Tampering With Ignorance
In the tumult of house-moving (I’m moving house, you know), and with everything being turned upside-down (you have to understand the physics of my house: for 21 years, things have been going in but very little has been known ever to come OUT, save the occasional person and its sandwich), I’ve rediscovered an old set of CDs called ‘Educating Your Child in Modern Times‘, unexpectedly and inexplicably among my brother’s possessions.
Anyway, this isn’t a story of how my belongings come to be in his possession, however mysterious and compelling that question might be. These CDs are of the Education Conference held in 2003 at UC Berkeley, at which one of the main speakers was John Taylor Gatto, the author of The Underground History of American Education, Weapons of Mass Instruction, and more. A disillusioned Gatto had left a 30-year award-winning career in teaching to pursue the motives behind the American compulsory school system, and at that conference presented a talk entitled, ‘A Short Angry History of Modern Education’. The conference handout contains the following list:
Some Reflections on an Educated Person
1. An educated person writes his own script through life, he is not a character in a government play, nor does he mouth the words of any intellectual’s utopian fantasy. He is self-determined.
2. Time does not hang heavily on an educated person’s hands. He can be alone. He is never at a loss for what to do with time.
3. An educated man knows his rights and knows how to defend them.
4. An educated man knows the ways of the human heart; he is hard to cheat or fool.
5. An educated man possesses useful knowledge: how to build a home, a boat, how to grow food, how to ride and hunt, etc.
6. An educated person possesses a blueprint of personal value, a philosophy. This philosophy tends towards the absolute, it is not plastically relative (altering to suit circumstances). Because of this, an educated person knows at all times whom he is, what he will tolerate, where to find peace. But at the same time, an educated person is aware of and respects community values and strange values.
7. An educated person can form healthy attachments wherever he is because he understands the dynamics of relationships.
8. An educated person accepts and understands his own mortality and its seasons. He understands that without death and ageing nothing would have any meaning. An educated person learns from all his ages, even from the last minutes of his life.
9. An educated person can discover the truth for himself: he has intense “awareness” of the profound significance of being, and the profound significance of being here.
10. An educated person can figure out how to be useful to others, and in trading time, insight, and service to meet the needs of others, he can earn the material things he needs to sustain a wholesome life.
11. An educated person has the capacity to create new things, new experiences, and new ideas.
As you may know, I’m an unashamed Maggie Stiefvater fangirl. Unashamed, because I don’t think there’s any shame in admiring or feeling unrequited friendship for a person who is basically pretty awesome and admirable. She’s together, talented, smart and keeps it real. Recently, Maggie was invited by NASA to give a 12-minute talk and ‘be profound’ at the TEDx NASA conference. Starting there, I’ve been listening to the series which is asking the question, ‘what happens next?’
Because all of these things went into the blender of my brain at about the same time, I’m certain there’s a significant connection between them. Maggie speaks about school, schooling and education (and is profound), John Taylor Gatto about the failures of the American education system in producing responsible, thinking individuals, Frans Johanssen (author of The Medici Effect) about how education forces us to disconnect knowledge into units of meaninglessness, and all three conclude that success depends on writing your own script. Successful education, they agree, is one which results in true intellectual autonomy, and intellectual autonomy – marching to your own beat – is the hallmark of every successful (possibly slightly famous) individual.
So after all of this slipping slantwise and lengthways and obliquely (and possibly perpendicularly) in and out of my mind, and after poring (coolly) over the list above, I want to somehow be able to answer the question, ‘am I an educated person?’ and I want to answer it ‘YES PLEASE’, even though that’s not the type of question you are meant to ask. Although, since I am the most easily-duped person alive (please don’t test it, it’s devastating every time), I guess I already know the answer.
The problem with education is…well, the problem with education is everything. And also school – which in my opinion is often little more than the battery-farming of humans. Ask Maryam, who is unschooling, or my many friends who are homeschooling, dropping out of school, starting schools, starting school, finishing school, stuck in school, getting thrown out of school, trying to get into school…are you confused? It’s CONFUSING. And expensive, frustrating, possibly heartbreaking, stressful, distressing, disturbing, and somewhere in the gaps, we all hope some kind of education is occurring (however it occurs), with the take-home evidence of a piece (or several pieces) of paper and a fistful of letters.
Even after a postgraduate degree mostly about education (and also somewhat about psychology XD), I have no idea how to begin to go about ANYONE’S education – and is education even the same as schooling? – beyond the fact that my speculative kids are NEVER going to actual school, as I’ve decided I DO want them to be well-adjusted and (eventually) self-actualised, intellectually autonomous human beings and that really isn’t happening in schools right now.
Where that leaves us (and my speculative children), I don’t know – outside the gates seems most likely. Education – and schooling – is such a slippery thing that you can hardly grasp it either by corner or edge to make sense of or speak about.
But…I think saying ‘I know nothing’ is a great place to start. For anyone. Whether or not you are a man who desires to get married.
Lady Bracknell: I have always been of the opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing. Which do you know?
Jack (after some hesitation): I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.
Lady Bracknell: I am pleased to hear it. I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.
– The Importance of Being Earnest (Oscar Wilde)