We are quick to list down the contribution of education to society. At the drop of a hat, people can come up with a handful of reasons on why education should be free: that education is a right, that it is the State’s responsibility to allot sufficient funds for it, that making people pay would make education unaccessible to others, etc. But education should not be just about access. We must make education as how it was conceptualized: more opportunities for the educated. Therefore, we must also make education liberating.
We have been taught that education will open opportunities for us, that it will be our key to knowledge, that it will provide us with what we need to become better people. Yet upon entering school, we are taught that there will always be a fixed syllabus, a rigid list of topics the school deems to be proper to teach. We were never consulted on what we would like to learn, on what we would like to improve upon, on how we would like it to be taught. This is most probably the reason not a few people find their schooling as insufficient and alienating, not to mention suffocating.
This is a country where we value diversity, yet we look on people who get off the beaten track to pursue their own path as dysfunctional individuals. Everyone must aspire to the American dream, which is of “’getting ahead’… has the sweet smell of achievement.” (Zinsser 313) We look at the word “drop-out” negatively because it is not the American dream, even if people quit college “… with its frequently mindless courses, to become, say, a VISTA volunteer.” (Zinsser 313)
These people wanted to learn things they would not learn inside a university: living among underprivileged people, instead of just reading about them, or learning from their ways by talking to them as they do their daily tasks, instead of just watching documentaries made about them. They wanted to take control of their own education, and yet they are considered as failures.
This is a democratic country, where it is blatantly proclaimed that everyone is free to choose, and yet people who do exercise this right are branded as rebels. Their futures are predicted as revolving around unfulfilled lives because they are not aiming at success, yet “… they appear more fulfilled than the average vice-president with a swimming pool.” (Zinsser 315) The argument of success being equivalent to fulfillment blows up in one’s face upon seeing and meeting living proof against this argument. It also reinforces that old cliché of money being unable to buy happiness.
In schools, students are forever preoccupied with following what other people are telling them to do, “… subject to their judgment, in situations in which he can only win at the expense of other students.” (Holt 354) Schools in this sense, are more like concrete prisons instead of hallowed institutes of learning. Students are made to pit against themselves to succeed, made to follow orders and be subjected to what other people deem as right or wrong, whose views are, more often than not, of the majority in politics and society. With this procedure, the ideas and beliefs of the majority are perpetuated.
This may not necessarily be a bad thing; being educated under such a system will make students adjust better to society at large when they leave school. But when it undermines the individual autonomy of a person to decide for itself what it should learn and how to go about the learning process, when only the school decides what should be taught and how to teach it, it becomes something insidious indeed. It becomes political repression, not a democratic right.
As Gutmann wrote in a book entitled, “Democratic Education,” “Education is not democratic if citizens do not collectively influence the purposes of primary schooling nor if they control the content of classroom teaching so as to repress reasonable challenges to dominant political perspectives.”
This goes against having a liberating education. Passivity cannot make a student learn; it can only the student submissive. A student must interact, must take part in the learning process to really be able to learn.
Clearly, this is not how education should be. It does not liberate a person from the shackles of ignorance; it only reinforces the metal. With this kind of system, we are only being made to believe that there is just one authorized repository of all knowledge: school. If we accept this, we are also accepting that we as individuals have nothing worthy to say, even when it comes to our own issues.
A little education is better than none at all; it is better to learn all the grammar tenses in the English language, or to learn the basic algebraic equations, than not at all, for example. These pieces of information you will be able to use in everyday life. But one must also qualify what kind of education it is. For if it involves putting a premium on denying ourselves, abiding by rules set by other people, reciting what others before us have done so, “an education that favors spectatorship over participation”, as Martin said in her essay, “Critical Thinking for a Humane World”, then it is not worth acquiring.
So how can we make education liberating? Students must be able to choose how and what they should learn. They should be able to make a curriculum according to what they deem important. They should be able to choose whether they want to attend school or not (Holt 351), or at least, be able to choose if they want their classes inside the classroom or outside in exposure trips. Everyone should be given educational autonomy; this is the only way to ensure active and fruitful learning, as true education does not induce apathy or depression. It should inspire awe and curiosity in an individual. Only through this method will we be able to create a true democratic nation composed of a pro-active people.
Holt, John. “The Right to Control One’s Learning.” Prose Models. Ed. Gerald Levin. Florida: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc, 1964. 349-355
Gutmann, Amy. Democratic Education. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1987.
Martin, Jane. “Critical Thinking for a Humane World.” The Generalizability of Critical Thinking. New York: Teachers College Press.1992.
Zinsser, William. “The Right to Fail.” Prose Models. Ed. Gerald Levin. Florida: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc, 1964. 313-316.