Does school prepare us for life in the real world? Is knowledge passed from academia to public spheres? Are we learning from the past, or do we continue to make the same mistakes? How well do we really understand ourselves and others in our geopolitical, social, and historical context?
It seems to me there are major gaps within our distribution of knowledge.
Today I want to focus on one of those gaps, the gap between life in school and life after school. Over the coming weeks I will look at other gaps, and then at ways they might bridged.
Schooling in Australia comes down to one result: the HSC. (For non-Australian readers, HSC = Higher School Certificate)
This seemingly life-determining series of exams is ridiculously stressful for students. Suicide, chronic fatigue and depression are among many of the disasterous mental and physical consequences.
After the HSC I have noticed that many students are left feeling high and dry.
The choices may seem too many, or too few, but either way many (including myself ten years ago) feel confused about what to do next. I mean, how many 17 year olds know what they want to do when they leave school? And of those who at the time thought they know, how many look back ten years later and realise that, well, they didn’t?
Whether motivated by guidance from friends, siblings or parents, by money-incentives, or some other not-very-well thought through reasoning, many of us go straight into university and waste 1-3 years doing, or starting to do, a degree in something irrelevant to our future.
Even if we are one of the new generation of Aussies who head overseas for a ‘gap year,’, most return home to face the same dilemma that they faced when they left: they still don’t ‘know what they want to do when they grow up.’
So the next stage of the majority’s life story ends up either drinking at university parties as they go to minimal classes to earn that obligatory piece of paper; or working a 9-5 job answering phones, waiting tables, or driving trucks, in order to pay off the credit card or HECS debt.
Maybe things have improved in the eight years since I finished school, or maybe the non-denominational (a la fundamentalist) Christian school I attended was an exception? If so please do point out my errs.
From my observation the gap between finishing high school and finding one’s role in society is a widely felt phenomenon in Australia, and maybe among other western-capitalist countries too.
Through trail and error of various degrees and jobs I have discovered many career options that at high school I never knew existed. Why didn’t I know about these things???
I think the problem with our schools comes down to one thing: The Pyramid. (See blog entry: Preserving-The-Pyramid-The-Reason-Things-Are-The-Way-They-Are).
Instead of encouraging a thirst for knowledge and the intrinsic rewards that comes from creativity, our schools seem to encourage a regurgitating of words and formulas in order to gain the extrinsic rewards of good marks, good university & eventually a good salary.
All of this so that you can pay back your university debts, get a mortgage and work towards the Australian Dream: owning your own house.
Translation: join the system, perpetuate The Pyramid.
Those who control the distribution of knowledge, controls the minds of the people.
Now, please don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing against The Pyramid. Unless I have some visionary solution to power paradoxes of the human condition I don’t feel I am in a place to criticise. The Pyramid might be the only way a society functions, so maybe our education system is the best it can be.
So let’s put The Pyramid in the parking lot for a moment. How could these gaps in education, should The Pyramid allow it, be bridged? These are some suggestions:
1. Empower children to think for themselves.
I think children could be more involved in the direction of their learning (as in Montessori schools). I think the focus should be on teaching them how to think rather than what to think, helping them develop the critical thinking skills that allow them to do this.
2. Encourage a desire to learn rather than presenting it as an obligatory task.
Learning shouldn’t be something forced upon you. It seems so negative that a child is told they have to do their homework or else get in trouble from the teacher.
Instead, learning should be presented as the luxury it is. It should be presented as the passing on of the cumulated knowledge of humanity, with which it is up to the students to expand and build upon during their lifetime.
Isn’t that a much more exciting proposition than punishment/reward scenarios of learning just to get good grades?
3. Value creativity over conformity
Learning opens up the gates for a child’s imagination, for them to discover their individual potential. Learning makes people more interesting, gives people a better sense of humour, and enhances one’s quality of life in ways that money can’t.
Creativity is a source of pleasure and purpose, but it requires children’s confidence in themselves – getting over the fear of peers, parents or teachers rejecting or ridiculing what they create.
4. Teach more practical & useful skills.
Decision making, goal setting, managing savings, investing in shares or property, avoiding accumulation of debts, solving conflicts, understanding politics and democracy, and the history of civilisation on the whole.
Why don’t schools teach students a general introduction to university disciplines including philosophy, theology, development studies, anthropology, peace studies, and the like?
5. Notify students that the roles that society defines are not the only roles. They can create their own role, their own box.
Students should be provided with a broad perspective of their place in the world, be able to see their perspective in the scheme of other people’s perspectives, and see the similarities and see what factors have influenced the differences. We can’t know everything, but we can develop an understanding of the general areas knowledge or skills that are available, and with an understanding that new areas of knowledge and skills are created every day.
Students should be given the opportunity to find jobs that they will enjoy, that are not a means to an ends but are a day-to-day source of personal growth and giving back to society.
Maybe I’m too idealistic. Yes, I’m sure I am.
I do understand that someone has to take out the trash…
Of course in my mind this is done by computerised machinery, all trash is biofriendly and so even this job is maintained by creative-thinking programmers.
I think if we were encouraged to have a desire to learn, an ability to critically evaluate our world, and to think creatively, we as a society would evolve in the most incredible ways.
Creativity, motivation and critical awareness have the potential to stimulate innovation to new levels, foster ongoing improvement in all areas of life, from local to global and beyond.
Check out what Ken Robinson has to say on the issue in the TED talk “schools kill creativity”:
Ah yes, if only the world could be recreated by creative minds…
With some other idealistic visionaries including Dr Vandana Shiva, winner of the Sydney Peace Prize 2010.
If you want to follow this blog on facebook, the facebook page is: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Adventures-with-Ideas-Juliet-Bennetts-Blog/108739765813581