Is the schooling system the way forward for our children?

Pupils sitting their A Level exams

Do you want to dumb down your children? Try sending them to school writes Zafer Iqbal.

The suggestion is in fact a serious one. Why would a parent push their children through a “schooling system” that seeks to produce subservient, compliant workers and voters? This article exposes the hidden curriculum and how it molds children to become cogs in the national and global economy. It is well known that young kids learn more from a Children Story on YouTube than they would in a conformist and neglectful preschool environment. However, the reality is that not partaking in the education system could be detrimental to a child’s progression, not only in education but continuing into later life in their careers. A lack of qualifications could hinder their job choices. If they wanted to pursue a career in accounting, for example, they would need to apply for a college of business in accounting, but may not be able to due to a lack of the relevant qualifications.

National schooling systems emerged in Western Europe in the nineteenth century. Prior to this, in Europe at least, education was provided by the church, instilling in the populace an understanding of the divine, providing a context to their lives, giving it meaning. This function is now dominated by the state providing knowledge, devoid of context and meaning. Controlling mass-education is important for governments – it allows children to be socialised into the logic of the dominant systems.

This was an important consideration in the nineteenth century. The French Revolution had inspired the disenfranchised to demand electoral reforms leading to violent protests, riots and subsequent massacres when the wealthy elites resisted. With the electoral Reform Act of 1867, it was hoped the subsequent Elementary Education Act of 1870 would help the electorate “to vote wisely”. Few parents or children would want to participate in schooling that had political subtexts running through it. Gradual legislation circumvented this problem, starting with obliging children from the ages 5-10 to attend existing schools, slowly increasing the scope of the schooling system.

For the minority opposed to state schooling, home, private or faith based schooling was permitted, ensuring the vast majority were not dissuaded from participating. Schools emerged resembling open prisons more than places of education. Parents can now be prosecuted if they do not send their children to school, the police can force children back if they are found outside school, artificial constructs like “adolescence” diminish pupils’ rights and teacher authority allows correction of recalcitrant adolescents through a plethora of punishments as well as bringing an army of social workers to bear on parents instilling “unorthodox” ideas in their children.

“Oppressive” system

The Brazilian educator and activist, Paolo Freire, observed in his famous “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” that the system is oppressive; teachers are oppressors and children the oppressed. The elites in contrast educate their children through a parallel system, at schools like Eton, Harrow and Winchester. A strong emphasis on the humanities along with rhetoric is important for those who will organise and run a society. It is not surprising then that they continue to dominate the most important roles in society, political, legal and military, the schooling system reproducing these social relations.

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Schools also fulfil important economic functions. Designed in the image and logic of the industrial economies they served, one can’t but help noticing startling parallels – the 9 o’clock factory whistle mirrored by the school bell, the division of labour mirrored by the division of knowledge, the summer factory shutdown mirrored by school summer holidays and conveyor belt manufacturing mirrored by conveyor belt education. Their effect is the stratification of pupils into categories of workers. Pupils are encouraged to pick subjects that focus on a working environment, natural sciences, social sciences and technologies. Mass exam systems efficiently label children as successes or failures – ensuring standardisation and conformity, ignoring different strengths and abilities.

Those who question the system, rebel or refuse to conform emerge with little or no qualifications, becoming economic pariahs. Shop floor workers, or the modern call centre equivalents, are recruited from those who gain basic qualifications after years of punctuality, subservience and obedience. The gatekeepers, the managerial and professional class, are given privilege and status over other workers, as they opted into the logic of the system; those who worked hard, achieved results, liked and believed in the system, and without coercion, continued onto higher education.

The institutional “set up”

Mass education built on production line techniques results in children emerging with little understanding of the subjects they have studied for many years, let alone of the nature of the social world around them, with most disliking education. Surveys regularly show children understanding little, universities bemoaning a dumbing down culture and politicians restricting educational debate to “the raising of standards.”

Longitudinal studies on divergent thinking by the authors of “Breakpoint and Beyond”, important for creativity, found 98% of kindergarten scored at genius levels, with scores significantly decreasing as they progressed through the schooling system. Whilst arguing for educational reform the creativity and educational expert Ken Robinson raises further questions. Why do we group children by age making them proceed in lockstep? Aren’t they different in their abilities and interests at the same ages? Why do we educate children in same class sizes when some learn better in smaller groups or individually? Why are they forced to study the same hours when some learn better at different times of the day? It does not make sense from a pedagogical point of view but does make sense from an economic point of view where inefficiencies are blasphemous.

The industrial revolution required low cost workers with specific skills at the cheapest prices to allow it to maintain its competitive advantage in the world. The literary writer Dorothy Sayers lamented on this state of affairs in her famous essay, “The lost tools of learning”, arguing superficial instrumental content in a smattering of subjects has replaced the genuine education of previous eras leaving pupils ill-prepared for the future and life.

On a darker note, the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre reflected on the effects of schooling, “The European élite undertook to manufacture a native élite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of western culture, they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth. After a short stay in the mother country they were sent home, whitewashed. These walking lies had nothing left to say to their brothers; they only echoed.”

Without a serious rethink of education, its aims and purposes, the question for most parents will remain – do I want to dumb my children down by sending them to school?

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