Being Schooled PART 2: Where conformity trumps uniqueness,and what goes in must come out.

Being Schooled PART 2: Where conformity trumps uniqueness,and what goes in must come out.

By E.F Nicholson

“There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired, as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts from books and from what the teacher says, collecting information from the traditional sciences as well as from the new sciences. With such intelligence you rise in the world. You get ranked ahead or behind others in regard to your competence in retaining information. You stroll with this intelligence in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more marks on your preserving tablets.

There is another kind of tablet, one already completed and preserved inside you. A spring overflowing its spring box. A freshness in the centre of the chest. This other intelligence does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid, and it doesn’t move from outside to inside through the conduits of plumbing-learning. This second knowing is a fountainhead from within you, moving out.”

Two kinds of intelligence: Intrator and Scribner, Teaching with Fire

In  Part 1 of this series we explored how children are taught and why this itself is its own learning mechanism, as children daily experience the following of instructions from hierarchical authority, learning to obey without question, and becoming accustomed to the reward and punishment model. In Part 2  we will look at what is being taught within schools. It will examine its relevance, how conformity and standardisation of knowledge impacts students, and why some knowledge is given preference over others.

Why am I learning this……?

modern-schWhen I look at the actual knowledge that is taught, it seems to validate even further that schools’ biggest lesson is achieved in how children are treated in the process of getting them to learn, rather than what they actually learned. When you examine what that is and how that is taught you can’t help questioning its effectiveness and function. Anecdotally, from my own experience (and I think this is fairly common) most of what I learned was forgotten a week later, a month later, or a year later. What I can recall is how to read and write, how to spell (not very well, and spell check doesn’t help), some basic science facts, some details of history and geography, some basic maths, and that’s about it. There is an odd bit of something that, for whatever reason, will stick, related to a subject one has some actual interest in, but most of it is of the “in one ear and out the other” variety. As Ivan Illich describes it,

Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting. Most people learn best by being “with it,” yet school makes them identify their personal, cognitive growth with elaborate planning and manipulation.” A second major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching. Teaching, it is true, may contribute to certain kinds of learning under certain circumstances. But most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and in school only insofar as school, in a few rich countries, has become their place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives.” 

 To train or entrain?

modeduThe fact that I only remember the basics fits with the modern understanding of how learning takes place through experience, genuine interest, and its application in real life. As you can imagine, my knowledge of an amoeba and my need to know what an amoeba is and how it functions has not limited my life in any noticeable way. Yet despite this disparity between what most of us learn and then retain and the questionable choice and relevance of what subjects actually add value in our lives, this choice of subjects and method of approach continues year in and year out. Why don’t our schools look at how relevant and useful to later life what they teach is? Do they even care? As a pupil, during much of what gets taught you sit there bored to smithereens, thinking, “I am never going to need this or want to know this at any other time in my life other than now.” Irrelevant and useless knowledge get pumped into kids year in and year out, but why? Because schools at heart are not truly learning institutions, but are, in fact, training institutions, or even more accurately entraining institutions. As we discussed in the previous essay, students are just sitting there doing something they don’t want to do, because someone in authority is telling them that’s what they have to do, and this is schooling’s most powerful and ingrained learning experience.


No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders.” John Taylor Gotto


If all kids are unique, why is what we teach them all the same?

Conformity_by_VicodininjaWe are taught the basic model of learning, broken into distinct specialised subjects. Even though in primary school there is a less obvious divide, that basic model is still used. As kids enter secondary school this becomes more and more the case, as each subject is taught by its own specialised teacher, often in a different classroom, and days are neatly divided by subjects. What makes up the curriculum is decided by an external body, standardized, and disseminated throughout the school district. So within a narrow framework, all children in grade 5 throughout the land will be taught the same maths class, at the same time, at roughly the same pace, all aiming for the same learning objective. Due to its standardisation, this can also be tested and measured uniformly across the country. This model makes teachers conduits of static, unquestioned, and non-interacting information. All children in grade 5 are treated as all the same. The conformity of knowledge that is then standardized mimics a production line in a factory. Inputting the same data and adding the same parts to a piece of machinery that enters the factory in the same state makes sense when you’re dealing with inanimate objects that are, in fact, all the same, as doing the same thing to the same part will produce the same results. Schools have taken and used the same model, in an effort to illicit similar objectives, as you can see here in the explanation of what goes on in a robot factory.

Playmobil figures are seen on the production line at the Playmobil Malta factory in the Hal Far Industrial Estate outside VallettaAll robots enter the production process by being placed on conveyor belt 1. Each robot is assembled with all the same parts, preparing them for conveyor belt 2 of the assembly line. When they reach the end of conveyor belt 1 they are evaluated, and if a robot in the production process turns out to be faulty they may have to go back to the beginning of conveyor belt 1, or they may continue in the production process, with the line managers making note along the way of which robots are missing which crucial parts. The movement of production is linear and a “one thing leads to the other” process. The goal of conveyor belt 5 is to be ready for conveyor belt 6, which prepares the robot for conveyor belt 7, and so on. Each stage of the production line becomes more complicated and more detailed as parts are added on. Conveyor belt 1, along with all other conveyor belts, are the same for all robots, at all times, across all robot factories throughout the nation of robot factories. Although some factories may vary in how they do things within certain aspects of the assembly line, and have access to more advanced production technology, the fundamentals always remain the same. That is, the robot arrives at the factory partly assembled and is placed on conveyor belt 1 with all the other robots that have the same original date of production. The fact that they all look different, speak differently, act differently, and come from different environments with different robot makers is irrelevant as long as the original date of production matches. Even though the obvious differences make each robot distinctive and special, whatever those differences are, by the time they are put through conveyor belts 1 through 12 those key differences will be hard to notice.

aghqThis is essentially a production line, in which the robots that enter are seen as uninhabited of value, thus the factory aims in assembly to add, attach, impute, and program into the robot stuff of value. There is nothing to draw out, nothing to nurture, nothing to enhance, nothing unique, only some files to delete that take up much needed hard drive space, but whatever is there pre-conveyor-belt-one has to be ignored or replaced. The most successful robots are the ones that aren’t a problem on the assembly line. They move through conveyor belts 1 to 12 without a hitch, storing all the data required and successfully recalling that data when requested. They are such successful robots that they too could one day run their own robot production line. Yet the same glorious fate doesn’t await those robots that are unable to keep up, those whose wiring somehow prevents them from the successful storing and recalling of data. Earlier on, or at some point in the production line, when it becomes obvious they are not able to be assembled correctly in accordance with production line guidelines, a bright yellow sticker is stuck on their metal chest titling them “faulty.” Some are so bad they even get a red sticker that says, “extremely faulty.” They may forget exactly what part of the data input and recall they actually failed in, and all they remember is that yellow sticker. Many years from when they leave the factory they find that sticker hard to peel off, or in some cases it remains hidden, covered up, and never is peeled off.

Replace factories with schools, line mangers with teachers, conveyor belts with grade levels, evaluations with tests, and robots with children, and you would not need to change a thing. It’s no surprise this factory-type model has been used since the industrial revolution, as the original founders of compulsory education saw schools as being very much like factories: there to produce units of production to further utilise in other parts of production.

The deadening of uniqueness..

education-conformityThis model aims at reducing, destroying, erasing and poisoning all of what makes each of us gifted and special, as it violently works to superimpose something from the outside. Whether it’s a match and it’s compatible, whether it’s rejected or assimilated, none of this matters, as the conveyor belts keep moving and more stuff gets crammed in and jammed on. Its fundamental premise lies in whatever unique and distinct qualities you possess being, at best, irrelevant, or, at worst, obstructive, unless they match perfectly with the knowledge that is to be assimilated. Within this framework a competitive, rather than cooperative, mind-set is fostered, as success is measured in how well you conform to the objectives presented.

Schools have no interest in truly developing and nurturing the special gifts and qualities with which each child starts their schooling. Again, this isn’t just one afternoon or one week in the school year that the inner part of the child is ignored and suppressed, this is for the duration of their childhood and most of their adolescence. Day after day, month after month, year after year, there is no real genuine interest in finding and discovering a child’s true gifts. Their contribution and input is only asked for if it mirrors what has been taught, for example, “Hands up, those who know the answer to question A.” There is no development and awareness of the inner part of who they are. I personally believe that every person has something in particular they can offer the world that is unique to them, which, in discovering, gives them pride, dignity and a greater sense of identity.

ABB-G_1_27coedclassWeb-620x447Yet the net effect of this neglect of the “inner” is many people developing no understanding of how intelligent and gifted they are. Due to no fault of their own, they label themselves of average intelligence, or even low intelligence, demarcating from themselves a whole swath of potential and possibilities. Some later in life overcome this and reclaim that intelligence that was mislabelled, but many others don’t. They actually believe the misinformation they have been given and live their lives within the parameters of what they’ve been told they are and are not capable of doing. All of this accumulates into a dumbing down of the entire population, not because they have actually become dumb, but rather because they have been robbed of the awareness of their gifts, uniqueness and creative talents. This system places value on that which has none, and places importance on that which is irrelevant, ultimately cultivating an unquestioning and compliant population that works against the very best interest of those who make up that population. Each year, as it continues churning out the students, it indirectly legitimises the inhuman and alienating systems we are forced into. We are told to prepare for society, not to bring it down, and the only way we explain our blind acceptance of so many wrongs and such social unfairness is through normalisation of powerlessness and forced obedience throughout our entire childhoods, and we call it “school.”

The message that gets drummed in..

When one thinks about all the amazingly intelligent, gifted and inspiring people who have managed to succeed despite of this kind of schooling, one wonders what’s possible if we can create a system of education that is genuinely set up to find and explore each child’s untapped calling that each person feels within his or her heart. What kind of world would we have if teachers listened, guided and supported, bringing out in each child his or her unique gifts? How sad it is that this is not the case; how sad that their planning and preparation for entering adult life is being limited to being “schooled.”


School prepares people for the alienating institutionalization of life, by teaching the necessity of being taught. Once this lesson is learned, people loose their incentive to develop independently; they no longer find it attractive to relate to each other, and the surprises that life offers when it is not predetermined by institutional definition are closed.” 
Ivan Illich


The other day my eldest daughter brought a note home from her teacher basically saying she got in trouble for being distracted. I asked her if she was chatting to friends, and she said, “No, I was staring out the window because it’s just so boring.” So rather than the teacher examining how they are teaching, my daughter is being told to have an interest in something that is of no interest to her, to deny what she feels, and just get on and do what she doesn’t want to do. All I could do is tell her not to worry, and that yeah, it is actually boring, but sadly that’s the way it is. It really saddens me, what the end result of gradually chipping away will bring about.

Being Schooled PART 3: The elevation of rationality and absence of heart.

UPDATE:  I have been taking break from covering some of the more heavy subjects and focusing solely on satire.

I have no doubt I’ll come back to the serious but feel the need to be a bit more playful, silly and of course scathing on those worthy of it.

 I am taking shots at inane articles you see on relationship advice, looking at absurdstories in the news, highlighting the opinion of people I would consider morons and just getting stuff off my chest like I do here.   

So please check it out and see what you think.


7 thoughts on “Being Schooled PART 2: Where conformity trumps uniqueness,and what goes in must come out.

  1. It’s impossible to learn when you are constantly presented with new material, quizzed on it, then move on to the next subject. It’s pretty bizarre that we aren’t reinforced throughout the years about significant events in history, or any other pertinent information related to life. We learn all of the importance at such a young age that it is inevitably going to be forgotten.

    I definitely agree with the “entraining institutions” idea. I have always believed the best way to learn is by experiencing life for yourself. Some people enjoy school and being taught (maybe they have fallen victim to the apathy and are most comfortable remaining docile), while others want to live the experience but are pressured and restrained by the norms of society today.

    Standardized tests are a joke, you can’t base someone’s intelligence, creativity, and uniqueness on some limited area of knowledge .. but they do, and many talents are lost along with their faith in their ability to contribute to society. Potentially increasing the risk for psychological disorders, like depression.. which is clearly very prevalent and continues to rise.

    Although some schools/teachers may truly want to address special talents in individuals, it remains impossible as their hands continue to be tied with government regulations on their standardization’s, and the expectations that must be met. We now only know what we have been told, or have been conditioned to think/fear/attract to through a false idea of “normal” and “truth.” Really it’s just an illusion created and passively accepted because we fear what will happen if we draw outside of the lines. As you mentioned, wouldn’t it be great if we could all learn more and grow in our own personal areas of interest?! Think of how much happier and more productive the world would be. If only…
    Great article!


    • Hi Audrey,
      Thanks for such an insight response. Sorry been a bit sickish so I it’s taken me a while to reply. I do agree some kids do quite ok in school environment but I think they could do even better being allowed to explore what exactly it is they love doing. I didn’t include it in an article but my dad had a house in the UK that was over 300 years old and they found when renovating a hidden report card a 10 years had stashed away 150 years ago. Seeing the marks he got D,D,D F, F C it’s not surprising it was hidden for no one to find. What was most startling, other than the fact is was hand written, it looked pretty much exactly like the report card my 10 year cousin had who was living in the house had. What industry doesn’t change in 150 years? How sad yet it make sense when you except schools primary function rather than their mission statement. We are preparing kids for society but we should be asking “Whose society?” or “What kind of society?”
      PS: Will be published part 3 soon which I think you will like.


      • Wow, that is crazy about the report cards. I agree, we should definitely allow kids to have a choice in their education! If anything, my friends and I were just talking the other day how awesome it would be if- once you were all finished with school.. no matter how far you decide to go; high school, college, grad school… if the school’s rewarded you for investing so much time and money, with a vacation of your choice, for as long as a year if you choose! Sort of like a “spiritual journey” that way, students could learn more about themselves as a person, what they are interested in, and who they want to be when they return to the overworking society!

        -I will be sure to check out part 3! 🙂


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