What do we have in common? What agreed experiences, perspectives, conclusions, values or ways of being unite us under a banner of common sense, community, or national identity? It’s presumably one aim of education: to create a shared appreciation of society and the paths it’s taken, alongside a commitment to act in ways that sustain our way of life.
Yet, by having curriculum, practices and priorities largely established by the government, this must almost inevitably tend to align with particular social viewpoints. It seems unlikely to be neutral, given how party policies are laid out to appeal to the outlook and interests of certain portions of the voting population.
I find myself picking at that fact quite a bit (see Notes One), but it seems significant. After all, if a diverse and unequal society hopes to find fair representation and a balanced, respectful understanding of their place in that system, then having political agendas setting the tone of what they receive seems troubling.
As soon as we conceive of education as a means to maintain a specific formation of society, we’re veering into territory of social engineering and manufactured outcomes. And while we’re arguably all products of our society – its norms, reference points, history, and relationships – is that to say formal education should fight a particular corner too?
Maybe it’s little wonder young people sense an agenda and distrust authority. If you’re to look back on what you were told in youth and come to realise it was part of some scheme to shape things a certain way, having made life-defining choices based on that understanding, it might be painful to see you weren’t being given the whole truth.
Of course, I understand government stepped in to ensure greater consistency and accountability for educational standards; but, as with anything, you can swing the other way. Also that trying to ‘plan’ any area of activity must place you into a swirl of statistics, opinions, formulas, definitive solutions, and so on. At what cost?
Rather than attempt political outcomes through education, might it be better to impart young people with a thorough, realistic understanding of the society they stand within, its journey and its place in world systems? And, rather than conveniently telling that from whatever perspective suits for now, to see it for what it is within the shifting flows of time (Notes Two).
How can we act responsibly within society if we don’t fully, impartially and freely understand it? Without a living sense for this human-made set of systems, agreements and theories, I don’t see how we can ever be expected to act intentionally within it.
That social understanding is, to me, what we need to be aware of. Because viewing society as a collective project – its citizens as beings capable of understanding and worthy of respect – surely reveals our shared existence to be a profoundly complicated and delicate balance. Those ties that bind us, now and into the future, seem so important for us to get to grips with.
Notes and References:
Note 1: Writings on Education
Note 1: Ideas around education & responsibility
Note 1: “Brave New World Revisited”
Note 2: “Towards a New World View”
Note 2: “New Renaissance”
Note 2: Need to stand alone & think for ourselves
Note 2: People, rules & social cohesion