Education is the fundamental pillar of society. It is through education that we pass on the knowledge, values and principles of a society from one generation to the next. It is through education that we teach children how to effectively live and corporate in this world. The school system is therefore not only about learning how to read, write and do math but also the place where the societal structures are regenerated and reinforced.
When children learn history for example, they learn to see the cultural context in which they are embedded in a certain way. When they learn geography they learn to see the world and the relationship between countries in a certain way. When they are taught biology, they come to understand the functions of their physical bodies as well as the interconnectedness between man and nature in a certain way. Through these lessons, a certain perspective on life and living is passed on that will affect whom the children grow up to become.
We do tend to look at education as objective, as though it is inherently and without question teaching children the exact lessons they need to learn to grow up to become effective citizens in this world. We tend to look at the evolution of society as a perpetually advancing process where we are constantly becoming more knowledgeable about our world and how to effectively manage it and ourselves in it.
The question is whether this is in fact so. Are we becoming more knowledgeable and effective at managing our world? Are we teaching children the exact lessons they need to learn for society to remain coherent and optimal? Are we teaching them to effectively manage even their own lives?
Children learn through formal education all the skills necessary to integrate effectively in society, but they also learn through an informal form of education, a form of education that is not always explicit where children learn through observing and analyzing and responding to their environment. An average child attending school in an industrialized society spends over 270 days during the year in school up to the age of 17. Looking at an entire life span, we spend more than 30 % of our life in school.
In spite of the enormous importance of education and the amount of time children spend in school, not much attention is given to the infrastructure of the school system such as the classrooms, the work spaces or the indoor climate of a school. In fact, when reading articles about the school system or when listening to politicians and academic researchers talking about how to improve the school system, focus is mostly placed on the curricular and course material; that which is supposed to go in through the ears of the students and come out as measurable results. The dynamics between children and the dynamics between students and teachers is also not given much attention. In fact, teachers are often seen as serving no other function than delivering knowledge and information that students are then supposed to integrate on an individual basis.
In a recent article on his website, professor of public policy at Berkley, California and critical economist Richard Reich discussed the economic and social devaluation of some of society’s most important workforces. He discussed how the amount of money someone is paid to do their job has nothing to do with how they contribute to society using preschool teachers and other social workers as an example:
“What’s the social worth of hospital orderlies who feed, bathe, dress, and move patients, and empty their ben pans? Surely higher than their median wage of $11.63 an hour, or $24,190 a year. Or of child care workers, who get $10.33 an hour, $21.490 a year? And preschool teachers, who earn $13.26 an hour, $27,570 a year? Yet what would the rest of us do without these dedicated people? Or consider kindergarten teachers, who make an average of $53,590 a year. Before you conclude that’s generous, consider that a good kindergarten teacher is worth his or her weight in gold, almost. One study found that children with outstanding kindergarten teachers are more likely to go to college and less likely to become single parents than a random set of children similar to them in every way other than being assigned a superb teacher.” (Source: http://robertreich.org/post/93632709170)
At the other end of the spectrum we have CEO’s and hedge fund managers earning an obscene amount of money, doing what Reich describes as doing little more than playing high stakes games amounting to a mammoth waste of societal resources. They demand ever more cunning innovations but they create no social value. High-frequency traders who win by a thousandth of a second can reap a fortune, but society as a whole is no better off.”
Reich is absolutely right in his critique of the absurd inequality of income between the people who contribute most to society on a very basic level and those who do not and yet are rewarded exponentially. The greater question however is, why we as society accept this inequality as perfectly normal?
We say we want the best future for our children, yet we accept the people who teach them, who spend most of their day with them to work under suboptimal conditions. We say we want our children to have the best education possible, yet we accept them to go to school in moldy, dark environments and spend most of their days having to navigate grueling social hierarchies with other children with little to no adult intervention or support. Many parents obviously do not have much say in which schools their child is sent to. It is few who are able to afford the prestigious private schools that do in fact prioritize a healthy and creative learning environment.
It is however possible for us to stop accepting the denigration and devaluation of our education systems. It requires a shift in values – and it is important to understand and come to terms with the fact that the gross inequality of income does in fact reflect the values we have collectively accepted in this world. Society is not something that exists or operates outside of the scope of our influence; society is the total sum of all individuals living in it and engaging with it.
We say that we value our children, that they are the most precious to us, that we would give our lives for them. But what happens when we tacitly accept an industrial school system whose only aim is to produce functional consumers who will keep the global economy spinning? Whether we care to admit it or not, that is exactly what we are doing, as long as we accept the current development taking place in our education systems and in the political arenas that run them.
If we truly value the lives of our children, and so in affect the future of humanity, we have to reconsider what we are accepting children to learn in school. We have to look, not only at the homework assignments they are given or the curriculum, but also the school environment, the infrastructure, the working conditions of teachers and the education-industrial complex that can be argued is executing a hostile takeover of our schools – and so our children’s lives and futures.
We have to ask ourselves: are we the role models and examples that we want our children to learn from? Do our societies reflect the optimal living environment that we claim to teach our children about in school? And when we teach children about human evolution, can we in honesty say that we have evolved? That we are proud of the world we have created for ourselves? If not, then we ought to start from the beginning, from the educational environments that children are placed into almost from the moment they are born; the daycare centers, the preschools, the elementary schools and all other learning environments that a child engage in on a daily basis. Education is the most powerful tool when it comes to changing the current discourse of society. We have to be willing to ask ourselves where exactly it is the world is headed through the current values displayed in our schools?
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. This is not to say that the solution is simply to give preschool teachers a raise or to carry out a French-revolution style attack on the CEO’s and hedge fund managers of this world. There are however steps that we as citizens and parents especially can take to start changing the situation – to show that we truly value our children and stand by them to ensure that they get the best possible education. There is a reason why the children of the elite are sent to expensive Montessori schools for example, but that doesn’t mean that this form of education is only a prerogative of the elite. All over the world parent co-opted preschools are formed, home schooling is more popular than ever. At the Equal Life Foundation we support initiatives that promote a form of education effectively preparing children to face life and to grow up to become citizens, not only with excellent cognitive skills, but also with compassion, empathy and self-integrity.
We are therefore proposing a sophisticated yet non-invasive and disruptive change of our economic systems where a change of perspective and a revaluation of our economic worth as citizens can make a vast difference and effectively contravene the increasing social and economic inequality. It is a matter of making clear decisions about what our true values are in this world and acting accordingly. Every parent can become a catalyst for change through the values they present to their children and it is important to remember that these are not only the values we speak to them about, but also more importantly the values that we exemplify and reflect through our day-to-day living. If all parents decided today to become catalysts for change, to become activists on behalf of their children, we could make a difference never seen before in this world.
For more information on how you can become a catalyst of change, investigate the Living Income Guaranteed proposal.
More articles about parenting and education in a Guaranteed Living Income System:
Watch the hangout about Education for a New World in Order: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlj5wGCRnSU