I wish we would all get honest about education and admit that our government wants citizens to be dumb, capable of running the machinery, but never for a moment questioning whether the machines should be running.
Despite all the flourishes of rhetoric and speechmaking to the contrary, elected officials prefer by far that we believe what they tell us, without thinking at all about matters politicians prefer be left entirely to them.
How else can you explain why today’s students, armed with plentiful classrooms, study guides, television, the Internet and easy access to libraries, know less than most students of 40 and 60 years ago in such subjects as history and literature?
I have long thought that the highest aim of education is to teach the citizen to cast an intelligent vote, as a wise vote is the best gift an individual can give to a society. But few governments today, certainly not ours, seriously want an aware public. As a consequence, all of the trumpet calls for better education are simply showy window dressing.
The last thing any elected official really wants, or any top business leader for that matter, is an aware citizen, armed with opinions bolstered by facts.
For the vast majority of us, learning is administered by public schools. In prior times, when knowledge, education and literacy were reserved almost exclusively for the wealthy, teachers and tutors were privately employed.
These days we live in technological, demanding cultures. If our society is going to function, it requires plenty of people with enough skills to provide the goods and services we need. Therefore, it is in the greater interest to have everyone literate, numerate and schooled in social interaction.
Since public schools fill that need today, they, as well as the private institutions of learning for the privileged, reflect the agendas of the hands that hold the purse strings.
Despite lofty theories of academic freedom and the crucial job protection of tenure, the vast majority of teachers know an easier life results if you toe the line.
Consider the result: The public school system gets children at an early age and with an unbounded eagerness and desire to discover the world. A dozen years later, it cranks out bored drones, many so disenchanted with “learning” that they will do anything they can to avoid picking up a book again, let alone take another class beyond those required for a better job. In fact, education for most of us is merely a steppingstone to employment.
Purists will call that result a dismal failure but the power structure truly loves it. To the latter, this is not a “failure” but the intended result of a design promoting ignorance and apathy.
It is no coincidence that repressive governments muzzle the intellectuals and teachers first. In our open society, however, the restriction is done with much more subtlety. In a democracy you have to condition people to know nothing, ensuring that they don’t even know that they don’t know.
I am not blaming teachers. They are, in the very large majority, overworked and devoted men and women who sincerely want to elevate their students. In great measure, they believe in the loftier ethics of learning. However, when class size becomes unwieldy, when a publish-or-perish mentality is infused into the universities, and when parents themselves are too fraught with careers or distracted in other ways to pay a great deal of attention, dumbing-down is unavoidable.
So why don’t governments want “educated” citizens? Money is the one-word answer.
Those who have control of most of the world’s wealth will be able to keep it if they prevent the rest of the population from noticing how the system is rigged.
In the last quarter century, real wages have declined for skilled and unskilled workers alike, while profits and stock prices are up. An aware and educated populace would demand that if profits are soaring, a bigger slice of the pie should filter down to us as raises, bonuses and improved social services. But we don’t realize and demand, and those things don’t filter down.
Learning is hard work, but kids come to it intuitively because they have curiosity, thirst for knowledge and brains that are programmed to acquire new facts, and to connect those facts in new, meaningful and unexpected ways.
The dismal results we all see today mean that the tools of distraction are working in a way all but unimaginable in our free and open society, where so much information is there for the grasping.
This is sad because we face enormously important decisions about our future. We need deep knowledge to make the right choices.
Since this is a republic, we elect politicians to make most of those choices. If we are so misled as to pick the wrong representatives, we will be in for a long, dark night.