Education? What’s that?

We had some riots here in the UK last summer. Any individual in any country in the world who was not aware of that must have been down a hole in the ground. People set fire to buildings, threw things at the police, looted shops and scuttled off home with everything from jewellery and mobile phones to fridges and washing machines. The iron hand of the law (!) descended on the miscreants, half of whom it now turns out were between ten and twenty years old. The rest is a familiar tale – they were also more likely than other children to be living in poverty, to be suffering from a learning disability or difficulty, to be regularly excluded from school and therefore lacking education.

There’s a lot of talk about education today. It’s become a popular toy for governments to play with. They tweak it, remould it, bend it, upend it, turn it inside-out and do just about anything with it they think will help make their party’s mark on history and, at the same time, so ingratiate themselves with the electorate that the latter will put them back into office at the next election. What they fail to do, unfortunately, is to think with any vision about it – what education is, what its function should be in a world which is changing faster than any of them seems to comprehend.

Our present-day education system is woefully out of date. It is still basically a system by which the population can be groomed for employment – which may be OK up to a point, provided there’s any employment for them once they’re educated – of which today there is no guarantee. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, people flocked from their isolated, poverty-stricken rural villages into the new, burgeoning manufacturing towns in the hope of a better life for themselves and for their families. It was to the advantage of their employers that these people had some basic numeracy and literacy. Hence, they were to be ‘educated’. And this, along with a number of largely superficial and pre-digested disciplines which have been added over the years is what is still thought of as ‘education’ in our society today.

The word ‘education’ comes from the Latin – ‘educere’ – to lead out, draw out. In other words, the original meaning and function of education was not to impose anything from without, but to discover then nurture that which is inherent in the individual. It is the failure to recognize and act on this which is at the root of so many of Western society’s current problems. I quote below another meditation from the book I am preparing –

Blocked entrance in wall

Few of us are educated in the true meaning of the word. Nor do we truly educate our children. If we would do that we would be concerned not only to teach them the essential skills of literacy and numeracy but to draw out from them and encourage to flower in this world that which is in each of them by nature. That way, they and society would grow toward wholeness and balance. Each and every one of us, of whatever social class, estate or degree, has his or her contribution to make. For even the meanest and the least gifted is an essential element in this universe.

As it is, we pay scant regard to their inner selves, imposing on them from without a system of essentially short-term, superficial and pre-digested disciplines whose primary purpose is to prepare them for future employment and the illusion of ‘security’. Thus confined to the shallows and distanced from their own hearts they grow out of true, and the society of which they will all too soon form the fabric continues along its ailing, confused and often destructive path.

And as we do to them, so it was done to us. Do we wonder there is resentment and disillusionment among the young?

About besonian

Writer, photographer, film director
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