Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Importance of Freedom in Education

From the BBC we hear that the Archbishop has entered the educational fray. Apart from wondering exactly what prompted this, it rather looks as if the good man is confused, (if very well intentioned.)

The thing is, Archbishop, children/people ARE consumers. We aren't turned into them. We come out that way. In order to support ourselves we therefore need to produce. The real problem here is that this message gets distorted by the bundle of confusions that are compulsion in education, the presence of the welfare state and the bits of our Christian heritage which canonize poverty. The message that a huge majority of children derive from being forced to jump through educational hoops that are not of their own making, and also perhaps from absorbing the message of the welfare state that they don't have to look after their material needs anyhow and finally the Christian meme that dealing with material wants is a trivial, inferior or even contemptible problem, is that a person must live a life of compulsion and drudgery if they simply want to do take responsibility for their own lives and that it is therefore better to let someone else do it for you, given that you clearly don't have any control over your life anyhow.

Whilst there are extensive tomes written about the problem of the messages derived from the existence of the welfare state, and there are doubtless books which bust the Christian meme about the merits of poverty (indeed other sections of the bible, though less well-known, contradict this message), educational compulsion is probably the least explored factor in the generation of the problem of confusion over the nature of humans as consumers. When a child is forced to sit and try to learn something, he is implicitly not being allowed to answer the big existential questions for himself. He is being made to take his own life seriously by someone else. The implication here is that no-one in their right minds could possibly freely choose to take their own lives seriously because to do so would inevitably involve horrendous drudgery. This message is often coupled with the Christian message that a person's material wants are a somehow contemptible problem, which re-enforces the whole notion that to take one's material needs seriously is a thoroughly unpleasant thing to have to do. Better by far, to give up on the whole thing of dealing with needs, and hope that the welfare state will bail you out.

Of course the implications of this kind of message are many, various and serious. A person may rebel against the perceived coercive forces which appear to him to making his life a drudgery, but in the confusion he may attack the wrong target: instead of attacking the coercive system that forced him to take on the message that supporting one's life is a thorough bore, he may implicitly reject his own needs and regard his own material wants as a coercive factor in his life. Some part of him, often an unconscious part, wants to take life seriously, but he cannot translate this into feeling free of coercion from his own needs, since all his life he has received the message that meeting his own needs is necessarily a matter of drudgery. He cannot see that deciding to go for life, means that you can thrill to the thought of meeting one's material needs. In this situation, he usually ends up with a self-fulfilling prophesy, living a life of unimaginative drudgery, not hoping or seeking to meet his needs without experiencing coercion, either from himself or others.

Children who are not coerced to learn are not placed in this situation. They do face life's big questions pretty early on. They realize that they are free autonomous beings who make big choices about what they do - whether in the long term, they live or die and that what they do will actually affect this. If, as almost all of them will, they choose to live well, they will freely learn what they need to learn in order to support this choice.

All of which is rather important in the light of the up-and-coming DfES consultation on changes to home education legislation. Almost all the proposed changes, such as the submissions to establish criteria for a suitable education and to monitor the progress of education, threaten the principle of freedom and autonomy in education and thereby implicitly threaten the chances of a child learning that he can choose whether or not to take his own life seriously, that he could freely choose to live well, that he could choose to take his material needs seriously and could choose to enjoy meeting these needs, and further, that choosing to enjoy meeting your material needs doesn't mean that one excludes the possibility of meeting other needs as well, and in fact actually probably increases the opportunity of doing so.


David said...

"We aren't turned into them."

Yes, we are.

Anonymous said...

Wha? You never ate?

Gill said...

Hi Carlotta :-)

I pretty much agree with most of what you've said, especially about education, of course!

The Welfare State aspect is a very relevant factor, but so is that fact that we're forced by a very corrupt/weighted system to buy-back, or lease-back our birthrights, IMO, which should equate to a bit of land for us each to live on.

However, I'm thinking a lot ATM about the huge changes that took place after WWII - NHS, 1944 Ed Act, Welfare State etc & starting to wonder what was really behind it all.

And *poverty* - well the very definition of that term is a political minefield IMO. If a family can pay its bills and eat a good diet, can that family be classed as living 'in poverty'? You'd think not, but we're talking about 'relative poverty' nowadays, which makes no sense to me at all.

At least the Archbishop's kind of on the right track, though! Are you not tempted to send him a link to your blog? ;-)

Carlotta said...

Hi Gill,

I do indeed see your arguments very clearly and do indeed wish for less exploitation and corruption at the same time as thinking that it up to me whether I choose to fight or go under, so to speak.

Love to know your thinking re what was behind changes after WW11...will keep a look out at yours, perhaps.