Being Schooled: What makes schools successful “Obedience Sweatshops”, not learning institutions.
This article explores the true function of schooling within the framework of a society which is shaped by those with the most power and control. Although we are told school is about preparing children for society, we often don’t examine what kind of society they are prepared for. This article looks at “HOW” our children are taught and the impact that has on society as whole.
Over the last two years both my daughters entered primary school .My youngest has just finished her first year and her older sister has just finished her second year. Their attendance and participation in the schooling process has got me thinking a lot. Malta, the country I currently live in has a fairly “traditional” education system. There is a heavy emphasis on academic performance (even at age five) and it seems to lack any of what you call a “progressive perspective” when it comes to how the kids are taught .That said, although there are degrees on the spectrum of where a countries educations system fits and Malta is has all the basic structures and ethos that all state and most private schooling system have throughout the world.
So my kids have begun there at minimum a 12-13 year odyssey of “being schooled.” A journey, at least in Malta that is compulsory. It is a journey in which I hand over their minds and hearts to an institution and its staff that will wield tremendous influence and impact on their lives. The time spent at school may in fact be longer than the time myself and my wife are able to be with them. Given the prolonged stage of dependency children experience, school are in fact mammoth substitute parenting institution, shaping my kids understanding of themselves and the world we live. No other animal hands it children into the care “others” whilst they are still in this stage of “dependence”.
Like many parents, I am fairly picky when it comes to babysitters and who I entrust the care of my children with. I won’t leave my kids in the hands on someone I thought was unstable, weird or incapable of looking after them. Yet here I am passing my kids off to in fact a group of total strangers for the bulk of their developing years, on the just assumed position, that “going to school” is better for them, then it would for them “not to go school”. The assumption that these people, these institutions are better equipped, better educated and more skilled when it comes to teaching my children what they need to know in order prepare and equip them with the skill and education required to live a happy, productive and fulfilling life .
Questions worth asking…
Given the impact, duration and impression schooling will leave on my kids, I think those assumptions are worth examining. This is at heart what this article is about exploring and questioning. What impact will this 13 years have on my girls? What view of themselves and the world will that experience leave them with? What will they actually learn and master? Who decides what subjects they should be taught, at what age and in what manner? To me these are critical and important questions to ask .I know myself I have sent them off, lunch packed with some relief to be free of the intensity of having little kids with you all of the time.( As I’m sure any parent and empathise with.) Yet I have done this really on many unquestioned and unexamined assumptions. Like many of the major institutions that we live in and under in western democracies, such as financial systems, judicially systems, political systems and many others, we participate and we “go along” often without realising we are being forced to do so. We discover this illusion of choice when we suddenly come up against it by questioning it legitimacy. Schooling it appear is no different. So in this article I would like to try explore and question these assumptions and really determine what the net effect of schooling will have on my kids.
Welcome to the real world…
Going to school will be my kids the first real taste of how the “real world” operates and run. Schools do not focus on making kids happy and joyful, despite the mission statement and the good intentions of most teachers. Schools make it very clear they are built in order to prepare us for the workforce and society at large. We are told this is done by providing us with the skills and knowledge that will be required for success within society. Although there are more lofty versions of this, that basic premise is what is underlying how most schools function. Independent of whether we like it or not, schooling is compulsory and all of us must pass through it .There some people that have the privilege , courage and opportunity to home school their kids(in Malta where I live this isn’t allowed). Yet for many parents, even if they have this option, either their working lives doesn’t allow for that or their confidence that will do it better job of it than the schools, give then no alternative choice.
So what is the purpose of being schooled?
To know the real purpose of schools let pose a hypothetical question. If you could set up a system of preparing children for “something” what would that school look like? How would we measure if it has achieved those goals or not? If you insert in the “something” space with the line of “ to give children the knowledge and experience to live a productive, creative and rewarding life” would are current school set up being something that would then flow from that objective? In my opinion if we wanted to match the current system with what it produces, back to its objective, it would be something along the lines of “to ensure obedient and unthinking individual’s who will conform and comply with what those in power want”. I think this would be a more accurate description of the type of objective our schooling really has in mind. This real objective is revealed not in a schools mission statement but just the way the whole organisation is arranged and the way knowledge that is transmitted. So there is a truth in saying schools prepare children for life in society, what is not mention is the kind of society we are being prepared for and the agenda of those who the most power and shape how our current society is set up.
So who calls the shots….
It is easy to see that the rulers of our current culture and society are those with the most money and the control of how that money moves. Wealth it appears, equals power and control. This is a power and control wielded over the citizenry. So to examine what is the objective of schooling is we have to look at what is the objective of this small but powerful segment of the population. In a molding process, what kind young adult would suit and fit their ideals and needs? Are the needs of the powerful and elite aligned with the average person? Is what they want for themselves at our expense or benefit?
When you look around the world it appears one of the fundamental needs of those in power and control, is more power and control. We see throughout most western democracies the level of income inequality rising. The “haves” it appear are “having more” and the “have not’s” are “having less” at a rapidly increasing rate. For the powerful to have more power , its essential that the average citizen has less .Less self-determination, less control over their environment, less real choice and less influence into how our society is run. So we see the priority of the ruling class is to continue and advance themselves, at whatever expense (including making this planet inhabitable) This doesn’t require a shadowy cabal hatching plots to dumb down our kids .Rather it’s a schooling system that is just the logical outcome of social structure that is built to enrich the few and alienate the many .Therefore schools are essential for the success of that agenda and serve as a key construction and foundation for the advancement of that agenda .
Absurdity seems less absurd..
I think if you’re willing to accept that premise that schools are at heart, to serve the interest of the ruling class, then the way things are set up, the actual outcome of schooling makes more sense than less. As how can be it that with so many advancements in technology , in science, in medicine and so on our schools have remained fundamentally the same as they were 150 years ago? A basic “Chalk and Talk” method.The reason as I see it is they served their purpose then , as they are serving their purpose now. Why fix something that’s not broken?
They can’t go back to basics, as they never left….
In part 1 of this article I would like to examine the structure itself ,or the “HOW” of schooling and what it achieves. As it’s in how schools are structured is schools impart and entrain children with the direct and prolonged experience of learning to accept “Doing things what we don’t want to do.” So what inner qualities must schools cultivate to transmit this experience successfully? What you see clearly the what will assist a child most when it comes to doing well in school is…
As what other adjectives would you use to describe the star pupil that…
- Will do what they are told to do
- Doesn’t question authority
- Regurgitates information
These qualities are not natural in children by any means. Obedience isn’t a subject in the curriculum, rather it’s the on-going experience and necessity in order to garish reward and dodge punishment, that’s built into the structure itself and wrapped around how all the knowledge and learning is taught. It’s the fundamental “lesson within the lessons” being hammered in over and over.
Repeat, repeat and keep repeating
The one aspect of the power this process is its repetition and the duration of time that this repetition occurs within. So this process of
- An order or instruction is given.
- The pupil follows that instruction
Be it “Get out you maths homework”, “Spell this word” or “Read this chapter” “Stand up” “Sit down”. The process of telling children what to do, often what is asked to be done is of no interest to the child. This process repeats itself over and over, day in day out, month after months, year after year, entraining children and adolescence into what it is to be obedient. Of course there is natural process teaching any new skill which involves instruction that requires a child to be attentive and then follow these instructions. Yet when this desire to learn comes from a natural curiosity or interest on the child part the relationship between the “teacher” and the “pupil” is very different. If the child is engaged and interested in the subject it is not an order that must obeyed out of fear of punishment but rather a suggestion that is eagerly followed because they want to master what’s being taught. Daily routine of school of made up mainly of the doing of things the children don’t want to do.
The “how” of getting kids to do what they don’t want to do…
Obedience has to be achieved through coercion ,as it is not a natural process, it is imposed state ,condition from the outside in. How else can you get a group of five year old children to sit still in silence , whilst a teacher talks about rules of grammar? As at heart ,schools come up against a drive in children that is contrary to its objectives, a drives that materialises from a child’s natural state. Having a five or six year old daughters, it not hard to see that sitting down still for any long period of time is unnatural and hard going. Then to combine that with taking in information which is boring or beyond their capacity makes it even more so.
Like most kids, what is “natural” can been observed when you see them in unstructured play. When I take my kids to the beach for the day there is no coercion, no orders , not requirement for obedience. There of course some basic rules that ensure their safety but being that they understand the need for these rules, they are happy to comply. So there are some basic parameters I set (no throwing sand in each other’s face ect..) but within that they are free to do as they please. We can get there at 10am and other than a break for lunch, they will be non-stop swimming, building sand castles, collecting shells and just having an awesome time of being the age they are. I can be involved and contribute maybe showing them how to get the seawater to fill the moat, or how to decorate their sandcastles with shells, yet independent of my involvement that are enthralled and give whatever it is they are doing their full attention. As we head home as the sun eventually sets, I have to drag them away ,with promise of we will do this next week. I have similar memories of the beach in my own childhood. Although this isn’t an everyday activity, it illustrates what at that age comes effortlessly. So to begin with child’s natural zest, imagination and unquestioned playfulness is not nurtured and built upon, quite the contrary. For a school to fulfil its standardised benchmarks of achievements it has to supress and deny these drives , day in day out , year in year out.
Going against the natural flow..
So from day one, the first lesson of school is not the ABCs, rather it suppression of natural feelings and drives with obedience and compliance. The ridged and highly structured organisation of schools works to blunt the very exuberant spontaneity and flexible that is such a wonder of being a child. Freedom to explore and uncover, that natural curiosity that comes from all the world feeling “new” is all but crushed under the weight of curriculum, lessons and bodies of information that must be drilled in.
These are anti-human structures but even more so anti-child structures, as they move against and work to subdue what is so natural in children being zest, spontaneity and curiosity. I am not advocating some kind of “Lord of the Flies” infant anarchy , rather frameworks that centres developing what is natural in children and allowing them to learn in a way that fit with how children actually learn. As surely we know more about brain development , learning process and how best to impart knowledge. Yet considering we use the same fundamental structure that we used two hundred years ago you would think not. Are there any newspapers still running on the same printing press they did in 1850?
So to get this kind of mass compliance against children natural drives, the fact school is compulsory isn’t enough. Obedience therefore it’s to be rewarded and being disobedient punished and humiliated. As kids can’t be just left be themselves and trust that things will happen natural from that, rather reward and punishment system need to be place to ensure submission and conformity is achieved. Yet this also fulfils another function is preparing them for how their adult lives will be lived. The model of “rewarding obedience” and “punishing dissent” flows seamlessly into their adult working lives.
Red dots and black dots
This reward/punishment model shows itself in its crudest form in my daughters classroom. In her class there is a board with the names of all the children. There are red dots next to the kids that have been good and black dots for the naughty ones. This behavior reward system is a small microcosm of the macrocosm of system my daughters will be lead in to as adults. You get black dots if you do not follow the rules, you get the red dots you have shown clearly and enthusiastically how you’re following the rules. Replace black dots with poverty and adversity and red dots with money and status and we have the adult version of this behavior reward system. Do what others in authority want and you will be rewarded, disobey and object and you will be punished and alienated . Praise, affirmation, validation doesn’t come from some intrinsic or innate “beingness” each child express uniquely, rather it comes following rules and obediently adhering to authority. So starting age five children learn that their value and worth in this society is set by how robotically they can follow what they are told. This lesson isn’t just taught one afternoon following a spelling test, this lesson is taught each and every day, as the living experience of school itself.
How school life compares to home life..
To really grasp the fall scale of how unnatural schools are just imagine a family environment were the children were judged and treated in the same way. Although having kids you unavoidably end up giving order and expecting some basic level of obedience, yet no healthy loving family would have “compliance” as primary family mission. We love and care for our children unconditionally and our connection, time together and relationship is at the heart of what makes family a nourishing and thriving home for kids. We don’t reward and punish our children for how well they complete a task. We don’t blow whistles and ring bells like an army drill Sargent to get them in toe. We don’t grade them, judge them , box them and compare them to others. We try our best to give them the space to be who they are and most critical to be comfortable in their own skin, we ask ,we don’t order. At heart we put loving them and caring of them as the fundamental feeling we want them to absorb and grown from. School could in fact compliment and carrying on that love and care but they are unable to because fundamental difference in their goals and the goals of a loving family.
The evidence all around us…
You could argue I am being overly dramatic and critical of modern schooling. That the advent of schooling was a key factor in what lifted people from poverty, skilled generations of our workforce and widened and enriched our culture and society. Yet the argument for schools being factories for producing obedient adult comes not just from examining how they are structured but all so from the results. That is, what kind of society do we live in? How would we define the collective perspective of our citizenry? Howard Zinn the American historian answers that question aptly when he stated
““Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders…and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient allover the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.”
So how is it we live in world rife with injustice, wronging doing and massive inequality? Wars are waged and countries resources stolen, independent of the suffering inflicted. In 2008 and we witnessed a massive robbery of wealth from the working and middle class through financial corruption and today 2014 you would think it never happens. We are heading for doomsday type scenario regarding global warming that is completely preventable, yet we accelerate faster not slower. Why is this so? You could just go on and on about what’s wrong with world and it all begs the question of how is it so? How do we permit such wrong doings to ourselves and in our name? Schooling is one of a number of fundamental building blocks that ensure that collective compliance. It successfully sets the blueprint for adhering to hierarchical authority and to remain docile and compliant to its rapacious abuses. How else to we explained good nature citizenry permitting its leaders to commit such unjust and grievous wrong doings?
The challenge to our ego
Yet thinking of schools of being “Obedience Sweatshops”, that we are each products of, challenges our own ego’s cherished belief in its specialness. No one wants to think they are obedient first, followed by unique, free thinking, individuals second. If we do things we don’t want to do, we call it being practical, not compliant. Yet for any system of obedience training to work well, it best its graduates need think they have actual learn something else. As you can’t question and confront what you don’t know, as the least troublesome slave is the one that thinks it’s free. So to know this is what school are about, at least this can allow us as parents to consciously work to help our kids unlearn what they are taught.
If we don’t have the chance to home-school or send them to some workable alternative, then we can least be honest about what is being done. As one of the most disempowering mind-set, is the thinking that “the way thing are is just the way it is”. That what we have as our current schooling is better than nothing. It’s such a warn out cliché but its true and just common sense that our children our future. Yet if they are developing into adulthood from the same institutions that got us here , how can we expecting anything but more of the same? Our kids need to know that being true to who they are and living a life based on love and kindness is all that matters. Schools need to move from being instruments of solidifying the status quo, to learning gardens that grow loving, unique and intelligent being. Then from the ground up ,we may start to see the disobedience and empowerment that’s required to make our world the better place we all know in our hearts it can be.