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Wake up! Why our education system isn’t working

April 4, 2012

In my work, I talk a lot about ‘waking up’ and in this post I’m going to discuss how we end up becoming one of the ‘asleeple’  in the first place. Because the fact is, we’re not born ‘asleep’ – it’s a lifelong process of ‘training’ also known as ‘socialisation’, beginning as soon as we’re able to reasonably function in ‘civilised’ society. All young children are intellectually free and emotionally alive. But in our so-called developed world, it’s impossible to be an adult and retain the creativity and spontaneity of a three year old without being labelled mad or personality disordered – unless you’re employed as an artist of some kind. In fact, these childlike attributes are the cornerstone of mental well-being but instead, as soon as you can walk, talk and adequately use a toilet, these traits are beaten out of you and you’re indoctrinated into becoming a useful tool in our economic system.

‘Education’ is not really about teaching the things that you really need and want to know. What you’re learning is the stuff that the people who control everything ie the people with the most money, want you to know. These big business people who control our economy need a few highly educated people to do the brain work and a larger number of less well-educated people to do the grunt work. Therefore the system is geared towards churning out these two types, rather than catering for each person’s individual needs.

Look up ‘school’ in the dictionary and the definition will inevitably begin with the word ‘institution’. And this is exactly what school is – an institution, much like a prison or a children’s home, governed by a strict set of rules. (Whenever I refer to my school years, I talk about having ‘done my time’ because this is exactly how it felt – forced to attend the same place, day in, day out, and resigned to suffering bullying and boredom for years on end.) The rules are designed to make life simpler for the authorities by imposing their ideas of conformity on you – stand in line, no talking, short hair and other dress codes – and to teach you to unquestioningly obey authority. Teachers are given a lot of power over you and you are taught to obey them and all your ‘elders and betters’. The word ‘respect’ is used a lot – the teachers are apparently teaching you ‘respect’ rather than ‘obedience’ – but how can you truly respect someone who is showing little or no respect for you?

The problem with most teachers of course is that they too are ‘asleep’. Being asleep, they believe in the idea that everything is separate and have long since lost touch with their real selves. The focus is on competition – who is the best, who’s getting the highest grades – and the belief that true worth consists of being better and having more than the separate ‘other’. Consequently, children lose their intrinsic sense of the universal and their community values and learn instead to play the game of differentiation and dissociation, the punishment for refusing to play being abandonment and rejection. Their true self recedes into the shadow where it goes to sleep, often for the rest of their lives, and is replaced by a false self, developed to fit in with what others need you to be, but leaving you with a feeling of disconnection and dissatisfaction which can only be temporarily assuaged by external trappings, rewards for playing the game.

In school, these trappings take the form of grades and exams. Grades are used as a bribe to get you to do the things you don’t want to do – you work for the good grades and not because you’re interested in what you’re doing. Grades become an end in themselves, much like money in the outside world. The people with the best grades (or the most money) are perceived as the best people, regardless of the methods used to gain them and what they’re really like as people. In a similar fashion, exams don’t show how creative or intelligent you actually are – all they demonstrate is who is good at exams ie capable of trotting out parrot-fashion the information which has been drilled into them. During my time at school, I did many exams and received good grades in them all – and cannot remember a single thing that I supposedly ‘learned’.

And then of course, there is the ‘lower hierarchy’ – the one which develops amongst the pupils themselves. Here the trappings are social and psychological and the winners of this game are the ones who have learned to play the other game – the game of differentiation – the best. The children who have the least empathy – who are therefore more ‘separate’ – are the ones who will race to the top of this particular hierarchy. The less you care – or appear to care – about others, the more popular you will be. And the more you conform to the standards our society ascribes to be the best – for example, the more glamorous you are as a girl or the more sporty you are as a boy – the better your chances of being perceived as ‘popular’. Anyone who fails to play the game properly by being ‘too sensitive’ or ‘too different’ must be prepared to suffer the consequences. I am never surprised when I hear of yet another high school shooting. Doug Stanhope summed this up best in one of his stand-up routines:

“High school is horrible. I quit in ninth grade and it was the best thing I ever did. After every school shooting, parents come on television and say: `Rap music is the problem. And drugs. And the lack of metal detectors.’ No. The problem is that a lot of your kids are aggressive dicks and you won’t do shit about it. That’s the problem. You never hear these parents say: `It’s terrible that Andy Williams shot up Santana High School, but I accept it was also our boy Ethan’s fault, because he was a sadistic prick to that kid. Tell that to the cameras, Ethan. Tell them how you pulled Andy’s pants down, then pushed his head down the toilet.’ I never hear that on the news.
Williams was this frail little kid who was bullied, and shot up his school. George W Bush came on the news and called it `the ultimate act of cowardice’. “Cowardice? The ultimate act of cowardice is the fat-headed wrestling guy sitting behind the frail kid in math class, clipping him on the ear, saying: `What are you going to do about that, faggot?’ That is cowardice. When the bullets start flying past that jock’s saucer-shaped ears, that’s not cowardice. That’s payback.”

Ok, so I’m certainly not advocating that every bullied kid should get out there and start shooting the place up. But why are we so shocked when every once in a while someone is pushed over the edge because we’ve brought up our children to believe in differentiation and worship those who conform to our society’s idea of ‘the best’ whilst demeaning and rejecting those who don’t? When the people at the top of these man-made pyramids of power show little respect for those at the bottom, why are they so horrified when the people at the bottom show little respect for them? (You can read more on this in this blog post about last year’s riots in the UK here: https://empathicguidance.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/london-riots-remember-this/)

Home-schooling is on the increase, as is a form of education called ‘unschooling’ where the child’s natural interests are followed and developed. Unlike the school system, these forms of education consider the needs of the individual child, rather than just teaching them what the authorities feel you need to know to join the ‘asleeple’. School is simply a mirror image of our society, a society built on economic power, and a society which is founded on the idea that people exist for the sake of big business, not the other way round. The majority of changes which have taken place in this system are geared towards the people who have the power keeping that power. A recent example of this is the introduction of student loans. By taking on one of these loans, you’re effectively shackling yourself to the economic system before you’ve even dipped a toe into the waters of employment. Interesting, isn’t it, that these loans were introduced round about the same time that property prices zoomed into the stratosphere, making it increasingly difficult for people to be shackled to the system by a mortgage? The powers-that-be will always find a way to get you stuck in that dead-end job, the one that fills their coffers whilst simultaneously depleting yours, with no visible means of escape. Interesting, too, that this system was introduced after the people currently in power had already taken advantage of the ‘free higher education for all’ offered pre-1991.

The majority of degrees these days are not even worth the paper they’re printed on. A degree requires little more than a good memory and an ability to assimilate the academic orthodoxy of the day, which is why employers favour graduates, regardless of the field of study. As you’ve already proved yourself to be biddable and unquestioning, as far as employers are concerned, you’re ideal corporate material. And don’t assume that you’ll be financially rewarded either – graduates now earn only £140,000 more over their lifetime than non-graduates, instead of the £400,000 previously. They also pay back thousands more in tax than their degree will have cost. Furthermore, the higher the education, the cheaper the ‘citizen’ is to the government in terms of benefits (less chance of unemployment) and NHS costs (less illness). Increased levels of student debt, thanks to introduction of  exorbitant fees, also encourage graduates to go for the highest paid available job, rather than going into further study, volunteering or jobs that aren’t necessarily so well remunerated, meaning once again the economic system is the ultimate beneficiary. This introduction of market forces into higher education also results in the selection criteria of universities being based on a student’s bank balance not academic ability. Thanks to the creation of a two-tier education system, the gulf between the haves and the have-nots is widening more and more each day.

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5 comments

  1. I’ve shared the link to this post with my facebook page, there are a lot of future teachers and current educators who might be interested. I think when you do the next post I’ll actually send the link to our faculty listserv — our education program is huge, my university produces a lot of K-12 teachers.

    I’m torn though. I agree with much of what you say and in fact bring similar attitudes to my own teaching. Education should be about liberation, not programming conformity. Problem solving with students is better than talking at students.

    I find the homeschooling issue a bit problematic. Better are some of the alternative schools. I think schools provide a sense of community, and give kids a chance to interact with peers. Sometimes homeschooling increases isolation – I worry that some families do that to try to control kids. But even good schools (and my kids go to a very good school with good teachers) have the problems you list – and often good teachers complain about being forced to teach to state standards upon which funding depends, when they’d prefer to have a more creative approach.


  2. Thanks for the comment, Scott, and thanks for sharing the link too. I did wonder what you would make of this post, being in education yourself – I had a feeling you would agree in view of what I’ve read on your blog.
    As far as homeschooling goes – whilst there will always be people who abuse any system, I know people who home educate and have wonderful, well-adjusted and well-rounded children as a result. There are some great ‘home-ed’ networks out there in most of our towns and cities so the children are not at all isolated, and in fact, probably socialise in a much healthier way than children who are packed into a school of 1500 pupils, where there’s no time for positive interaction with teachers and bullying (often of a covert nature) is rife. My daughter is an extremely bright HSP who is currently studying for GCSEs and I really wish I had the resources to homeschool – her stress levels are really rocketing from having to deal with being in an overwhelming environment and from desperately trying to achieve top grades in subjects she isn’t even interested in. The pressure on pupils to excel academically is enormous and far outweighs anything I say to her about how it really isn’t as important as it’s made out to be. And this school is one of the ‘good’ ones!
    I’ll be working on the follow-up post today so will hopefully be posting that soon – thanks again for your interest, Scott, and for the feedback. Always great to hear from you 🙂


  3. I definitely see your point. My eldest son is in the third grade and has had problems because his personality is not suited for the kind of regime an institution of 400 kids has. The school has been flexible and staff there have worked with him and me so that its not been the really negative experience it could be. The teacher did tell me once that he’s so smart that she feels bad for not challenging him more academically. I told her not to worry about that — he’s learning and exploring, there’s no need to push him. Why add stress to a third grader? He’s curious and loves to learn, so I work with him on that. We do a lot of supplemental learning in a fun way!


  4. A colleague of mine uses resources from this organization “Rethinking Schools” http://www.rethinkingschools.org/index.shtml

    I think they’ve got some solid ideas.


  5. […] obrázků: empathicguidance.wordpress.com en.wikipedia.org […]



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