Education: Real or Imaginary? FINAL EDIT COMPLETE

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Ray Millikin

Knowledge of the self is the supreme educator. It is everlasting and joyfully performed.

Lord Krishna in the Bhagnrad Crita

No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half-asleep in the dawning of your own mind.

Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet


Various alternatives in education exist in Australia. They range from governmental schools and independent or private schools, through the free or community schools, to those following the principles of Rudolf Steiner. What is necessary in assessing these is to determine whether or not they make schooling 'everlasting and joyfully performed'. Indeed, the question really requires an insight in to the motivations or requirements of education in this society.

What is the intended or ultimate purpose of education? Is it, as Ivan Mich suggests, the 'shaping and moulding of consumer demands and expectations' or is it to supply a labour force compatible with the existing social relations of capitalist production', as argued by Herbert Gintis? Or... is it something far more fundamental? Perhaps it is yet another example of man's search for unity, via the establishment of a standard or common experience. The real purpose of any discussion should be to answer this polemic, expecially in relation to the social framework of work, leisure and social interaction. 

The present social milieu is one where nearly all forms of social interaction have come under the control or guidance of impersonal institutions. This malignant 'cancer' has even spread to the most basic and natural social phenomena of child care and family communication and because of the ostensible convenience and efficiency they provide. Yet, despite the highly institutionalised methods of treatment, no real advancement is made. Separation or alienation is extended further and is more heavily embedded, as the false utility of these in stituations only perpetuates and expands them. It is institutions which foster alienation among and within people.

The institutionalisation of previously informal activities has made social reality itself an institution rather than a dynamic, flexible process. It has become ordered, static and self-indulgent. It has created mechanisms which stultify or prevent necessary change. One of these mechanisms is the 'compulsory' aspect; everyone has to participate. This, in turn, nurtures a subtle but firm reliance on the existence of institutions. It was this aspect of compulsion on which Illich focused and from which his analysis of the microcosm of education extends to society as a whole.

Both Illich and Gintis consider present Western attitudes and practices of education to be, in effect, non-educational. Their descriptions of present education are very similar. They are both aware of the impersonalising nature of all institutions (in Marxian terms—alienation). In view of these comments how does this alienation arise and how is it to be resolved?

One doesn't have to be a Marxist to see that there is an inequitable concentration of the 'means of production' among bureaucrats. For education the means are the/ curricula; the distribution, efficiency and/ cost  of machinery (teachers, schools), and the 'ideology'  of education itself (the rampant ethics and values superimposed). As in capitalist production, educational production invariably 'delivers the goods' regardless of their inherent disutility (some call it crap !). Illich's analysis pivots on this point. He asserts that the provision of compulsory education negates or stultifies its original purpose. It is uneconomical and falsifies its own foundations. Yet it continues with greater 'acceptance'. Why? Why has school become a means of 'custodial care indoctrination and the selection of social roles?' Why is it imposed rather than offered for selection according to need and suitability? Why is it contrived to suit social, economic and political demands?


The major reason education continues to be accepted is because of its 'occupational' or custodial role; it occupies the personalities, mind and souls of almost an entire population for up to twelve years or more. It becomes a very convenient institution for parents, allowing them to neglect the social development of their children (education becomes an accepted protection from cold, calculating reality). Education becomes more and mo re convenient as social 'buck-passing' and laziness becomes antidotes for social ignorance. The panacea is increased social awareness and interaction, but how does that come about?


The requirement that education be equal and compulsory is one of the obstacles to its performance. Trying to standardise education has its root motivations in job selection and political ideologies, rather than in the interests of students. 'Rather than calling equal schooling temporarily unfeasible, we must recognise that it is, in principle, economically absurd and that to attempt it is to be intellectually emasculating, socially polarising and destructive of the credibility of the political system which promotes it.' Equal educational opportunity cannot be contrived or imposed. It is this delusion which adds to existing alienation in this society, for people struggle to force a situation which is not only improbable but hardly necessary either. Equal education assumes that education is so socially necessary that everyone must have it, and that equality is a tangible state of affairs, which an actually be created.


But even more damaging is the 'curriculum' that is fostered or taught in schools. The content of most education is either extremely censored (morally, intellectually) or functionally abstracted often times both. Steiner education and certain free schools attempts to 'make enlightening' or realistic the content of learning activities.


But even assuming a need to learn and encase knowledge like a commodity, most school subjects are dysfunctional to basic human nature. They tend to promote ego, competition and a lack of appreciation of the world around them. Most subjects have some sort of ideological, moral or intellectual censorship either by the bureaucracy or by the teachers, e.g. most economic curricula refuse to cover socialistic economics, or patronise capitalist myths of consumer sovereignty, etc. In general, subjects fail to consider student demands and interest. So many curricula are determined by extraneous factors such as employment needs, social and moral prestige as well as academic interests. There is a 'hidden curriculum' which is inherent in educational ideology that the intellect must be taught to be analytical, discriminatory and 'computerised'—instead of free and appreciative. In Australian state schools and private 'wealthy' schools the 'curriculum' is 'taught' in a number of ways—programmed acceptance behaviour, minutely-specific task-performance, along with a multitude of moral and social myths about human nature and social phenomena. Free' schools attempt to remove such obstacles but because many have no real philosophy to put in its place, students come out into society alienated and pessimistic, with no real direction and ability to act as agents for social change. Some free and community schools cater for the children of the trendy middle class and, in these schools undue emphasis is placed on improving methodology and external flaws (uniforms) rather than the care of the subjects taught, which are still seen as necessary for the children to 'succeed'.


In general, in all types of schools, subjects such as mathematics and science, the blue-eyed boys of modem education, are incredibly over-taught, whereas, subjects encouraging personal self-sufficiency. such as clothes making, cooking and general manual tasks are ignored. Subjects of interest such as ecology, self-defence, natural health, food cultivation and economising, are ideologically censored the reasons are not a point of argument for the situation is the same. 'Schools by mirroring the impersonal and competitive relations of community and the bureaucratic authoritarian aspects of alienated work, thwart the development of true initiative, independence and creativity in their charges. They attempt to produce docile, unimaginative workers filling the needs of hierarchial commodity production'. That is, they educate for illusion and abstraction, rather than for survival and creativity. Real education is the experience of activities by the self and selected out of need rather than desire. But because materialist society (including socialism) exists to promote knowledge of the things outside ourselves, then alienation necessarily occurs. Mass 'consumerism' thrives on people being encouraged to buy things the qualities of wh ich they might learn to appreciate at a later date. The 'deschooling' mechanisms of Mich are attempts to create situations where learning occurs out of a necessary desire rather than a contrived or in stille d desire. But, the selection process ultimately re sts on the individual. Unless self-knowledge, self-awareness can be attained then the individual's will will always be subject to manipulation (if only by himself). Education, when institutionalised, detracts from self-awareness. It places obstacles, distractions and confusions on the pathway to real education—self-education.


'Deschooling' requires self-aware participants who no longer rely on external modes of success, competition, desires or ego participants who are concerned with activity rather than results, who only wish to perform as best they can. Such an awareness cannot be imposed 'compulsorily'. It does, however, need to be the top priority among ambitions in the social framework. From such a situation, efficient and resourceful selection of social roles can be made by the individuals who will perform them.


There are so many 'assumptions' in education which need to be challenged. Most of them create dualities, inconsistencies and contradictions. To assume that any subject is intellectually universal is suicidal to its application—it places undue concentration on that subject. This necessarily leads to confusion and misapprehension. Assuming that education is a social priority leaves it open to external manipulation. It forces education to be removed or cut off from other social activities, to exist in an abstract vacuum. Modern education also assumes that improvements in teaching methodology necessarily improve education. But attempting to 'free' the school process sometimes provides an unnatural environment unrelated to both home and society.


So where does education go from here? What are the alternatives? One of the most important prerequisite s is capable people who understand and act with children according to the children's needs and abilities, rather than to pre-selected standards. Unfortunately, education loses credibility because the content is over-rigid and dogmatically applied. What is really needed is a clear perspective of education not an over emphatic ideological and intellectual production line. People, parents and students, need to challenge the whole basis of education as it is. They need to question the process and the motivations. They need to assess it in its function in society. They need to demand participation in it. But, above all, students and educators alike must reassess the content of education and remove its myths. Until such time alternative methods of education (free schools, Steiner schools) seem to be only mending the wounds and not curing the diseases. Education needs to become an integrated part of every individual's life, 'everlasting and joyfully performed', so the self can be realised to its full spiritual, ecological, political and humanitarian potential.




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