It could be said that education reflects the best understanding of a given society: what we consider most important; the attitudes, values and knowledge deemed essential for sustaining society and leading individuals towards a fulfilling life; how best to meet the challenges and uncertainties of our existence.
Clearly other times and cultures have approached that in different ways, effectively shaping the societies this process of instruction serves. The conversations we have, the ways we relate to one another, the value we place on ourselves and our actions in life – all this is surely informed by what we’re presented in youth and the way in which the body of human knowledge is treated, framed, and related to everyday living.
How well that project relates to society – to the concerns of parents, realities of community, demands of modern economics, priorities of government, or feelings of individuals – is interesting to consider, although possibly futile. So much is defined by ever-shifting political agendas, often acting in alignment with economic projections and promises. So much in society seems shaped by forces outside our control.
It seems at times that society is really at odds with itself, all these conflicting concerns struggling to find common ground. Yet education is truly this crucial function which strongly influences how young people will come to understand and stand within their social relationships and, more broadly, within the world and all its complex interconnections (see Notes One).
And it’s something that’s very much drifted into the realm of government; politics defining our collective priorities and attempting to address life’s challenges, inequalities and opportunities. Rather than heeding the voice of experience, the practical engagement with community or the more philosophical insight of some writers (Notes Two), we’re apparently micromanaging the profession based on quite different ways of thinking.
Maybe it’s a path society has to take: this distrust of others, questioning of authority, and regulation through a central body of ideas. As an attempt to redress inequality and ensure even standards, it has its merits. But as a system that removes independent judgement, creates volumes of unnecessary work in the name of accountability, and stiffens relationships to the point of degrading human worth it’s not without its problems.
It clearly matters, to me and to most people. Parents, young people and society at large are hugely invested in this process that affects us all in so many ways, now and for years to come. It essentially comes down to the meaning of life, the roles we all play, the ideas holding society together, and the value we place on our individual and collective existence (Notes Three).
Reflecting on why my writing here is more direct, more openly critical, I think it’s because it really matters (Note Four). Education may well reflect the understanding of society and the best ways we’ve developed so far for acting on that; but as a microcosm of that society it also seems to be shedding light on much wider problems we might well wish to avoid.
Notes and References:
Note 1: Complexity of life
Note 1: Education, society & the individual
Note 1: Economics and the task of education
Note 1: Education’s place within Society
Note 2: Writings on Education
Note 2: “Brave New World Revisited”
Note 2: “Education’s End”
Note 3: Learning to be human
Note 3: Education with the future in mind
Note 3: People, rules & social cohesion
Note 4: Ideas around education & responsibility