I’ve written about education and what it is ‘to learn’ a lot lately, I believe – like many others – that what happens to you, or is forced upon you, in your early days is largely the lens through which you’re going to view the rest of your life. It seems like a very bleak state of affairs for mankind, that once something is taught, consciously or unconsciously, from a young age, there’s no going back. There are genetic and heritable factors of course, but it seems to me that the apparatus I’ll be talking about is primarily placed on top of these. That is, the educational apparatus seeks to root-out any anomaly which doesn’t neatly fit into its system of control. Once again, as I like to make clear, I’m not writing of anything new here, and it seems that no one ever really can write anything new, everything happens again and again, over and over, cyclically throughout time.
When you’re young, once you begin to meet your friend’s parents everything begins to fall into place. The alternative kid has ex-hippie parents, the straight-A student has conservative parents etc. Life isn’t all that full of surprises when it comes to things like this, and I’m not sure entire fields of scientists are needed to prove that this is the reality we live in. If you can’t literally notice that most traits are being inherited, I’m not really sure where you’re looking. However, those things are unavoidable and so utterly personal that very little outside of personal work will ever help you with them.
This piece is called ‘schooling’ because in its definition schooling is far different to education. When we think of education, nowadays we think of getting an education. Learning various lessons which culminate in an understanding of the subject to the point where one can either teach it or utilize it. To get an education as an engineer is to be eventually be able effectively engineer things so that they work and don’t break. To get an education in woodwork is to be able to create doors and windows etc. To get an education in philosophy is to eventually be able to teach philosophy or…become a podcaster. Anyway, the point is, as Ivan Illich immediately points out in Deschooling Society, that education systems have made process and substance synonymous. The process of learning (schooling) has culturally become to be understood as the knowledge gained from learning itself. As if, just because someone goes to school or gets schooled that would make them smart/learned, I think we can all agree this isn’t the case, in fact, the very opposite is true.
The problem is of course that schooling contains so much other baggage that isn’t related to knowledge it’s actually difficult to find where the actual knowledge resides. Most non-specific office-monkey jobs could be understood in an hour or so and refined just by doing the job. Most education that happens both inside and outside of traditional ‘schools’ is primarily to make that workplace look serious. No company wants to admit that anyone can do their job, a long process of ‘learning’ is an illusory form of legitimization and makes anywhere that does it look serious, at least by a social standards. The same applies to various credentials companies and schools acquire, we have X, Y and Z award for outstanding achievement in A, B or C. Usually all these awards amount to is the company or school getting a high percentage of ‘high grades’ within a certain year, basically a massive bureaucratic circle-jerk. A school/company abides by the socially created system of credentials, they attain high marks within that system and by doing so get a further credential, and on and on it goes. I’d like to note, that I’m not entirely against some form of ‘credential’ for say a medical doctor (MD) or surgeon etc. But when you actually look at the system of credentials for an MD, it differs from the usual one. MDs can’t achieve firsts, seconds or thirds etc. They either get honours or no honours, and when you look at this for a couple of seconds, you realise a distinct way you can begin to see actual knowledge. When there’s trust involved. MDs can’t get a wide array of worse-better credentials because no one wants to go see a ‘bad’ MD, you’re either capable of being an MD or you’re not. That’s a minor digression, but it’s important to make clear that the age-old reality of why knowledge is deemed important still stands. Is this person ‘knowledgeable’ is another way of saying ‘Can I trust this person within area/genre X?’ Credentials sought to replace this notion of trust with a system of marking, if person A had grade Y then they can be trusted, it’s proof that they have enough knowledge to do what’s needed of them without too much hand-holding.
Schooling overstepped its bounds and now it’s arguably not until after all traditional forms of education are finished that you begin to learn something of practical use. The irony is of course is that most practical jobs are reverting – whether consciously or not – back to a system of practice over courses – How long have you actually been doing this? As opposed to, how long have you been studying this? – Within this is the root of the contemporary schooling problem, why is this reversion taking place? Well, it’s because employers, tradesmen, programmers, institutions (which are serious about themselves) all understand that schooling doesn’t teach the subject itself, it only uses the teaching of the subject to impart its own beliefs, etiquettes and aims. If you ask the average person (in the West) what they learnt from school they would probably draw a blank. Nothing clear comes to mind, there was some stuff about simultaneous equations, and point-evidence-explain, I vaguely remember something about mitochondria, but the problem was that there was no use for this information. One’s education from the years of 5-16 is the equivalent of an 11 year general knowledge course, one which is so lacking in coherence that you never really find your feet.
The question then is, well what the hell was school teaching me? How was I being schooled? It’s something I’ve mentioned in interviews before and written of on occasion, but when you really think about what school taught you, what school taught you is bad and what is good, what was an ok way to be…things start to look quite bleak. The example I tend to give is ‘sitting’. That’s right, school taught you that it’s good to sit and listen. But not just sit and listen, but sit for 6 hours at a young age under horrendous fluorescent lighting, within beige walls, and listen to someone usually uninspiring drone on and on about something that has – and will never have – any effect on your life. School utilizes the grand idea that you’re being taught knowledge to enforce a form of social etiquette on you from a young age. You’re taught that when someone with lots of credentials stands in front of you and gives a speech, you sit, listen and don’t make a sound until explicitly asked to. Doesn’t exactly sound like the non-prison we were told school was. Lunchtime is at…lunchtime, that is when you’re hungry and that is when you have to eat. You’re taught that proof of knowledge is in relation to grades and not practical application, you’re taught to keep in-line, form a presentation of yourself contrary to your actual self, repress all vitalist desires to run around, build and create etc.
But the most heinous lesson – and arguably one which may now actually be true – you’re taught is that the only way to achieve anything in life is via some third-party system. Don’t go it alone, you need a support structure, you need backing, you need an institution, company or grant, you need to implement yourself within a system of credentials, otherwise how will anyone ever know that you’re serious, that you really know your stuff? Well the answer to that is easy, someone who knows what they’re on about can prove it by creating something that people want/need and that works very well. The reason this lesson might now actually be true is because society in general has made it extremely difficult to get taken seriously within any field off experience alone, even if you were to show a working-model X to a company that needs working-model X, I’d imagine they’d still be hesitant to take you on-board, because without credentials, well, why would anyone take you seriously? Found within this reluctance to take someone on who doesn’t have the credentials is the implicit aims of schooling. Companies and institutions etc. aren’t reluctant to take on someone without credentials because they think their work won’t be good, no. They’re reluctant to do so because inherent within credentials is the proof that you’ve been pushed through the system and come out the other side, you must have obeyed and accepted a lot to get here, which means you’ll do it again. The higher the credential, the higher the sunk cost, the higher the complacency. When you hire someone who is jam packed with awards and grades etc. you’re not just (potentially) hiring someone knowledgeable, but more importantly, you’re hiring someone who is ready and willing to be moulded.