What is Real Education?

8d. Real Education

As I wrote earlier, many of our educational institutions have become control devices to instill economic objectives into people. They have lost contact with the whole point of education – to draw out and extend the abilities of the individual. To help humans become ourselves, not slaves living a meaningless existence. Real education starts with you, the individual and your thoughts, values, dreams, ideas and needs. Anything that doesn’t is a form of indoctrination.

As a lecturer at one of the top FE colleges in the UK, I attended a conference on the role of learning for adults and later emailed a senior member of the government body in charge at the time to enquire whether he thought ‘the development of human potential’ was part of their educational remit. I was directed to the ‘key tasks’ which were all related to numbers of people achieving particular levels of qualifications. Any personal benefit to the learner’s own potential was thought secondary to the output of qualifications achieved.

I saw that much provision in the education sector was, and continues to be, actually ‘anti-educational’. For many people it provides little more than a lifelong distrust of formal learning experiences with their externally imposed assessments, milestones, targets, outputs, cohorts and so on.

The percentage that ‘make-it’ educationally to doctorates is very small and how relevant is this to human potential as a whole? By then their level of specialisation within ‘the system’ is entrenched. It often prevents any innovative thinking and any fundamental questioning of that system.

Mostly, an ‘integrative’, holistic approach is needed to innovate and this is unlikely within a specialist and often dogmatic framework of educational reference. Creative input into the educational system is blocked and has been since the last Educational Reform Act. Even the then Secretary of State for Education, was heard to utter concerns about the future of creativity in learning and thinking.

Dr. A Bartlett Giamatti was once President of Yale University and included in a freshman address.

I believe a liberal education is an education in the root meaning of liberal – liber, ‘free – the liberty of the mind free to explore itself, free to draw itself out, to connect with other minds and spirits in the quest for truth. Its goal is to train the whole person to be at once intellectually discerning and humanly flexible, tough-minded and open hearted; to be responsive to the new and responsible for values that make us civilised. It is to teach us to meet what is new and different with reasoned judgement and humanity.”

Education in its ideal sense is a positive force for human evolution, in that if we are ‘going somewhere’, as individuals, communities or as a species, it can help us discover the way. My own experience as a college lecturer is that formal education generally seems to be getting further away from this ‘discovery’ ideal and more rigid and dogmatic in its application, although there are notable exceptions to this, usually found in unique teachers who are adaptive to the situation and fired-up with their subject.

Having studied teaching at a post-graduate level, and having worked as an adult educator for a dozen years, I became aware of how the education system we have often puts people off wanting to learn anything for their entire lives. Yet learning is a very natural part of being human. We hardly need institutions for this. We learn quite naturally from each other. We are born as natural learners in so many ways. A good teacher will enhance this learning process that occurs naturally and tune it to the person or group concerned.

When I was teaching the ‘imposed curriculum’ at ‘A’ level and beyond (16 years plus) I would often think of something called ‘gavage’. The college was an exam factory and the students are like the geese who produce ‘Pate de Foi Gras’, the teachers engaged in an act of ‘mental gavage’, massaging their minds instead of their throats and cramming their brains with information and techniques to pass the exams so the college can maximise funding.

The root idea of ‘education’ comes from the root Latin word ‘educere’ – to ‘lead out’ to extend the mind – was long gone in an institution that like nearly every other is now fiscally managed and led. Community based learning follows Greek patterns rather than the Roman.

For example Socratic dialogue is a formal method by which a small group (5-15 people), guided by a facilitator, find precise answers to a universal question. In the Roman model, a pedagog is someone who educates people. The educator, academic, faculty member, academician, an educator who works at a college or university is the expert responsible for ‘passing down’ the information to their hopefully eager-eared and receptive students.

This is not education, it is indoctrination and people seem to have forgotten the difference.

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