings. Our human world is a complicated place, and there is so much a child needs to learn before she can become independent, that’s why we need a dedicated education system, which divides the world into smaller, simpler pieces and present them in the form of subjects and curricula to the child. The role of education should be to enable the child to stand on her own feet by the time she grows up. I believe most people would agree to this concept of education.

2. Education as a failure
If that is what education should be doing, it is a miserable failure. In fact, most people realize that it is a failure. That classrooms and exams are not doing a good job of teaching children different things. We all know the easily avoidable tension, frustration and fear that academic competition instills in many children, even driving some to commit suicide. Many of us think of education as a necessary evil, because we feel that don’t have any other alternative, and after all, many children do thrive in it, so the ones who don’t are considered to be just not as brilliant.

But as for enabling a child to stand on her own feet, education is a failure. Perhaps it gives her a job because of her qualifications, but it’s not the skills that education gave her that will help her earn a livelihood. If anything it would be skills acquired beyond or even in spite of the education system. So is education necessary at all? Except that it is an excellent way of sorting people? Which brings us to…

3. The Economics of Education
Some time last year I happened to read an eye-opening article by Daniel Quinn- Schooling-The Hidden Agenda. In it he says- “Suppose the schools aren’t failing? Suppose they’re doing exactly what we really want them to do–but don’t wish to examine and acknowledge? Granted that the schools do a poor job of preparing children for a successful and fulfilling life in our civilization, but what things do they do excellently well? Well, to begin with, they do a superb job of keeping young people out of the job market. Instead of becoming wage-earners at age twelve or fourteen, they remain consumers only–and they consume billions of dollars worth of merchandise, using money that their parents earn. Just imagine what would happen to our economy if overnight the high schools closed their doors. Instead of having fifty million active consumers out there, we would suddenly have fifty million unemployed youth. It would be nothing short of an economic catastrophe.”

Of course, this is not to support child labour. But imagine a situation in which children of 12 or 14 were quite equipped with the skills necessary for living and were ready to take on the world (as they are in so called primitive tribal communities), it would be an economic catastrophe.  Also..

“But keeping young people off the job market is only half of what the schools do superbly well. By the age of thirteen or fourteen, children in aboriginal societies–tribal societies–have completed what we, from our point of view, would call their “education.” But the last thing we want our children to be able to do is to live independently of our society. We don’t want our graduates to have a survival value of 100%, because this would make them free to opt out of our carefully constructed economic system and do whatever they please. We don’t want them to do whatever they please, we want them to have exactly two choices (assuming they’re not independently wealthy). Get a job or go to college. Either choice is good for us, because we need a constant supply of entry-level workers and we also need doctors, lawyers, physicists, mathematicians, psychologists, geologists, biologists, school teachers, and so on. The citizen’s education accomplishes this almost without fail. Ninety-nine point nine percent of our high school graduates make one of these two choices.”

I’d like to add one function for education, as I mentioned in the end of the last part- that of a sieve. In our complicated hierarchical society we need people for a vast variety of jobs, with different requirements and benefits and we need some system to segregate people- education does this very well and reasonably fairly. It’s an improved form of the caste system.

(to be continued…)

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