A few weeks ago I got myself into a debate about education. It started in with my opponent taking a radical position that we should do away with public education because, in summary, it serves governments’ nefarious purposes to indoctrinate our children and to suppress their individuality, personality, and creativity.
Being a proponent of good education, the argument sounded very much in line with my own indignation towards public education. At the same time, I have been going through re-appreciation of old values, both the ones I once accepted and the ones I rejected, and in the process, I learned that there is indeed something good in something bad as well as something bad in something good. Which part we turn a blind eye to is a choice of beliefs and convictions.
This got me thinking. Is education really so bad? Does it really serve no other functions than to instill subordination and obedience into new generations? And if so, is it really the evil hand of the government puppeteers pursuing a certain agenda?
I realized that if you don’t cloud your thinking with rooted bias and presuppositions, education is not as bad as some say it is.
You need public education
Education performs certain functions quite successfully. Of those functions, time and effort that education saves parents are obvious. Even in Japan, for example, even though the thinking that the woman should stay home and the man should provide fully for his family is still fairly strong, that kind of lifestyle has also become a luxury that many cannot afford in the current economic situation. It is not very different from the rest of the developed world.
It is also ultimately cheaper to send your children to school than to hire necessary tutors and, possibly, spending your own time educating your children. All that time is money that you are not earning.
Education also provides you with a working template. This, in itself, is not as bad or evil as you may think. Education is clearly not a simple thing – we wouldn’t be talking about it so much if it were. You can compare it to making your own car – if you ever decided to do so, you would probably still use somebody’s blueprint and employ somebody to do it for you. I must admit that to many people this doesn’t seem to be a convincing comparison. Apparently some parents think bringing up their children and giving them education is easier and less of a science than manufacturing a car. Admit it. You think so, too.
Public education doesn't want to do the evil things to your child you think it does (but it does anyway)
The next question is then whether education exists to brainwash our children and crush whatever seeds of critical ability and creativity they may harbor. I don’t think so. I do think that this is what it ends up doing on a large scale of things, and I strongly believe we should make it more of an emergency than it currently is, but I don’t think education is doing it intentionally. All the unfortunate results of modern education are due to initially good intentions.
For example, the production line curriculum is rooted in the conception of equal opportunity. How do you achieve equal opportunity? By providing the same “knowledge” to every child of school age. Of course, now we are starting to rethink what “equal opportunity” really means. In our understanding of it, we are going away from a prescriptive form of it to a more adaptive one. This means a move from education as delivery of the same content to every child towards education as provision of the necessary content for every child to thrive in their own unique way. Granted, we are still very early in that transformation, but it is coming. This may not sound very optimistic, but I do believe our grandchildren have a chance of tasting what it is like.
Testing is another by-product of the equal opportunity thinking behind education. It is a tool to exercise control over education quality that children receive. Testing is difficult to give up now as it is the only tangible way for us to say education is happening. Imagine doctors dropping medical tests and basing their diagnoses on observations only. You would not be able to help your patients because you wouldn’t know where to start and where to go. And even if you knew your destination, you wouldn’t be able to tell for sure you reached it. Education is very similar to that. In its essence, testing is there to serve a noble purpose and to a degree, it does.
Public education is a product of incompetence (sort of)
Finally, is it really an evil scheme of the governments across the world to destroy our children’s future and with it the future of their own country? Again, it can’t possibly be that simple. First, not every country is the same. Scandinavian countries, for one example, are doing a good job providing their young generation with the kind of education we aspire to, that goes unnoticed (they also have issues, of course). Japan, the country I am most familiar with now, is a different story with its own twist. The quality of education here spirals down from what I believe is quite excellent elementary school education to quite awful high school education and practically non-existent university education. Yet, I don’t think there is a conspiracy theory. As harsh as it may sound, I am more inclined to believe that the condition of the Japanese public education is due to the lack of competence and proper knowledge about education of those ironically responsible for that education. I am sure if you look closely at your educational system, you will also find that it is run by a cohort without real-life experience and often any significant background in education.
My advice: improve, don't re-invent the wheel.
Public education is a system with an underlying philosophy of good intentions. We should not forget that. The negative by-products of our decisions so far are lessons to learn from and vectors of improvement we must pursue. Evolution is the natural flow of things, not revolution.
So you handled the whole story? Why not take it a step further and share your thoughts in the comment section below? =)