Fort Albany Residential School Students in a classroom
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"We are faced with the paradoxical fact that education has become one of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought." Bertrand Russell
An increasing number of people around the world are asking the question, "How was it possible for Donald Trump (who has referred to himself as a "very stable genius") to be elected to the presidency of the most powerful country in the world? He has been described as a throwback to a time when leaders were dictators, war was noble and women were property. Many of us already perceive the already existing and potential catastrophic dangers involved in his ascension to this position of power. One is sorely tempted to ask the question, "what were we thinking"? Or were we? Aside from possible irregularities from voting machines, it seems clear that those who chose to vote for this man had been inculcated to see him as a positive, rather than negative development.
One factor, among many, is likely to be what has been called, "the dumbing down of education." (This needs to be seen as a trend, rather than an "all-or-nothing" state of affairs). The consequences of the choices we have made are equally clear: young people grow into adults and make the same basic mistakes as their ancestors (adding, of course, their own unique twists). The central questions here have to do with essentials: What is required for a deeply peaceful and joyful life/How important are such qualities as kindness, truthfulness, compassion, awareness, etc.? The state of our world is the living proof the education has not helped vast numbers of individuals to answer these questions.
Guided by school systems that are themselves bound to traditional ideas and conclusions about human life, students continue to be taught what to think, rather than how to think. This reality is in large part due to the fact that the alternative to this endless recycling would require a significant sacrifice by the adults, parents, and powers that be. It would be nothing less than the renunciation of the quest for an illusory feeling of security that comes from "being right". For many people whose self-concepts are highly reified and built on shaky foundations, such a quantum leap - in terms of mature functioning - would represent a significant emotional and cognitive loss indeed. In most school systems a commitment to move in this direction would mean a radical revision of school curricula and educational methodology. Instead of merely giving knowledge -- in terms of facts, figures and social fictions that are deemed important -- such a curriculum would focus on asking (sometimes radical) questions and discovery, rather than being limited to instruction and memory.
John Goodlat, author of A Place Called School(2004) has shared observations that schools seemed to be moving in the direction of more rigidity and less openness, more militarism and less creativity. School reform, he noted, begins to look like "reform school."
Philip Slater chose to focus on related dimensions of such trends, stating:
"But there is a hidden agenda in the return to basics. What characterizes "basics" is that they ae fixed and arbitrary. The student is told how to write, spell, add and subtract. There is very little room of discovery, for putting together old facts in new ways"Authoritarian(s) at the top of social pyramids sense intuitively that an ignorant population is more likely to be an obedient one"Yet children learn by doing. [With guidance,] this is how we learn to walk and talk, to ride a bike, and drive a car"But in a large authoritarian classroom there is very little room for doing, only for remote repetitions and application of unanalyzed principles and formulas. This is good preparation for living in an authoritarian society, but not in a democratic one."
Slater emphasizes what should be obvious: that democracy depends on informed and questioning minds, on actively engaged people, rather than passively receptive ones. Yet, more often than not, the importance of "obedience" continues to remain unquestioned. Many young people continue to be expected, both at home and at school, to do what others tell them to do, because (after all) they are only children. Yet, obedience frequently involves accepting and believing lies, not asking obvious questions, not saying what one wants, not showing emotions in the moments when they are felt, not demanding one's rights, smiling when unhappy and generally not making waves. Is it surprising that, after years of obedience training, we continue to elect politicians that clear-sightedness would immediate reveal are "bamboozlers" and obviously have little interest in the truth of things?
Naturally, one of the most important roles of the elders in any society is to share what they have learned and discovered. My emphasis simply points to the cultivation of wisdom as well as knowledge.
The alternative to an "authoritarian preparatory school" is a situation where students will be empowered to draw to draw their own conclusions, "to think for themselves",, rather than merely coming to the conclusions of their elders. And here finally, lies a pivotal question: Do we, the adults, want our society to grow, evolve and mature, or do we want to continue to hear that we are, and have always been, right? We know of no society that has unequivocally chosen the former route.
As early as a 1964 article in the Harvard Business Review entitled "Democracy Is Inevitable," Philip Slater and Warren Bennis argued that as societies, corporations, and other institutions become larger and more complex, they become unmanageable under hierarchical systems of command. The spread of democracy -- not simply as a form of government but as a commitment to the sharing of power and information -- is inevitable in the twentieth century, they said, simply because it is the most efficient way of organizing human relationships under conditions of constant change.
Slater places his ideas within the context of what he sees as a global shift from an authoritarian to a democratic "mega-culture." By mega-culture, he refers to a core of attitudes, practices, and beliefs shared by a wide range of different cultures in many parts of the world. While democracy is emerging as the dominant mega-culture, remnants of the old one still permeate our psyches, Slater suggests that , "the agonies and upheavals of our time result from our efforts to move into a new era while still toting a huge load of emotional and intellectual baggage from the old one."
In A Dream Deferred (1991) Slater demonstrates how this shift is being played out in politics, business, education, science, religion, popular culture, and relations between men and women. In each of these areas, Slater shows how traditional systems are proving too rigid and inefficient to cope with the continuous change that characterizes modern life. He also shows how many of our responses to current social and political issues are rooted in an old authoritarian mindset, which perceives radical innovation as a social ill.
In future offerings I hope to sketch out the details of what various researchers along with my own, have suggested is the nature of a fundamental change in consciousness -- one which is already emerging and may well set the ethos for global evolutionary shift in awareness.