Thursday, 5 December 2013

Opinion: Kevin Hattie

 "School Days - the best days of your life." Really..?

To speak of our education system today, is to speak of a multiverse where the experience of attending school can vastly differ from person to person, even among those who attended the same one. This isn’t totally surprising as people experience many of the same things in different ways. Take for example a work of art, one person may fail to see past the denotation of such a thing but for someone else a world of endless possibilities may be opened up. Unfortunately I don’t buy the idea that the differing experiences of people in education is in anyway related to perception and someone’s own unique way of looking at the world. After some deep thought about my own experiences of school, and discussion with a couple of people who had similar experiences, I have come to wonder if there is a common feature among those who find the experience pleasant and those who perhaps dreaded a weekday for thirteen odd years.

‘School is the best time of your life’. This is a phrase that justifies other phrases such as ‘if I had a penny for every time….’ Due to the sheer number of times a child will probably hear this phrase uttered by a parent or older person trying to encourage them to enjoy the experience. I have no doubt the feeling is genuine among the older generation who remember their school days fondly, perhaps not because they truly enjoyed it at the time, but because they didn’t have the weight of responsibility that adult life has brought them, and also the fact that the whole world lay ahead of them. I for one never accepted this opinion, and have come to place it alongside other myths such as; if you are bad Santa Claus won’t come to you and the Tories favourite: ‘We’re in this together’. It is suffice to say that I consider school to be something rather different from those who romanticise it. 

For me the classroom was not so much a place of learning, but a place of suppression. Maybe I have the wrong idea of what education should be like but I like to think that the school should fit around the pupils and not the other way about. I believe that to give the impression that authoritative figures deserve ‘natural respect’ as opposed to earning it, is a convenient way to teach young people that our politicians deserve the same free ticket to gaining obedience. Maybe again I have the wrong idea but should information given by these authority figures be accepted without questioning out in wider society? No, so why should pupils be expected to accept what a teacher says without questioning them? To challenge a teacher on something was to cross the line in my school. We got the whole ‘I have a degree in this subject’ lecture as if that was enough to squash any possibility of the person being wrong.

Critical thinking and questioning things is for me the most important part of learning. We as people have to be able to make our own minds up about things and to always be true to our values as individuals and as a collective humanity. We can’t allow for the media to have us so indoctrinated with a particular way of thinking that for them it is almost effortless to influence public opinion and to get people to go along with a particular agenda. If you stand back and look at what capitalism has created in this world, you soon realise it is something so unnatural that it has to stop or else we will cease to be. Boris Johnson and David Cameron might celebrate the culture of greed and wish for it to be weaved into the school curriculum somewhere, but if you truly believe that possessions are the defining aspect of a human being then you clearly have sold your soul for short term vices.

‘Work hard and you’ll get a well-paid job’.  Another myth perhaps, given that this so called meritocracy that we live in see’s investment bankers on seven figure salaries while someone genuinely useful, like a nurse or an engineer will be worrying about the rising prices of fuel and food. But put this aside and look at another reason why this phrase should be discouraged. ‘Well paid’, why is this the most important aspect of a career? The government have been quick to encourage people to leave behind the more creative subjects and to look at something which contributes more directly to the economy. Well firstly the creative industries bring a lot of money into to this country, and secondly people should be encouraged to find fulfilment on a spiritual level before they have to worry about ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’.  

School and universities should be places where society develops its thought and its collective consciousness. Not somewhere to go so you become more ‘employable’.  Why should working class people be told to make themselves more useful to the policy makers of society? Education seems to be just that, a place where the workers go to be taught how to be workers. A lack of decision making in the classroom leads to a lack of decision making in the workplace. I would encourage people to study what interests them and to question what they learn. I would encourage people to believe in the power they have in their hands to bring about change in society. It seems however the education system would encourage people to passively accept certain norms and values and to learn through repetition and retention of meaningless information which has not been questioned. It is a sad fact today that the education system of our country encourages a heteronomous society and promotes homogeneity over diversity of the individual, the reasons for this may lie somewhere in the fact that those who have their hands on the levers of power require things to remain as they are and for true human nature and freedom to be oppressed as this is the only way to maintain this pathological ideology of capitalism. If you step outside the rules created to maintain the status quo you will be marginalised and the ‘best time of your life’ may not quite live up to its billing. This is why some of us hated school, not because we are lazy, stupid, hard to motivate or mentally ill, but because we refuse to get in line and conform to the values that would see us willingly participate in a criminal ideology. 

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