Education is something that almost everyone considers important. Here in the UK, Parents move home to get children into the ‘right school’ and students go into debt to the tune of thousands of pounds to fund it. But what exactly is it and how do we do it? What is the essence of education?
Education is a process of acquiring knowledge in order to live a successful life on earth and to achieve ones happiness and goals. more specifically it is a s self-generated process of acquiring the cognitive means to gain knowledge, and then of gaining specific knowledge of reality, with the purpose of living a life on earth.
According to Mark Neale – education consultant and personal coach – an educational system is basically one for transfering information from one person to another, or to a group. The real key is the philosophy behind the system. he points out that we believe in the value of education, but then so did Stalin and Hitler! The point being that the philosophical assumptions behind the system are crucial in determining the purpose of an education.
Education, education, education
So given that we agree on its importance, mark and I got stuck into examining some of the fundamental assumptions behind education. I hope you enjoy this interview which will be continued in part 2. However there is much food for thought in this first part.
Mark identified three purposes of education as fulfilling needs in the economy, culture and in individuals achieving a way of living in a fulfilled and whole way. This is obviously a subjective judgment. We offer complimentary viewpoints throughout the interview. This benefits the listener with a balanced and objective perspective.
Begining with the end in mind
There are many components to education and techniques involved in acquiring an education such as thinking and habitually questioning, exercising curiosity, mimicking and copying the actions and behaviour of others, observation combined with and trial and error practice, reading and research, etc,. However Mark points out that it is necessary to start by identifying where we wish to end up. Or more appropriately where we wish the student to end up. He concludes that the destination effectively determines the route to be taken.
The philosophical assumptions behind education determine the purpose and therefore the technique to use. The mainstream view is simply to go and ‘get’ an education, and don’t think too much about what it is you are ‘getting’ or why you need it, or whether you are getting an education that serves you. The implication is that attending a school and a university is all that you need to consider. Nothing could be further from the truth. sadly this implicit assumption fosters and encourages a fairly unconscious approach to equipping ourselves for a successful life.
Advantages of education in a home environment
There are many advantages of educating in the home. the ratio of guardian to student is more favourable and the parent or guardian is much more familiar with the abilities of the child and every other aspect of the child and his or her requirements. However, for many would be home educators it is simply impractical to consider this option at present. Many other factors and lifestyle choices would need to need to change first.
Mark suggests that as a community we need to step up the input and the interest in educating our children. he goes on to point out that often the problem is with the parents. This is true in the fact that parents need to first educatee themselves in order to be able to educate their children.
It is clear to me that demonstration is the key to education. And most importantly, to demonstrate not only the desire to know and understand, but also that we can know and we can understand. Many people implicitly hold the conviction that they cannot know, that reality is fundamentally unknowable. Philosophical subjectivism is at the root of much of the perceived inability to know the truth. Over all, given that demonstration is so important, and that children learn from what we do not what we say, we have to be mindful of what we do and how we behave in the knowledge that we are teaching our children by literally demonstrating how to live.
Mark says that teachers are total role models. They are modelling morality and all-round behaviour – in the same way that parents should be. Children pick up on everything we do and their ability to observe and learn from us (including what we would rather they didn’t pick up on) is most often under estimated. He goes on to say that you cannot separate education from morality and values [because the education necessarily occurs within a context of specific values]. Children have no protective filter, he says, where they only get what is in the text book. Children are sharp. Teachers think they only teach maths (or whatever the subject), but in fact they teach a great deal more. Children take in much more than just the Maths lesson, they take in the whole context, the whole situation, and every aspect of the teachers behaviour and demonstrated values.
Should education be compulsory?
What does the compulsory attendance of school teach? The implication of being forced to attend an educational institution is unavoidably that force is an acceptable means of achieving results. The ‘end’ of allegedly benefitting from the resulting (so-called) education cannot be divorced from the implicit lesson that force is acceptable. This fact is at the heart of much of today’s violence – including bullying in schools. A coercive institution teaches that ‘might is right’, and demonstrates that force works. Bullying is merely a child trying out the same technique that is used on him. And then he is told it is wrong! This is inconsistent and has further implicit lessons that contradictions are ok and perfectly normal. They are not ok. Once the child has left school and become an adult he is now conditioned to accept that his/her government will use what ever force is necessary against him/her. The violence and coercion is institutionalised by the current educational system of compulsory schooling.
Taking decision making out of the hands of individual children is an inevitable result of consistently and repeatedly using compulsion and denying choice. Attendance should ideally be inspired and ‘sold’ to the student. The use of compulsion and excessive organisation and management of the learning process teaches by implication that there is no need to develop skill in decision making and increased awareness of consequences and of cause and effect. Yet, bizarrely, when young people leave school they are irrationally expected to be able to now suddenly make all their decisions wisely for themselves – having had no practice in this skill.
Mark points out that organisation in schools and educational establishments is necessary, and furthermore, that there are children in other parts of the world who would feel empowered by (and would appreciate) the experience of school in the UK. Yet here many children look as though they are going to the gallows on their way to school. Obviously, the contexts are vastly different and there are many not so obvious variables in this comparison. But it indicates that something is very wrong with our system of education.
Education and peer group pressure
Schools and homes often have different and opposing sets of values. If this is the case children will quickly adapt to the school environments values as a priority because they are more afraid of rejection by their peers than by the consequences of upsetting parents. This is the unavoidable process of children learning that accommodating people and social convention is more important than accommodating reality. It is what Nathaniel Branden referred to as being a ‘social metaphysician’. This means looking to the group in order to find out what to do and how to behave/how to live.
Within the Matrix, it is widely percieved as of vital importance that children learn to socialise in schools. It is the first question asked by parents new to the idea. “How will they learn to socialise?” But this is sadly misguided and when learning how to fit in is prioritised it destroys individuality and the ability of young people to develop their own self-chosen values and self-initiated goals. It hampers internal motivation and creates motivation by the approval of the group. Children then become collectivists, not knowing what to do without government advice or social convention to guide them.
Parents need education
Parents are most often more a part of the problem in their children’s education than perhaps they realise. Partly because they need to be more vigilant about the values they demonstrate and also because most could do a lot more to assume responsibility for their children’s education. They are often locked into the matrix of unthinking themselves and consequently do not set an example of breaking out into independent thinking.
Sadly there are government initiatives that can only be interpreted as moves towards restricting home education, regulating it and removing the ultimate responsibility of educating children from the parents and transferring it to the state. This should ring alarm bells in the minds of thinking people. Mark Neale says that there is a place for the small school but that the freedom to determine the agenda must remain with parents. If we value the flexibility to reward children and create leisure activities when work is done irrespective of an arbitrarily imposed term time or school agenda. We must not lose the art of having fun and the flexibility to be able to improvise.
Is education something that can be ‘done to a child’?
Is education an active or passive activity? I suggest that it is an active pursuit. Education must be sought or pursued proactively by the one who wishes to acquire the education. It can be facilitated by the presence of teachers and coaches, but without the cooperation of the recipient, it does not happen. My own personal experience of spending 20 years of teaching myself in a broad range of subjects has shown me this truth. One only has to look at the results of 12 years of reluctant attendance at school in the disillusionment and dysfunctionality of many young people, or at the illiteracy rates, to see evidence of this.
Mark advises us to draw a line between education and conditioning. Animals can be trained to do all sorts of tricks but we don’t call it education, it’s conditioning or training to perform on cue. Education must result in thinking deeply and critically. Without the cooperation of the student education simply cannot happen.
Thinking is the key to a meaningful education
The difference is the application of thought, the willful participation and the conceptualising done by the student. It takes more than a ‘watch, copy and do’ method or a ‘reward and punsihment’ system of behaviourism (as explained by Roslyn Ross in episode 37 of LOTM) to educate young people. The positive engagement and indeed enthusiasm of the student must be won to enable education to occur.
The integration of newly presented information with that previously assimilated creates real knowledge because it is the evaluation of the new in the context of the already known. This means building a hierarchical non-contradictory sum of knowledge. Furthermore, the combination of this new knowledge within a sound system of values and philosophical premises and convictions is when the true genius in every human being really begins to appear. This all requires thought, or to put it another way, it requires a higher degree of consciousness than is usually brought to bear within the field of education.
When thinking is both encouraged and taught to young people a new higher level of conscious awareness will be facilitated and many positive changes will necessarily occur in our society as a whole. Thinking skills are much needed, yet the current system of schooling discourages critical thinking through many means such as multiple choice testing and the regurgitation of ‘facts’ as opposed to the development of new and challenging ideas and perspectives.
Continued in part 2
Mark will be back to continue this conversation. In the mean time, I trust that you got some value from this first part.
Meanwhile, you can contact Mark at his website www.markneale.tv
As always please feel free to join in the conversation and leave a comment below.
Treehouse farm, July 2018