The Modernity Mindset – Part 2: Schooling

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.

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2 thoughts on “The Modernity Mindset – Part 2: Schooling

  1. Dear meta-nomad, first time poster here. First, I want to say that I really like the content of your blog as I am also a person who thinks outside the norm (while ironically living like a normie working a job, being married and having a child, the only thing missing is a house).
    Basically, I agree with most of your points, but I am somehow ambivalent about the school system. It has a lot of flaws, but I also think that it is the perfect molding institution for obedient workers that are needed in an industrial society. So, you say that it works as intended.
    Let´s go through your arguments. I agree that the schooling system has a large influence on your formative years since much of this time is spend in school. From my point of view, the influence of the parents is greatly diminished by this system and I think that this is on purpose as parents could have dissident thoughts based on their live experience while the teachers are most of the time in alignment with state opinion. I can only speak for Germany, but I see a tendency that children are given into the custody of the state schooling system earlier and earlier. I have a lot of friends with children which are given away for most of the day when they become one year old. From then on, the children will be indoctrinated by the state systems until they graduate from school or you could also argue that this process proceeds at the university or what else you are doing after graduating from school. After going through this process successfully, you are suitable to become either a corporate or state drone.
    On the other hand, I do not think that your character formation is completed after you graduated. A lot of the thoughts that I have nowadays were not part of my character when I left school. I think that all your experiences influence your character. You could argue that your formative years have a huge impact but at least I was not standing still developing my character afterwards.
    I also agree with your differentiation of schooling and education. Education seems to be the universal solution for all problems related to “underdeveloped” countries and “useless” people in your own society. The quality of the education is never in question, just put more money in it and everything works out fine.
    When I went to school, I often asked myself why I need to learn all this stuff. Most of the time, the only reason was to have good grades on your graduation certificate. I mean, the basic stuff like learning how to read, write and do basic calculations are useful for most of the population but anything beyond that is, and maybe should be, optional. In addition, the quality of the school system was already abysmal, when I attended school between 1987 and 2000. I do not remember primary school very well, but I remember high school (Gymnasium in German). The only school subject that I really enjoyed was Sports because you did not have to sit on a chair for a few hours. All other school subjects most of the time just sucked and this had a lot to do with the teachers. The teachers were more or less completely awful. Most of them made the impression on you that they were just counting the days until they can retire. You also did not have any male role models in school, as the male teachers were in even worse shape than the female teachers. In retrospect, they either appeared to be insane (one of my teachers even spent time in a madhouse), alcoholics or suckers. The female teachers had the “advantage” that they were just normal, which means boring. Maybe this soul killing institution was also taking it´s toll on the teachers.
    In the senior classes, I became completely delusional with the system. I was not very good in advanced math due to having a very bad teacher during most of my high school. Therefore, I was in the loser course in math in the senior class. In every second written exam, the grades had to be corrected due to the fact, that the exam result was too bad to be accepted by the school. This means that the requirements to get a good grade were lowered that the results of the exam would look better on paper. I thought “Why am I doing this if it does not matter at all?”. This even happened in University when I thought that I have finally escaped the system. Unfortunately, it just proceeded on the next level with all the same nonsense. Everything was dumbed down that even the least able person could go through the whole process and still one third of all students quit their studies. I have seen people graduate as a PhD in Biology that were so stupid that the degree seemed to be completely worthless. I have achieved mine with MINIMAL effort. Maybe that is the reason that corporations are looking for more practical skills as they know that the education system is full of shit as we got a lot of academics that are not needed.
    I also remember that the History courses manly consisted of the time period from 1933-1945, the German trauma, with a special focus on the atrocities committed by the Germans. Nothing else mattered. So, in addition to becoming an obedient worker drone, you were also indoctrinated to be ashamed of your ancestors and in extension of your own existence (see the German term “Erbschuld”). I do not want to defend what happened in this time period but that is not a way to inspire confidence in the pupils. Also, if you get the same stuff hammered into your head repeatedly, you could also develop a tendency to oppose this stuff just because this endless repetition just annoys you so much.
    Just one last thought about credentials. I think that credentials are somehow needed since we live in such a complex and anonymous society. If you have a job offering for a very specific position, you somehow must filter the applicants because there are often so many and you do not know them beforehand (as you maybe would have done in a more personal environment). For the PhD position of my wife, there were over 100 applicants. How can you get to know them all so well, that you can assess which one of them would fit the best? You must filter the applicants in some way. So, you look if they got an education that somehow fits your requirements. I agree that this does not work perfectly as applications could be lost in the process that would be more fitting but I think that there will be a rethinking process with the job providers to put more focus on what was done outside the standard because of their knowledge that the education system sucks.
    As you see, I could rant endlessly about the industrial schooling system but currently I am not seeing an alternative to this system. An increase in quality would be my emergency fix. Otherwise, it will become totally useless and break down soon.

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