|Some half-formed thoughts about how the education system might be radically reformed, and in the process solve a host of political, economic and social problems bedeviling our world, from a guy whose experience in education, both as a teacher and as a student, was, at best, sobering and frustrating.
Emma, Doug, and I have been blogging lately about how education systems worldwide discriminate, demotivate, subjugate and demoralize most young people, teaching them not to think, but just to consume, and to allow the established, moneyed and powerful elites to pass on their business and political empires to their usually unmeriting children. And then, broken by that system, most young people willingly and gratefully work and grow old at boring, unfulfilling jobs, in constant fear of unemployment, and blame themselves for not doing better in our lands of supposedly unlimited opportunity.
A reading of the research cited in our earlier posts leaves little doubt that this subjugation and wage slavery were the intended purposes of public education systems when they were first formed. What is hard to fathom is that, given the effort and desire of most public school teachers to give young people the best education possible, the system seems to perpetuate itself generation after generation, and the gap between the elite and the rest of society grows massively wider every year.
Why is this? I think teachers are caught in the system’s net themselves, and would probably be the first to admit that the rules under which they must work largely undermine their ability to actually teach anything.
What would happen if we reformed the education system so that it didn’t perpetuate the cycle of economic fear, political apathy, social guilt, and self-loathing?
Let’s consider what such a system might look like, starting with objectives. I would suggest it should strive to do just two things: (a) Provide the skills, and ability to apply them, needed to make a comfortable, enjoyable, fulfilling living (as owner of or partner in an enterprise, not as an employee); (b) Provide the skills, and ability to apply them, needed to be an informed, contributing member of society (in other words, to be a good citizen and get along with others).
To do this it would need to teach young people some basic life skills, something like the list of eleven I published here back in March:
Applying these skills to the tasks of making a living and being a good citizen is best taught by people who are actually doing it, where they are doing it, not by teachers and not in classrooms. If some young lady visits a team doing land surveying and decides she might want to make a living doing that, she should be equipped, and encouraged, to identify the resources needed to pursue that calling and apply herself to acquiring the knowledge and talent needed to do that. If surveyors have a professional qualifying examination, that, and not some standard pre-set grade-school examination program, should be her self-set gauge of accomplishment.
So I’m proposing a system that has no schools, no ‘teachers’ in the traditional sense, and no examinations. Is this naive, and an invitation to anarchy? This was in fact the way education worked before formal, standard education systems were introduced. Then, however, you had limited choice: your father taught you his skill, and you either succeeded at it or went off to learn another trade from someone else who needed apprentices. Once you had ‘mastered’ the trade you were your own boss.
The system I propose would take advantage of new communication and information technology and our greater interconnectedness, to allow each young person to pick from thousands, millions of possible callings, and link up with others with complementary skills to create what I have called New Collaborative Enterprises, businesses of equals. The basic rules of entrepreneurship are easy to learn, and all it takes to succeed at it is lots of practice, and the younger you start the better.
Perhaps it sounds as if I’m reducing education to finding a job, but I’m not. Making a living is not the same at all as finding a job. Discovering and pursuing the role you want to fulfil in society, what you want to spend most of your life doing, is probably the most important decision any of us makes. To some extent how we make our living defines who we are. And the second objective, becoming an informed, contributing citizen, requires us to learn most of the things that a traditional, elite, ‘liberal education’ requires: a knowledge of history and geography, an awareness of what’s happening in the world and what it means. The best way to imbue this, and to measure it, is for the ‘teacher’ to engage students in discussion about specific pre-determined issues, enable the students to do their advance research using the above life skills, the internet, and other tools at their disposal, any way they want to do so, and then gauge each student’s progress by the quality of their participation in the discussion. No ‘bums on chairs’ one-to-n teaching/preaching, but instead engaging in conversations. As grad students know, that’s how you really learn.
The ‘teacher’s’ role in all of this is facilitation, not instruction. That means setting up opportunities for students to meet and see and talk with people who make their living in different ways. It means ensuring they have access to the learning resources they need, and steering them in the right direction to learn how to use them. It means arranging and coordinating the discussions. It would require that all of us making a living now set aside a significant amount of time to show, and talk with students about, what we do and how and why we do it. It might well require a lot more ‘teachers’ than we have today, though it would save billions by eliminating curriculum development, textbooks, school buildings, and the administrivia that accounts for much more than half of the current education budget.
The implications of doing this would be staggering. There would be no employees, no labour pool for large corporations to dip into. I don’t think most corporations would mind this at all. They have already basically transformed most jobs into contracts and eliminated most employee benefits. The idea of converting every employee position into a supplier position is quite well understood by senior management and might even be welcomed.
In the longer term, the liberation of being one’s own boss and having free choice about how one makes a living would work strongly against large, hierarchichal corporations. If we were all entrepreneurs with a choice of customers, few would put up with the control and bullshit that large employers today impose on employees, and the new ‘contract’ between large corporations and entrepreneurs would inevitably be much more egalitarian and much more expensive than today’s employment contracts. The consequence, I believe, would be that large organizations would break up into small, autonomous units that would be almost indistinguishable from entrepreneurial ventures, more responsive to customers, and free of the overpaid management and administrative bloat that makes most large corporations arguably (read John Ralston Saul’s The Unconscious Civilization) even less efficient than similar-sized public organizations. As a result, corporate power would devolve, and our whole society might become, at last, classless, a world of equals, fulfilled, empowered, working and thinking for themselves.
As I said at the outset, these are half-formed thoughts. I wish blogs had more flexibility as collaborative tools, but in the meantime, please use the comments feature to join the dialogue and share your thoughts.
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