Let’s go back to school. Not because technology is changing society so quickly that many jobs are disappearing, and new jobs must be learned or re-learned. Not because “life-long learning” is trendy. And not because one needs more and more qualifications and certifications to climb the career ladder. This may all be true. But “let’s go back to school” means let’s go back and think about school, about what it means to go to school, about what education really is. This may not be a pleasant task. Many do not have the best memories of their time in school. Why is this so? What’s the problem with school?
To begin with, education seems to be built on a paradox, if not a downright contradiction. On the one hand we are told that is it for us, that is, for me, the individual. Education is supposed to bring forth the best in human beings, help them realize their true potential, to become who they can, and should, become. Education, according to this view, is dedicated to perfecting the individual. We go into school thinking that it’s about us personally and individually. Once there, however, we quickly discover that education operates on the principle that one size fits all. Curricula, tests, grades, everything is aimed to make us into that which society expects us to be. These expectations are not aimed at individuals, but at classes, groups, demographic categories, anything but individuals. If you want to be an individual in school, you find out immediately that no one asks you what you want to learn or how, it is not about you at all, but about some typical persona that society prescribes for you, demands that you conform to, that is, if you want good grades, if you want to be “accepted,” to “get ahead,” to be “certified” and get a good job, or any job at all. And getting ahead, as everyone knows, is not the same as being a person of good character or what the ancient Greeks called a “virtuous” person. Virtue and social success, as the Sophists well knew, are two different things. Education, it turns out, is about society and not about you as an individual. Education is “socialization” and not “individualization.” But this is never openly admitted and laid out on the table to take it or leave it. The one hand is never allowed to know what the other hand is doing. Like a magician’s trick in the theater, we are so confused and psychologically numbed by what is going on in school that we repress the schizophrenic experience and try to move on, deeply disturbed about who we are and traumatically confused about how the struggle for self-realization is compatible with conforming to social expectations.Continue reading