The high cost of education is on every tongue today. Our good friend Alex just published a piece on Salon on mounting student debt and how that is being taken up by Occupy.
But the skyrocketing cost of college and the government-protected private finance racket that goes along with it are only the most recent illustration of the education conundrum in America. What is the purpose of public education, after all? Is it for the benefit of society that all citizens receive some kind of education/training/knowledge transfer? We take this for granted, and decry the fact that it now costs as much to attend Berkeley – nominally a public university – as it does Princeton (as cited by Alex, above).
But actually the people who conceived of mandatory public education for all citizens did not envision it as being for the greater benefit of all society, but mainly to benefit themselves, as the owners of the country. Though they cloaked their public pronouncements in grand rhetoric, they were quite open about their intentions in private correspondence. Schools were to be indoctrination grounds, where independent-minded farm children would be hammered into shape for industrial society, their minds melded with the official history of the conquerors, their spirits broken and their will bent to the purpose of subordination. In short, they would be taught to submit.
School bells mirror factory whistles. Time is cut into specific segments for specific purposes. Dress codes and social norms are enforced. And always is the structure of authority drilled into the young head: obey, or be punished. This system was not easily introduced. In fact it led to armed conflict, I believe, in Massachusetts, where people were not willing to have their children be subjected to this treatment.
Today the model is hardly changed. Only now we pay for the privilege. Home-schooling, while available, is difficult for families who must work (not to mention its being ridiculed by many). College is a necessity (or is it?), and more expensive than ever. At what point will people start making the conscious decision to skip college because it is not a good deal for their chosen path? How much are young people infantilized today by this system (for example, 12 year olds were captaining ships in the Revolutionary War – are 15, 16, 17 year olds really so different from 19 and 20 year olds, in terms of having an adult mind?) Have we “kept our children young” by not giving them responsibility, thinking they can’t handle it? Wouldn’t we be better off trusting them?
In terms of how school should work, I’d like to cover different models of “school” – what it could be. It really only requires about 100 hours of instruction to learn how to read and write. Probably another 100 for basic math. What is it that we need to teach our children after that – isn’t it mostly about how to solve problems, how to work with others, how to think creatively and independently? This is not what school teaches them – it teaches them the test, it teaches them the ends justify the means (look at the myriad cheating scandals), it teaches them to copy others and be safe in the group. It teaches them to only interact with people of their own age (virtually all schools are age-segregated – isn’t that kind of weird?) and so keeps them in a perpetual agelessness – everyone around them is the same age, so they have no concept of past and present, they have no models to emulate in terms of growing up, maturity – even to see younger people teaches you that they are different, that you have grown past them, etc…
There is a wealth of material to get into and a lot of directions to take it. Please join us at DOC Wine Bar on Wed. May 30 at 8:30pm. We’ll be in the back.