8-18-09 What is education in the world of today?

 What is education in the world of today?
 The bare essentials – words, math, some sense of where we are in time and space
  – and in this last there is no ‘objectivity’ to be achieved.
 The teachers who rarely know the power of words. This is a world where someone who has the power to read Shakespeare that Gwynneth Paltrow does, carefully lays those skills aside as not further profitable in the world she works in.
  And Math is rarely loved.
  And History is tied in knots by ideology and religion and the lack of philosophy in people.
The Democratic sense that there is a wisdom in the people is only occasionally true.
Mostly the lies are perpetuated.

And then the other skills of our time – not the street skills, which indeed are the wisdom of the people, nor the skills of fighting and sports which are taught and passed on outside of schools or in schools – but those skills which, like words, have to do with media – technological, visual and sound skills, and self-presentation. And how to relate to our self-presentations to these and to ourselves. Do we begin to know how to teach such matters without sacrificing what we know about the older skills of words and numbers and thinking, or how to combine them all?

Who can design a curriculum?
I watch a TV program by Christiane Amanpour,
– and who can ‘learn‘ to become what she is: clear thinking, articulate, graceful, courageous, dedicated to communicating experience (even when she gets the questions wrong) –
– a program about young girls in Afghanistan risking their lives to go to school,
or as they put it, to get an education.
And what can a school possibly offer them in return for such risks?
They say it is a chance for a career-doctor, statesman, whatever those words mean to the girls. Certainly in that world what the school offers is not able to do that. What they learn is a little smattering, reading and writing, and some other bits.
But what, perhaps. they do get is the POSSIBILITY of being the person who can use these bits to go further. But where do these few learn the character and purpose and goals in all this to go further? We don’t know.

One English theorist of education, in a long English tradition, said the aim of education was to hold up models of excellence.
Another – American – said it was to learn the open-mindedness of a ‘scientific’ approach to the world. Doubting and testing.
This is not often learnt – and many great people have got on without it.
But Science – which I have only touched on as mathematics and technology, is clearly the background which is all we have available at the back of our minds – that explain and come to some understanding of the world – gravity, the solar system, the universe, the evolutionary process of life, as well as the most general facts about human life – what we can know about time in history, the changes in economy and society – to give us some perspective, if we are to leave the indoctrinated prescriptions of the holy books.
The ‘religious’, the fundamentalists and some others of those religions that came out of the ‘middle’ east, want to put the writings of their ‘God’ back in the center of that education, rather than the beliefs and processes that guide our search for information about the world and ourselves that come by investigation and evidence.

Evidence – crucial but how can we teach that. We do, but only to a few. And our politics and the world do not seem to follow the evidence. Should or can education teach us to value “evidence”?

Clearly our thinking needs to be shaped by some values, some excellence of spirit, or we are all whores and hypocrites – as so many are.
For some these values are felt to come from a book – a holy book, or some other books. But clearly values by rote and tradition are too narrow for real living in our complex and changing and pseudo-abstract world. We can’t even teach people to defend themselves from the lies and abstractions that are now flung from every corner.

So what can the school do? Should we risk our lives for it?
If we say ‘yes’, what is driving us to this conclusion? Are we deceiving ourselves? Or is some form of education the only hope?

And again, what is the curriculum and understanding and syllabus that will use the time well.
(Clearly also, the answer is not in the mechanical language of – what is that horrible educationist term – “behavioral objectives”.)
At the present in this country – education is presented as learning to think technologically and otherwise sufficiently well to out-compete the Chinese and Japanese and Koreans, and the Europeans.
Or have a pool of workers available with these kinds of skills – mathematics and words and languages – so companies can do their work efficiently here. This is a narrow vision – but in the present times it looks like the promised land.

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