It’s been a while since I wrote about education directly, although it can be seen as implicit in many ideas around society, values and life itself: education being that which prepares us, hopefully bringing us to a workable understanding of the world we live in, our value in it as a human being, and all that we can contribute and enjoy within our communities.
Packed into all that there’s clearly a lot to be done and much of it incredibly important (see Notes One). With that in mind, how might we best approach such a task and enable people to meet modern life with a balanced sense of worth and responsibility?
As mentioned in the posts above, it’s my view that this kind of learning happens much more widely than the walls of formal institutions: that the task of education takes place within communities, cultural forms, social realities, and all the attitudes and ideas more generally embodied within how we live and relate to one another and the world around us.
To expect young people to pick up certain ideas at school yet experience life quite differently outside those walls seems odd, but then life’s much more fragmented and unaccountable than it seemingly used to be. I mean, without social cohesion built around trust and commonly held values then it may seem reasonable to act differently in different settings and experience few consequences.
Yet, if society’s to be peopled by those capable of fully understanding and responding well to all they meet in life, then preparing them to do so seems pretty essential. All the decisions we make, ideas we entertain, words we utter, and things we buy into will shape our world and impact others (Notes Two); arguably making the task of education significant beyond merely economic chances.
Being able to think for yourself; relate healthily to the opportunities of life; contribute intentionally; understand things thoroughly and compassionately; speak wisely; treat everyone with the utmost respect; and act independently are emerging as crucial qualities for engaging constructively with our times.
It seems remarkable to place much of that largely at the door of overstretched and under-resourced systems of education. And while I see that policies in this area are one of the earliest points governments can attempt to influence social outcomes, I personally question if making schools a venue for fluctuating political agendas is ultimately wise.
That said, schools are clearly where much of this conscious and deliberate shaping of future humanity takes place. And I generally have incredible respect for those working in the profession, given the diverse agendas and social problems currently impacting their capacity to effectively meet the undeniably pressing needs of individuals and society as a whole.
Finding ways for educators to respond powerfully, for society to pull together a more coherent picture of what it is to be human, and for young people to step responsibly into the complexities of the world awaiting them are perhaps some of the weightiest challenges of modern society.
Notes and References:
Note 1: Learning to be human
Note 1: Education with the future in mind
Note 2: History as a process of changes
Note 2: Culture and the passing of time
Note 2: People, rules & social cohesion
Note 2: Selective intelligence in what we do
Note 2: Zimbardo & the problem of evil
Note 2: The web and the wider world
The centrality of education in allowing us to rise to modern challenges also emerged out of the dark wanderings of “Brave New World Revisited”.