The Industrial Age changed the world forever. Today, we’re surrounded by the effects of it, which to us seem ‘normal’ and permanent. But the world wasn’t always like it is now.
In only a few generations, the world has moved from an agrarian, disconnected society, to a corporatized, centralized world community. Because of the Industrial Age, we have factories that produce things in mass (think packaged food and computers). We have cars, and highways connecting city to city. We have infrastructure like sewer systems and communication.
We also have the school system – something that didn’t exist a hundred and fifty years ago – at least not in the form we know it today. The largest educational shift in the history of the world occurred with the advent of the Industrial Age.
A small minority of the population went to academy to study, for the sake of studying. They philosophized and analyzed and scrutinized, in an effort to understand how the world works. They loved learning, and studied what they were passionate about.
But then came factories, and mass production, and the need for literate, compliant workers to fill the job of doing repetitive tasks. But where could employers find employees like that to work on their assembly lines?
Enter the school system, modeled after the factories themselves, with bells and lines and segregated subjects and grade levels and testing and rewards and punishments – a place where future workers would get a head start in ‘doing what they’re told.’
In essence, the large-scale government school system we have in place today wasn’t invented with a goal to educate kids or to create scholars. It was created to train kids to work well within the system, so that they would become compliant adults who could follow orders at the factory.
Now, the majority of the population could attend school to learn reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, (as well as how to follow directions and comply with authority) so that they would be employable as factory workers. The remaining minority still learned from academies for the sake of learning.
Along the way, well-meaning people decided that, since they were teaching stuff anyway, they should teach stuff that matters. Let’s add history and science and lots of other subjects. Lets give them the dates and figures and facts, so those who attend will know something about the world.
Then other well-meaning individuals decided that we needed some way to measure if all the effort that was being made to teach facts and figures was actually working – now enters the testing and grading system and *wah lah* – you have today’s current school system.
The problem with public school isn’t necessarily what is being taught, or who is teaching it. The problem stems with why and how it’s being taught.
It’s like the old adage, “Which came first…?” In the case of our schools, it was the factories that came first, not the desire to give a real education to the public.
The questions asked were not “How can we create a system that will help the general populace to become scholars and leaders, in order to produce a generation of creative, innovative pioneers who will lead-out and change the world?”
Instead it was, “How can we create a generation of compliant, obedient, literate workers who can fill these factory jobs?”
“How do children learn best? How can we best develop their full potential?” was another question not asked.
Instead, “How can we teach them to follow orders and give them the (job) skills they need to make good (replaceable) employees?”
Also at it’s base is the faulty assumption that the mind of every individual functions the same everywhere, at every age, and can therefore be passed through the same machine and produce the same, expected, calculated results
The result is not real learning or personal enlightenment, but a system that rewards us for conforming to the basic requirements.
The entire foundation of the system is wrong. As a result, it doesn’t matter how good the teachers are, or how nice the school is, or how great the curriculum might be.
When you’re dealing with faulty foundations, it’s like trying to drive a train on a track that’s derailed. No matter how good the train might be, it’s still headed for disaster.
It’s time for some reformation.
First, Start by Defining Education
What’s really happening at our schools is forced regurgitation. Children comply because they are taught to comply – to pass the test, to get the grade, to follow the orders. But they aren’t really being ‘educated.’
Opening up a child’s head and pouring in information isn’t education. Learning to read, do math, and to memorize dates and facts and figures isn’t education.
But we can’t really decide if the current school system is educating our children, until we have a clear understanding of what education is.
What is education??
Is education the system of delivering facts and figures? Is it being ‘literate’? Reading at ‘grade level’? Is it a method of teaching; having a certain amount of knowledge by a certain age; earning the right grades; getting good test scores; having ‘good’ teachers; going to the right institutions or receiving the right accreditations or degrees?
Too many in society today equate ‘education’ with ‘graduation’ from some learning institution. Yet, education does not come from graduation, and graduation does not guarantee that one has an education.
Some say that the aim of education is to prepare our children for the ‘real world’, meaning the civilization in which we live, so that they can fit themselves into society and live and prosper according to how it is established.
As important as that aim is, I would say that education is even more than that.
True education is a living, breathing evocation of the powers of the mind and spirit of each individual. It’s the development of character, the unfolding of unique gifts and the enlargement of talents and passions.
Real education nurtures a love of learning, and encourages the natural inclinations of each individual – whether that be science, art, math, language, social studies, history or none of these – so that each child can become an adult who knows who they are, what they’re good at, and what contribution they can make to the world.
Education isn’t about the information as much as it is about the individual.
Education’s focus shouldn’t be about determining the details that need to be transmitted to the masses, but instead how can we make the masses come alive? How can we inspire them to want to learn, to want to study for the pure joy of it? How can we encourage them to develop their full potential and become valuable contributors to the community as a whole?
Perhaps about now you’re thinking that this is a lofty definition of what an education should be. Maybe you’re feeling hesitant about taking dramatic action. But that is exactly why we still have the system we do. That is why we are stuck, with kids who graduate with a hate of learning, bucket loads of school debt, and without the basic skills to get a good job in today’s economy.
Today we stand on the brink of a huge cultural transformation. The world is progressing at a faster rate than ever in the history of our planet. The economy is changing and becoming more globalized. Everything we have known will not remain the same.
As a result, the good ‘jobs’ won’t be those that require obedient cogs who follow directions (exactly what the school system is currently training for). Those jobs are being outsourced to other countries where labor is extremely cheap.
Instead, the good ‘jobs’ will be offered by employers who are looking for trendsetters, rule-breakers, thought leaders and creative individuals who follow their imagination. Or, they won’t be ‘jobs’ at all, but mini-businesses started by these types of individuals.
The current system is better than nothing. It is at least teaching basic literacy skills.
But is that what we want for the future, or more specifically, for our children?
Do we want our kids to be only employable for the jobs that are getting cheaper and more ‘dumbed-down’?
Or do we want them to become the innovators, the ‘linchpins’, the thought leaders, the leaders and statesmen of society?
If we want the latter for our kids, then it’s time that we take matters into our own hands and do something about it, because the current systems are failing in these regards.
As parents, teachers and educators, we will determine society’s future because we hold the education of the next generation in our hands.
Over the coming week, a series of posts will be shared with a variety of ideas on reforming education. Stay tuned!
This post was written by Rachel Denning as part of a week-long series about redefining education. Rachel is currently traveling to Argentina in a veggie-powered truck with her husband and five children. You can follow her at Discover. Share. Inspire.