‘We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control…’
These are lyrics of the famous song from Pink Floyd’s epic album ‘The Wall’ released in the 70s. In the song whenever the presumably disgruntled school children would sing the above line, in solidarity, I would eagerly jump in and chime along. I must have been no more than 14 years old when I first heard the immensely popular number. I also remember one school concert at which that song was performed by the school band and the principal took to the stage.
The principal’s participation was quite gutsy, but it took me several more years to understand why. You see delving a bit more into the lyrics and watching the video, I learned that the song was actually a musical protest in which the band was pushing for societal reform in the schooling system.
It was antagonistic towards rigid schooling which was prevalent in the West at the time. The deromanticising of schooling was made all the more potent by reference to tyrannical teachers and pedantic pedagogy, and as such the song should have been an apparent reminder to educationists around the world.
That song, perhaps an anthem, is as relevant now as it was back then. The rigid education and schooling which can be likened to ‘Another brick in the wall’ has likely taken us further away from Edutopia — an educational utopia.
I don’t know if Edutopia is an accepted term and whether or not it can be found in the Oxford or Webster’s dictionaries. If not then it should achieve officialdom because it can be a good destination to keep in mind, although in the current era of global everything, I think we are far from any Edutopia.
Perhaps what we need to do first is distinguish between schooling and education — the two, although interrelated, are not always causally associated. If I consider education to be a process in which every moment of my life is spent learning, then I expect much more of schooling, with it’s currently an inherent focus on memorising trivia, standardised testing and report cards. Conventional wisdom suggests that children can only learn adequately when ‘schooled’. This ‘wisdom’ is itself generated by schools and is consequently biased.
Another unquestioned dogma has been that most learning in children is a product of teaching in schools. Yet, there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary: Children can and do learn to function autonomously outside of school. Many educational research studies have indicated that the best kind of learning is experiential such as trial and error in our daily lives can make us much more adept in society. Thus, entirely depending on a school for a child’s learning is likely an inadequate approach.
Another reason why I think real Edutopia will take its own sweet time is that universal public education, like universal healthcare, although a noble goal is not necessarily the most practical nor sustainable. In search for providing evidence for this, I was pleasantly surprised when I came across shared sentiment in a boldly provocative book by Ivan Illich called ‘Deschooling Society’.
Illich (1926-2002) an Austrian by birth, who obtained formal training in philosophy and theology, was a keen observer and critic of contemporary Western institutions and how those impacted the practice of education, medicine, economic development, etc. worldwide.
Per his radical critical discourse, any attempts at universal schooling by developing alternative curricula, using technology inside or outside of school, and so on, would only lead us further away from that attempted universality. Even if poor children attended equivalent schools and began at the same age, Illich argued, they would lack most of the educational opportunities that were routinely available to the middle- or upper class children.
Video: Scary School Nightmare - [Words by Ivan Illich, author of Deschooling Society.]
The advantages lacking in the case of the poor child included conversation, books, vacation travel, and so on. This would impede the poor child’s progress given that all she depended on was the school for learning and progression in life. Illich presented a cogent argument that there will be total failure to improve education of the poor despite more monetary allocation. The poor already being disadvantaged, as alluded to above, would be even more so, when schooled in the same domain as universal public education.
Thus Illich’s conclusion was that all important societal issues such as education and health needed to be re-evaluated, and thus society as a whole, needed ‘deschooling’.
I am certainly not suggesting that we do away with schooling because that would make me a social pariah. Additionally, what would I do with my kids if they were not in school? Home schooling won’t work because I am not a proponent of it nor can my wife and I find the time for it given our full-time employment outside of home.
Perhaps then a different approach to schooling is needed, but no matter what that may be, if I feel that I might be pushing my kids too much, and thus nudging them towards an unhappy adolescence or young adulthood, then its best that I reassess and revise my strategy. The same goes for when I don’t push my kids enough and that runs the risk of not helping them realise their full potential. In either situation, I think the pushing or pulling will be determined by my child — just enough will be declared when my child has achieved a happy medium, equilibrium perhaps — and recognising that should be intrinsic to my parenting.
We are at a crossroads. We can move towards a redefinition of learning that encompasses the individual’s lifetime, only if we choose to do so. The objectives of schooling will thus have to be aligned with the redefined objectives of learning.
I would like to think that my view point is not only contemporary but also a need of the day. All children in our community will benefit from such an approach that encourages an education with a purpose. This might get us closer to Edutopia, a place where all have been schooled in an egalitarian manner.