Being Schooled PART 3: The elevation of rationality and the absence of heart.
By E.F Nicholson
In part 1 of this series we looked at how the primary structure of schooling brings about its greatest learning achievement, being obedience to hierarchal authority. In part 2 we looked at the irrelevance of what is taught and the results of schools obsession with conformity and standardisation. In part 3 we conclude by looking at how schools over emphasise rationality at the expense of emotional intelligence.
In addition to the mass assimilation of set bodies of knowledge that dampen our uniqueness, modern schooling places a clear and hierarchical value system regarding what knowledge takes smarts and what knowledge doesn’t. The more measurable, quantifiable and concrete the subject matter is, the more esteemed it is considered. This ends up as the maths and science subjects being looked upon as the storehouse of the brainy kids. A child who gets all A’s in maths and science is looked upon by teachers and peers as being smart, but a child who doesn’t, I guess, is not as smart, or is less than smart, or is maybe just straight absent of smarts altogether. It is true that someone that excels in these subjects will possess a certain kind of smarts, but what schools have done is taken intelligence, which covers a vast array of inter-relating aspects of how individuals apply wisdom, knowledge, virtue, balance, humility, intellect, intuition, and empathy, and narrowed that down to a definition of being skilled in maths and science. The kid who gets A’s in drama, art, and poetry writing may be considered creative or talented, but brainy is not a label they will find falling upon them.
This whole adulation and worship of rational thought can end up having damaging and detrimental impacts on those of us who aren’t dominate in that way of processing information, as lacking in that one way of thinking is considered “not being smart.” What it also does is reduce and demean the importance of all the qualities we all possess, such as intuition, creative thinking, empathy and lateral problem solving. After our 10 to 15 years of schooling we are left with a view that these “soft” aspects of mind are not the things that will help us to be successful and achieve the status we are told to strive for. It is particularly sad to witness the sapping of these qualities that are so abundant within younger children. The ability to imagine and dream, to play and invent, is replaced with retention, repetition, and duplication. It’s like watching a fairy, full of wonder and awe, being lured into an ominous building, and 10 years later coming out a mechanical and automated fairy-bot.
Some questions can’t be right or wrong…
What a focus on hard science also achieves is setting up a system of knowledge that is fixed in its answers. There can be no subjective opinion about 2 + 2 = 4. Maths and science offer testable and objective truths. This duality of right and wrong works, as it’s applicable in these subjects, yet when it comes to developing creativity, the fear or concern of getting it wrong ends up being a hindrance, not a help. Creativity is about exploring, experimenting, making mistakes, and trying things out, and this process can lead us to wonderful ideas and creations. Another aspect of the inherent problems in valuing the maths/science mindset is if it’s a safe subject area for people to excel in. Eerily absent from high school is a subject called “critical thinking,” and the system is set up and designed to teach our children not to take things at face value, not to learn how to examine the truth and see how it holds up against the scrutiny of an open mind. We are in no way warned of the deluge of lies and misinformation that will be dumped onto us throughout our lifetimes. We are in no way prepared to sift through what we are told and work out what to buy as truth and what to disregard as lies. Of course it make sense to never teach this to kids, as soon enough that critical eye would be pointed towards the school itself, and that couldn’t be allowed to happen.
The absence of heart…
The most lacking and most needed subjects that end up missing in all schools, in all curricula, are the self-studies and relationship studies: learning how to resolve conflict, how to build trust, how to effectively communicate what you feel, what it is to feel empathy. Many of the fundamental issues people end up facing in life resolve around their inability in these areas. Few will require knowledge of what emperor ruled Rome in 50 B.C., yet coping with emotional problems is something most of us just learn as we go. We fumble in the dark of our own wounds and ignorance, often needing to painfully repeat over and over the same mistakes until, one day, something clicks and we change. This type of subject being taught and shared over the course of these formative years could have a lasting and profound impact on the society those entering the adult world can bring with them. Imagine if, throughout primary and secondary school, a core subject was studying compassion: kids learning what it is, how important it is, and how to apply it to oneself and other people, hearing the stories of elders in our community who have been touched by compassion, or who are themselves beacons of compassion. Kids would learn how to make compassion more visible and experienced in society as a whole. The very act of doing this would, in and of itself, be a radical breakthrough in schooling, as the act itself would let a whole generation of children know and value this most important of human qualities. Teaching compassion is saying that it matters, that it’s important and critical that those children who mature into adults bring with them a working understanding of how to live a more compassionate life towards themselves and others. Yet within our current school system this will never happen. How could it? How could we wage wars, exploit others, disregard the vulnerable, and champion greed at whatever cost, if we have a generation of children who, upon entering the adult world, demand more compassion in public policy?
How the student becomes the teacher…
How is it possible that generation after generation this same mundane schooling get implemented? The answer is the same as why there is still war, poverty and inequality. Our schools give us two sections of the population: one who eventually will brandish the power, and the other whose jobs will be to submit to the power. Like a filter, it elevates and accelerates upward those who embrace the current status quo and those who have an ambition for power. Those of us who don’t feel that way are told not to question, not to think too critically, not to feel we have the power to change things. All throughout our schooling, how we felt and what we wanted was powerless against what surrounded us, so much so that we just got on with things and cut off from that place that told us, “this isn’t right, and this isn’t what I want,” that’s so entrenched and so tied in with a time in our lives where our values and beliefs are being hard-wired by our malleable brains. The result is that when we leave school or university that deep docility doesn’t switch off. We just superimpose that powerlessness onto our new work environment.
“The power of the school to enforce conformity to its rules and to coerce its inmates into acceptance of instruction stems from its authority to grant credentials which are believed to bring rewards in the labour market. Those who conform to the rules are selected to go on to higher levels in the educational system. Schools select for each successive level those who have, at earlier stages of the game, proved themselves good risks for the established order. Conformity and obedience therefore bring their own rewards.” Ivan Illich
Good hearts in hard places..
Despite the agenda that controls the broad direction schools aim towards, on a day to day functioning level our schooling system is operated and held up by mostly good-hearted, genuine people trying their best to make a difference. I have personal experience in schools and schooling, as both my parents were teachers, and my father was eventually a principal. So I didn’t just go to school, I had to hang around for staff meetings and listen to my parents discussing school stuff. Many of my parents’ friends were also teachers, so I know first-hand these are not soldiers of the new world order, hell-bent on ensuring the subservience of our children, no more than a nurse is a pharmaceutical drug pusher, dedicated to enslaving our minds with anti-depressants as she goes about her job administering medication for the mentally ill.
The desire to help and make a difference…
The nature of humans is such that when you do have a genuine wish to help heal and support others, you think of professions that will enable you to do that, such as nursing, social work, teaching, or medicine. Society takes that natural care for others and says, “These are the things you need to do if you want to do that. These are the parameters in which you can help and are permitted to help.” If you’re a teacher that steps out of that, or a nurse that is unable to follow these guidelines, you can soon find yourself out of a job (look what happens to whistle-blowers). People often walk a fine line between remaining within the current system and doing as much good as they can without losing their jobs. It’s these very people that can often bring moments of humanity to institutions that seem devoid of any warmth or care. Then there are also those who enter these professions and can only endure it for so long: the politics, the absurdity, the lack of care and genuine support, and the eventual sense of futility that comes from really seeing that the system is rigged and twisted and exists only to serve the forces of power that benevolently allow its existence.
“School is about learning to wait your turn, however long it takes to come, if ever. And how to submit with a show of enthusiasm to the judgement of strangers, even if they are wrong, even if your enthusiasm is phony.” ― John Taylor Gatto
What I can and can’t do…
I often sit back and take stock of the entirety of what my girls will be put through. It makes me both mad and sad. I do have some room to alter what happens with their education, such as home-schooling, or finding a Waldof school that is more aligned to something more affirming. Yet until the obstructions that prevent those changes are removed, for now I can just work to rebalance the imbalances I see developing, such as my eldest, who is 8 years old, coming home from school upset with herself and saying, “I’m stupid,” because everyone in the class got a certain maths problem correct but her. They are little things, but these types of mini-humiliations add up. The drip-drip-drip impact of days that compound into years will shape the way she sees herself. How can it not? As I face the fact that I am co-parenting my girls with their other parent being the school, I see more damage than benefits. That being the case for now, all I can do is love my girls, be with my girls and trust that somehow, some way, good things will come of the way things are. Earlier this year I attended a school graduation (I personally cannot remember graduating grade two; give me a break) in which the grade two kids got up on stage and sang a song. It was something along the lines of “we are all special and unique.” I don’t know if anyone else saw the irony of the song’s words and the fact all the kids were lined up on stage wearing the exact same uniform, looking pretty much all the same, but therein lies the microcosm of the macrocosm: the words say one thing, but the reality is something different altogether.