Friday, 22 April 2011


I was reading a book the other week in which the main character was talking about being taught the counties of England; in other words how to dissect and label.  And that's what education in the way it currently exists, is.  It's purely a labelling and dissecting exercise.

Take each subject:

Geography: How to divide land masses into 1st: land masses!, 2nd: bits of land masses, 3rd: features within those bits including weather systems in a bit we label the sky.

History: How to categorise, chronicle and describe a past that no longer exists. It's often defended as being important so that we don't repeat the mistakes of the past.  Try telling that to the dead of all the countless and pointless bloody wars.

English Literature:  How to dissect and analyse a work of fiction.  Trying to find the meaning or message in it.

English Language: Categorising and applying laws to the method of spoken and written communication.  So that if a child writes 'sed' instead of 'said' it is wrong, even if it works in being able to communicate understandably and effectively.

Biology: Cutting up and dissecting nature - trying to work out HOW it works.

Physics: Trying to explain the laws which govern the physical world, trying to identify the stuff that it's all made out of.

Chemistry: Working out the interactions between the properties of the stuff that it's all made out of.

Maths: Formularising and categorising according to numerical representations and their relationships.

And those are just the basic subjects.  Not forgetting Sociology, Psychology, Politics, Engineering, Domestic Sciences and I.T. (I'm not even going to touch on R.E., otherwise this blog might blow itself up through furious indignation).  And I'm sure I've missed out a whole load of others.

But do you see what they're all doing?  Even labelling themselves as distinct disciplines is sub-dividing the world into lots of different subjects or areas.

And all of these subjects is concerned with sub-dividing and labelling.  Taking an aspect of the world or reality and analysing it and breaking it down, until it's just a concept.

And we wonder why children need to spend so much time in school - it takes years to teach a child how to apply false labels and distinctions onto reality.  How to map, and apply rules and laws, and properties and formulas, and relationships, and ... for what?  To try to understand something that never stays the same in any way.  As though it CAN be understood. 

And ironically, that's the last thing we tell the young ones.  That it is always changing and so it can never be absolutely understood.  If we taught them this from the outset and then said, "but you're going to spend the next 11 to 16 years pretending that it can be. Treat it as fun, as a diversion, as something to do and remember that there are no rights or wrongs, because the perceived wisdom of today is the debunked theory of tomorrow.", they might just be able to have fun with it and realise that it's not a serious endeavour at all.

But, unfortunately, it's taken very seriously by the education system (and how's that for a distinction and label in itself!) and children have it impressed on them with the full force of this system that they have to be able to understand all the distinctions, labels and categories in the ways that they are presented to them and then to be able to make up more of these distinctions of their own and apply all these distinctions so that they can earn money.

I feel exhausted just thinking about it.


I don't know what an alternative would look like, but there has to be something that doesn't divide quite so... divisively.

Any educators out there got any ideas?

1 comment:

  1. I do, but it is just an idea.

    What do we do here like you know, in life? We do care about stuff. Different things. Someone cares about intelectuall understanding and someone cares about artistic expression. Someone cares mostly about keeping the accounting books, naming places and animals in orderly manner. We all care about taking this and transforming our care into a good work of any kind. Because we all care about other people.
    A book, scientific theory or a door or a company making soap, rock band, everything is done with some value in mind we care about and only than it is done well. Only if we care about something real and not the self image.

    Now, if you care, you naturally choose from reality some only stuff that is relevant. And you are able to talk about this stuff in a way that inspires people who share your values, who are able to care about similar things.

    So the answer how to teach well is strikingly simple in my opinion, but impossible to realize in practice.
    People who give a fuck about what they talk about should teach and people who do not care should stay silent.

    Dividing reality into smaller unities is usefull, but for every purpose, the division will be different. For a woodcrafter a wood is thousand things, for a mapmaker a plant is just a green colour on a paper.

    But surelly our extensive knowledge has to be usefull for, well intelectualls, people who have a voice that should have a weight, right?
    No. A man that will get a voice that will be listened to should have just one thing. A spine. And care about one thing only. Justice.

    You can not educate such man, probably. It takes much more than school to create an expert of this sort.

    Now, this is a nice theory and all, but what about the real children spending sunny days in school?

    I feel exhausted just thinking about it too.

    I do not think the system will ever change. I do not think we should ever stop being pissed of by it or thinking about how to change it.

    But I do not think the problem is that the system is hurting people, the problem is the system is breaking them.
    It shows children that rules are stupid, but still must be followed, so keep your head down, shut up and care only about your profit and safety.

    The problem is not the dividing. The problem is, that people who are in education feel that it should be improved, but because they do not really care about the topics they teach about that much, they do not choose the important and let go of the less important, rather they try to improve by adding more of the same, as always people do if they have to improve something they do not care about.