Instead of picking holes (or in actual fact connecting the solid in the lattice) in the current formal education solution offered in the UK and as part of my excitement about being able to contribute to the new Renew Party, I have decided to make this a forward looking blog post.
For a society the driving force of its education provision should be the never-ending development of its citizens. Rather than a society driving the sort of citizens it wants and creating them (regressive) it should be the citizens that drive the sort of society they want (progressive). In order to do this education needs to be freed from its autonomic shackles and become one of the central spines of our societal endeavours. Tony Blair was correct when he sang that “Education Education Education” should be the priority of any government but, as always, the devil is in the detail, for one person’s education is another person’s purgatory.
The purpose of education should be the creation of curious, investigate, analytical, presentational, and active citizens who can participate in the social, cultural, physical, scientific, political, and economic aspects of their world: all peoples; all citizens; all aspects.
At the simplest and, one could argue, the most important level it is obvious that an electorate cannot function effectively if it is disengaged with the political process. Disengagement here does not only mean a feeling of irrelevance; it includes an inability to engage in the necessary tasks that feed that process: analysis of statement, collection of fact, development of plan, empowerment of action. An electorate lacking the confidence, tools, and experience to become part of the democratic solution risks becoming part of the self-maintaining problem; it is in the interests of third parties to ensure that this status is not disturbed.
Education is the answer, whatever the question maybe; it will always be the answer if all individuals are to take their positions of responsibility within their own society. Educated parents support and nurture educated children who then grown up to continue the cycle.
Such a statement reeks of elitism but only in the malign construction of an education system where learning has been formalised and then disconnected from psychological and societal reality. Any teacher constantly endures the constant slur set “When will I ever need this?”, “I’m rubbish at this so what chance does my kid have?”, and “I’m just thick!”. That citizens of a society can utter these phrases is a more than chilling demonstration of how far our education provision has been manipulated and undermined, for it is in the political advantage of third parties to engender this disengagement, distrust, and active dislike of personal, and thus societal improvement.
Knowledge and learning only becomes weaponised when third parties seek weapons in order to conquer and control. In our current situation this can be seen in the demonisation and abandonment of “experts”; yet this is but the tip of a sword that has been rammed through humankind ever since rulers understood that success requires educated populations but that educated populations desire to be their own rulers.
What better way to guarantee progress but secure continued domination than to formalise education, drive improvements in numeracy, literacy, and the sciences, but deliver it in such a way as to separate the learned information from the process of learning? A school as an isolated and demeaning automation force-feeding information stripped of context, connection, and wonder whilst constantly prodding, measuring, judging and sentencing. An infernal machine for feeding, sifting, dividing, and depositing a structure of society disconnected, discontent, and yet dependent upon its own depressing continuance.
The first principle of a progressive education system as core to a society is that it is perpetual: from cradle to grave. Life is a journey with many twists and turns; citizens on that journey walk and explore its myriad aspects to their own schedule. Education should not be about organic widgets pushed into a system, processed through a curricula, and then ejected into a vacuum; it should be about exposure to and self-timed mastery of engaged knowledge and skill sets throughout an individual’s existence. This self improvement then allows them to build confidence and self-worth that feeds into an enrichment of society as a natural consequence of their increased engagement with that society.
We are all blank canvasses to some extent; there is a plethora of paint, brushes, pencils, and techniques. The single purpose of an education system should be to ensure that all people have equal opportunity to that experience at any time that they so wish to access it. Some will do so for curiosity whilst others will engage for necessity: a need of their career or craft, a desire to develop and improve. There should be no hindrance based upon age, gender, race, life status, or any other demarcation. We should all be students for life at any point and state within that life as indeed we are all teachers for that very same life.
The second principle of a progressive education system is that it is total: no subject, process, or aspect is excluded. There is no greater crime in learning than the separation of knowledge; this is not an argument against specialisation but rather a rejection of study in isolation. The universe is a hugely complex system of interrelated processes and innumerable interactions; disintegration of process is disintegration of and disengagement with causation. If education is to produce effective citizens then they need to understand, at least at a base level, how the universe and everything in it, including our civilisation, functions as a system in total. The easiest way to corrupt and control is to restrict understanding and the process of cause and effect not merely in simplistic immediacy but in totality; any society and its education provision should stand as front line sentinels against this practice.
As an example consider the cuts to arts, or students being forced to study either history or geography but not both. How can a citizen truly develop, engage, and contribute if they do not have the skills and opportunity to actively consider the following questions: What am I? Where am I? When am I? Does a truly rounded citizen develop from learning only that British colonisation brought economic benefits to its members rather than also including its consequence, of how that colonisation proceeded?
And there are many more: global warming; xenophobia; political extremism and middle ground lethargy; the rise of intolerance; consumer society and oceanic degradation. The point is that a holistic study model would have shone a broader, deeper, and more long term set of lights on the system rather than it being drilled into narrow core samples that are devoid of inter connectivity and thus understanding.
The provision of knowledge and skill in isolated subject must be replaced by context based exploration experiences in which foundation knowledge and skills are both used to underpin and are developed by study and analysis of those context experiences. Something as simple as starting with someone drinking a cup of coffee: biology of effect; economics of business; technology of extraction; sociology of consumption; history of agriculture; geography of production; geopolitics of supply; lifestyles of all significants – grower, buyer, seller, shipper, drinker. In all aspects learning occurs but within context, often generating more questions than answers but in doing so ensuring the practising of those core skills vital to citizen development: curiosity, investigation, analysis, conclusion, planning, and action.
A successful education system must allow a citizen to develop through the trinity of individual, member of society, and component of its natural environment. At all points a core skill set of question, analysis, conclusion, plan, and action must be activated and developed if that citizen is to fully observe and then experience the act of participation within the complex system that is existence.
The third principle of a progressive education system is that it is integral: its inputs and outputs are embedded within society. Education must not be be trapped within specific times and spaces: a school or college; age four to eighteen. Learning is part of human psychological, social, and environmental existence and as such must be interleaved with those three components as manifested in everyday existence. A visit to a farm, forest, or factory should not be a rare treat but a core component of the education process. Not limited to study and observation, all efforts should be made to provide hands on experience within real world situations and scenarios in order to truly understand the process of cause and effect within complex systems.
This becomes more important when it is understood that this also means integration of access through the life cycle of an individual. Citizens who leave a place of learning at sixteen; stay at home parents who wish to study; those who regret their failure to engage in early life and wish to better themselves; the retired who wish they’d mastered Spanish when they were younger; employees who want to learn higher levels of skills and employers who want to support them; those who wish to change the direction of their lives through knowledge and skill set improvement; adults who are simply curious about a topic: all and more should be able to access education for free at any convenient point and society should support this requirement in recognition that it creates a stronger and more successful for the benefit of all who are part of its support.
A truly open education provision bringing together all ages, genders, and cultures enriches not only the success of that provision but the society that encourages such a manifestation.
The fourth principle of a progressive education system is that it is applicable: knowledge and skill sets should be experienced where required for support and where desired for success. The sum of human knowledge and skill is a vast, interconnected, and highly dependent graph offering the sum effort of billions of minds over thousands of years. As with any graph its navigation requires planning, nurturing, and an understanding that successful internalisation is an inter-connected process of exposure, motivation, and analysis.
Learners can only successfully engage with knowledge and skills if they motivated to do do; this combines curiosity, interest, and an understanding of the consequences of success. Sticking students down behind desks for thirty periods a week, thirty nine weeks a year, for five years, and telling them they must learn everything in a curricula “so they can pass their exams” is a shocking failure to understand even the basics of development psychology and is as close as you can get to a crime against humanity without actually murdering someone.
Instead of forcing learners through mandated curricula and then ranking their success or failure against a total cohort based upon the manufactured convenience of a single measure that is terminal memory examination (when has any employee’s success being measured by an end of year exam?) a knowledge and skill set mastery solution is required. Learners follow a finely granular mapped journey in which they are exposed to and develop mastery of small and relevant components, gaining smaller but more satisfying morsels of development rather than living in shock and awe of one gluttonous banquet looming in the far distant future.
As stated earlier successful citizens must have a fully layered understanding of the world in which they play a part: a broad understanding of English language, numeracy, society, culture, expression, history, the environment, and the science that underpins our existence. From these can develop specialisations, some of which naturally appeal to the more academic whilst others call to those who wish to make use of those skills to further develop their careers – present or future. What needs to be terminated immediately is forcing learners and educators to plough their way through complex subject matter that has no appeal or benefit to the majority of a cohort and whose experience only seeks to further alienate citizen from learner and reinforce the poison of elite intellectualism.
The fifth principle of a progressive education system is that it is non-judgemental: assessment is formative and understanding of the semantic-structural nature of knowledge and skill development and its associated mastery. Education is the supply set that develops and grows on a journey from point to point in life; as with all journeys there may be detours, diversions, accidents, and discontinuations. Mastery develops within and should be measured against the context of its applicability rather than in the rarefied atmosphere of its construction. It is only then, at the moment of need, that a learner understands the true value of their learning and is able to appreciate and treasure it.
The sixth principle of a progressive education system is that it is dynamic: it is active at all levels: work, home, play, love. A learner is also an educator in a perpetual interaction of experience and development that benefits the immediate and the beyond. Curiosity is the greatest gift of sentience failure to nurture this is the greatest crime a society can commit: if you can’t be curious then you can’t question and if you can’t question then you can’t challenge and if you can’t challenge then you can never hold your society to account.
The learning experience must be a combined effort of learners and educators both in social and in individual modes. Citizens become more effective when they operate as groups and understood the processes and responsibilities inherent in participation and the journey towards success; individuals develop when their particular needs, concerns, and schema can be considered and addressed in one to one situations.
The seventh principle of a progressive education system is that it brings enjoyment to all its participants: it must be challenging and it must be fun. This is not to say that education is entertainment or that all participants must be enamoured of learning. Rather than every experience should leave every participant feeling as if they have had a noteworthy passage of time. The route to success is littered with failures but each failure needs to be accepted and processed as a way point on that route; it is only when failure becomes the final destination that the education system and society itself has abrogated its ultimate responsibility: the perpetual development of its citizens.
I do not pretend that I have all or even many of the answers to the needed systemic renewal of our education provision. What I do know though is that we are reaching a cultural plateau, a level at which our civilisation may stagnate, with the inherent risk of its becoming trapped in stasis if not leaning towards regression. “Education” needs to shift towards “learning” with an understanding that our most precious commodity is our citizenry and that what we do with it ultimately defines the type of society in which we live. This is not about social engineering or libertarian expression, or left or right wing doctrines, for an electorate must ultimately decide the shape of its society; rather it is a plea for that citizenry to be given the psychological, philosophical, and physical knowledge and skill sets to effectively engage with the process.
When we stop learning we did, and so does everything around us.