How a misconception made society miserable… (and how to change our belief system).
What to think about how we educate people? The urge of this question and all the other questions that came along with this one, has been following me for years.
We need to dive into history a bit and take a look at the first schools in Europe. Once upon a time (in the 8th century A.D.) there was an emperor: Charlemagne (meaning Charles the Great).
He got classes in the 7 liberal arts, but that definitely wasn’t available for the entire society. So, to make a long story short, he decided that there had to be a school for learning how to read, write, pray and sing. The teachers were monks, the school the monastry.
In the following centuries education still wasn’t for everyone, especcially girls weren’t educated at all and couldn’t read or write. Only in the upper class girls were taught soms languages (French) and being a good hostess. They learned how to manage the bigger house hold and receiving guests of a particular environment. For men counted: craftsmenship was taught in a guild, directly from a very experienced person, the Master…
During the medieval times there was a huge difference between who was rich and who was ‘normal’. And normal meant: poor or at least in the survivor’s mode. Banking systems were invented (by the D’Medici’s) and the option market was blooming (by the Dutch). Trade routes from East to West were used. All ways to become rich if you weren’t born in the class of the nobles. Who learned how to read and write was just lucky enough to have been born in the right environment. And if indeed so, your family made sure that the wealth was ensured for the following generation by setting up good marital contracts between members of (noble) families.
Around 1670 the era of Enlightenment started. Important philosophers in this process were for example Voltaire, Spinoza and Immanuel Kant. They believed that the Church as an institute had so much power because people were only educated into that direction. The Church was strengthened by the fact that only a few people could read and write, so there wasn’t a lot of fact finding going on. The average men and women lived in fear and superstition. The change that the Enlightenment brought was above all the idea that we could use our own heart, our own intuition and our own intellect to make free choices. The first steps of independancy were made.
Change starts with asking philosophical questions. Do you dare to face the answers?
So, to jump from past times to today, where do we find ourselves now? We have built an education system on top of something that was valuable in itself: reading and writing wasn’t enough anymore. Perhaps we started in the right way, but we definitely lost sight on what we were doing. We haven’t been looking at: does it make sense to teach all the subects to everyone? Do we still see the bigger picture?
No. We built something ugly, big, not making sense anymore, like this gate post put on the lion’s head (Palazzo Vecchio Firenze)!
We believe knowledge is power and power is good. That is part 1 of the misonception.
Our education system nowadays is based on the idea we have about intelligence. We made ourselves some metrics to see how intelligent someone is (IQ) and we think this is very important. Based on how good someone is theoretically (we think that is a sign of intelligence) we created levels in our education system. We perhaps broke down the class system with upper and lower class, we easily exchanged it for high and low educated. We measure totally irrelevant things, (like: who smokes at a younger age, higher or lower educated people?), based on education level. We exchanged our Gods and Religion for Money and Knowledge.
Or we kept our Gods and Religion and added Money and Knowledge to our devotion.
In our education system was, during the last centuries, more and more room for (earning) money and (false) metrics for increasing the level of knowledge with students. “Passion” took the last train and never returned. Results are now leading, measured by how many students reach the highest level.
Misconception part 2: Students reach a higher level if they are good in reproducing the knowledge they are taught by their teachers.
The upper class in our society is now the group of people that are high educated. High education is for those who can read and reproduce very well: someone else’s knowledge, theoretically. Low education means: the student is less strong in theory, is more practical and pragmatic. The more playfull you are as a child; the less intelligent the environment believes you are. In the upbringing of our children we believe they should reach the highest education level possible. The knowledge they learn might not all be useful, but that makes no difference for our belief system. Our children become angry, annoyed, bored, wild and restless. Since we have this strong belief that the knowledge we learn in our schools at the highest level is the best they can get and we as parents should give our kids a chance to reach that highest level to have the biggest chances in life, we give them medication to become calm again. We think we aren’t a good parent if we give our child the chance to play outside, be not in time, take an extra year in school just to release them from the pressure. NO! We even make our children’s homework in order to get them as fast as possible to the next level. And if they don’t reach that level, there must be a valid reason, like an illness or disorder to explain (to the other parents?) why they couldn’t go to university.
Misconception part 3: we don’t have to look at our children’s real needs. We strongly believe we give them a chance to a better life if we push them through our system, straight to the highest level of education possible, useful or not.
During the years our children spend in school they become aware of the fact that they can’t do it. They loose self confidence. They loose trust in their professors. They feel not noticed as the person they are. They feel they learn useless theory for a useless job they are not interested in. They become depressed, which is not an exception at all. If they would choose to do something else with their lives, they feel guilty and people around them ask them questions like: “Choosing to be a carpenter is below your level! Why do you do that? You can do so much more than that”, (meaning: “you can BE so much BETTER than being a person that uses his hands to earn his money, instead of using his brains”. As if a carpenter doesn’t have to use his brains…). Being a person who chooses for a profession that is in our education system classified as low: you have to be strong. A lot of people don’t know how to make that choice anymore. They don’t feel they have strong roots (because they lost self confidence at an early age already) and be prepared to disappoint their parents who were so proud of having “such a smart child”. Worse case scenario: they lost sight on who they are without their “high education”. High and low have become synonyms for good and not so good. Or for smart and not so smart.
After the whole arena of going through our education programm, the student is ready to function in society, right? Unfortunately not. When they start to work they discover that they didn’t develop important skills like: being creative and playful when a problem appears. Or: being a problem solver that knows how to involve his colleagues by using communication skills. Or: how to overcome a disappointment… A lot of what they learned they can’t use and what they need wasn’t in the programm… The higher educated, the higher the expectations of themselves. A paralising situation (and don’t you know an (ex-) student in your circle who doesn’t know what he wants to do and takes a year off to think? A bit lost in this landscape?).
Back to asking ourselves questions.
- Do we really think we need all the subjects in school? Do we need subjects at all?
- Are we right in classifying education and professions from low to high?
- Are we right in measuring and classifying IQ and based on the metrics out of IQ tests one is more intelligent or less intelligent? Is testing IQ’s outdated in general?
- What would happen if we would go back to learn how to read, write, use money wisely, use our common sense and intuition and base our education system on getting those skills (and those skills only – our children would be much more free uring their childhood)?
- What would happen if we only educate what our children are interested in and what they will use in their professions later and leave the rest?
- What would happen to us if we would throw our ideas about what is high and low in the trash bin? No such concepts of ‘high and low’ anymore?
What would really happen if we reduce our education system and go back to what we need and want and add playing with values like: problem solving, communication skills, creativity, curiosity, freedom, self confidence?
We would regain time. We would regain energy. We would regain freedom. We would regain sight on our real talents. We would regain joy. We would even regain the money we now waste on the conseqences of keeping the misconception alive no matter what. We would regain true knowledge, as a path to becoming skilled, because people dare to think for themselves again.
It is something to think about. Really.