by Laura Potts
Forget statistics, results and score tables – how much does the modern school system genuinely guide young minds toward a progressive and fulfilling future?
John Dewey, often called the father of modern western education, argued that raising children as obedient conformists, rather than individuals who think for themselves, is very dangerous for democratic society. In recent decades, generations of people have been brought up at a midpoint between these two extremes, raised to conform to individualism. This has provided support for dangerous social, environmental and political power structures which do not provide for the vital collectivist needs of our ever-more-globalised world.
Many factors contribute to the worrying nature of modern education. The government’s control over what will be taught, when, and with what level of emphasis is a key influence over education. The position and ideology of modern government is in turn massively influenced by corporate interests, with a strong focus on increasing economic production over all else. Teachers and school managers, raised under the same paradigm, often reinforce this focus. It is no surprise therefore that young minds are encouraged to value ‘productive’ employment over the possibility of reducing suffering in the present or safeguarding the future for the next generation. This is a ludicrous imbalance of priorities.
This has been particularly damaging to creative education. Many creative jobs or artistic futures are ridiculed by the education system. I myself have been endlessly told that maths or science should be valued more than my art. This perspective ignores how, more than anything else, the creative thought process developed through artistic creativity has driven me to educate myself about the current state of our planet. As John Gatto pointed out, “the school institution ‘schools’ very well, but it does not ‘educate’”. True education is helping people to become ‘self-teachers’. Try as we might to teach pupils things that are abstract and uninteresting to them, “only self-teaching has any lasting value”.
In this new era of environmental (and therefore social and economic) crisis, our world desperately needs new creative ideas to flourish. In the words of Naomi Klein, the actions needed “directly challenge our reigning economic paradigm … the stories on which western cultures are founded [and] many of the activities that form our identities”. Only through creativity can we adopt the unorthodox approach required. In our current trend of anti-creative education, we may not even be able to conceive of alternatives to the damaging structures of our society. Mark Fisher pointed out that “The widespread sense is that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it”. As long as schools focus on teaching obedience and conformity to individualist economics, we are only continuing to feed capitalist corporate and government agendas.
Only through creativity can we adopt the unorthodox approach required
The modern western education system “effectively cuts you off from the immense diversity of life and the synergy of variety. It cuts you off from your own past and future” (Gatto). Each new generation is oppressed by the past because it is denied the tools to imagine itself a new future. Every one of us is denied the opportunity to grow, develop and be creative.
Now more than ever, change is needed to kickstart a new age of progressive, conscious thought. Where better to start than with education?
Featured image via Somerset County YMCA