When I sat down to write my beliefs about education, my muse became quite grumpy. Oh, she let me write all those things that had been weighing on my mind for the past few weeks. Then she took a look and stalked off. I looked again at what I had written. Did I really think that education was about understanding and explaining the world? Did I really think of this as a “calling”, a profession?
Who was I kidding? Look again. Public education is a business like everything else. Federal funding is based upon numbers of students. Continued funding is based on the numbers of students passing standardized tests.
Hasn’t education always been in the service of the powers that be? When industrialization began, it was necessary to have workers who would work in the factories. While it was good to have workers who could read and write, it was even better to have workers who would show up for work on time, day after day and who would obey the bosses. Compulsory public education was introduced to meet the needs of the captains of industry.
After the middle class had been established, education became involved in the production of consumers. Telling consumers what they needed to buy became just as important as producing the goods and services they could buy.
This view of education is not lofty or noble. However, as my muse reminded me, things don’t always turn out the way they are planned. When people are taught to read and write, anything can happen. People might learn skills needed for efficiency in the workplace or they might learn how work could be made more meaningful. While reading about other cultures, someone might examine his or her own culture more closely. There is no predicting what might happen. That is how education is – it can be used for domination or for revolution. The potential for critical thinking cannot be prevented. Even when the powers that be strive to control what education can do, it can lead to something not intended. My muse was smiling.
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