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Pinky’s Scary School Nightmare – and Deschooling Society

From looking at site stats, I see that significant numbers of people have read my recent ‘Carbon Trading – and What Should Be on the Negotiating Table at Copenhagen‘ post. The climate talks are over now, and appear to have achieved little more than add to a global atmosphere of discouragement, and so it’s left to us, the average guy on the street, to do what they should have done – that being to deeply consider what the world we want to develop should look like and to then consider how we can get from where we are now to that destination.

One of the key points I raised in the aforesaid article is the need to educate, educate, educate. The kind of education I’m referring to is not your contemporary, institutionalised, factory-type schooling that churns out faithful drones of consumption – but rather more practical-based education that enables individuals to take on the very real social, ecologic, resource challenges we now face.

The clip below, I think, is a good way to get one thinking about the topic in an outside-the-box fashion:

The, rather profound, words quoted are from Ivan Illich, whose 1971 book Deschooling Society (available to read online) was a radical interruption to mainstream concepts on education. He wrote it after coming "to realize that for most men the right to learn is curtailed by the obligation to attend school."

It’s obvious that if our educational facilities were serving the needs of society well, then it would have already resulted in our now inhabiting a culture that manages its resources and restrains its lifestyle to keep within sustainable boundaries. To a large degree, the blame for our failing to achieve this state can be laid squarely at the feet of our educational institutions – those that are tasked with preparing the next generation for productive labour.

Because of its relevance/significance, I’ll paste below a quote I’ve used before:

Education is totality of the methods and techniques adapted by the civilized society to bring about positive changes. – Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne

I would be very interested in your thoughts on this topic. As Einstein said, "We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." The last few centuries of ecological and cultural plundering has been handed down to us, and fostered, generation after generation, by an educational system that has departmentalised the sum of human knowledge so much that as individuals it becomes very difficult to see the big picture. Our lives thus become merely a search for little, specialist niches to occupy in the established consumer culture. Breaking out of these ingrained mental constraints will, I believe, only occur if we cease spending our formative years studying how to participate in maintaining the status quo.


  1. Craig,

    amusing to note that I just mentioned the role of our schools in another comment. Some synchronicity at work here. :-)

    Two points: (a) Education always is a double-edged sword. Most educators are not aware of the wider context of their work, and the problems that come with it. Yet, if we just, as a thought experiment, “went back to a purely small-scale tribal education system”, I see tremendous difficulties keeping some very weird ideas by populists under control. I think we need both a centralized education, much smaller than the present one, which basically is just about spotting demagogues and learning critical thinking skills, and a much more strongly contextualized, “hands on” education. (b) It is interesting to note how easy it is to effectively convey knowledge. One of the former presidents of the largest German scientific body, the Max Planck Society, did his first semesters in a post-WW2 POW camp, an “University” all organized by the prisoners themselves.

  2. Thomas – re (a), in particular your mentioning educators not being aware of the wider context of their work (specialisation), I think you’ll enjoy one of my favourite quotes, from Wendell Berry. I’ll paste a little of it here to whet your appetite, and send you to this post to read the rest.

    The disease of the modern character is specialization. Looked at from the standpoint of the social system, the aim of specialization may seem desirable enough. The aim is to see that the responsibilities of government, law, medicine, engineering, agriculture, education, etc., are given into the hands of the most skilled, best prepared people. The difficulties do not appear until we look at specialization from the opposite standpoint – that of individual persons. We then begin to see the grotesquery – indeed, the impossibility – of an idea of community wholeness that divorces itself from any idea of personal wholeness.

  3. Craig,

    what I especially had in mind when I wrote about this lacking unawareness of the wider context was that, as an educator, you shape perceptions of what education is about to a much stronger degree than you are aware.

    An anecdote: I once was invited to give a talk at a physics colloquium, where, having dinner with the physicists in the evening, I somehow mentioned that I got my in-laws an electric welding kit as a birthday present, as they can make good use of it. I immediately received a response “but one has to have a certificate first before one can weld”. I just thought to myself: “Oh-my-god. What sort of brain damage is this education business causing?” Granted, there is a place for certified welders. But for household use? To someone who grew up on a farm like me, that’s just so utterly outlandish an idea.

    Another anecdote: Many years ago, when my cousin was little, I went to cinema with him. He just had started learning to read at school, and when the final credits scrolled through, he told me “Ah, that word starts with [such-and-such letters], and then there is a ‘v’, but I cannot read that because we haven’t had that yet at school.”

    #@!&#%!& !!!

    At University, I try to work against that sort of brain damage in my own courses (which is what some students hate — because they have to think). And I am ever so amazed by the amount of such thinking I see in a number of colleagues, who seemingly got so badly zombified by going through the formal education system themselves that they now pass on that rubbish to the next generation. Oh well…

  4. People seem to have lost the ability to question what has been assumed and built upon, for many years. The only people that we see as qualified to give us information on topics seem to be those that have wrapped their lives up in a highly specialised field but in doing so lack the ability to look at bigger pictures outside of their experience.
    If something doesn’t make sense to us we tend to believe the academics and scientists with blind faith rather than search for an explanation that does make sense.
    When I was tutoring high school kids in Maths, I was routinely asked by parents if I had teaching qualifications, to which my reply would be “Do you want more of the same system that has failed your child in the first place?”. I did not teach but explained the concepts in a way that the kids could understand and would change the way I explained it until I saw that light switch on in their heads.
    Understanding a principle is much more powerful than memorising some points about the subject, but memorising points is rewarded in our education institutions.

  5. Mike,

    speaking about Alex Jones, doesn’t it make you wonder he comes up with things such as this…

    …and doesn’t do the checks one would expect a diligent citizen to do if he learns about serious concerns w.r.t. the validity of his story? In this Mims/Pianka thing, do a bit of research on Forrest Mims. It all boils down to a creationist launching a smear campaign against an academic biologist. When all this came out, did Alex Jones provide that additional info to shed a new light on the issue? No, because it soo nicely fits into his Universe of unshakeable beliefs in a big big conspiracy of the powerful to mass-cull the human population.

    So, *please* do me a very big favour, and seriously ask yourself the question: what are the reasons for believing in what A.J. has to say on a particular issue? If you tell me that you think he may be right on quite a number of things – also(/in particular) issues that cannot be discussed openly – I am perfectly happy with this. But you must accept that someone who evidently does not check additional info as it comes up is practically bound to be very wrong a number of times as well.

    So, while I am basically quite happy that Alex Jones is around, for a number of reasons, please, don’t blindly rush off to believe everything he said, just because he said it. Use your own head. One big problem with his way to read the world is that he found such a neat way to explain every conceivable observation in a way that it matches his beliefs. Evidence of a conspiracy? Great. No evidence? “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” – the conspiracy must run deeper than expected. Also great.

    Can you give me a good answer to this question: Pick a particular issue Alex Jones talks a lot about. What sort of evidence would make him re-evaluate what he strongly believed in in the past?


  6. The fascinating thing for me is something I’ve mentioned so many times – there are certainly moves towards global governance, and this is of great concern to me. But ignoring proven science doesn’t make this prospect any less likely. Indeed, as we ignore the science, and the climate response, along with all the other issues we face, we will begin to see a steady disintegration of social structures and a rise in civil disobedience and crimes born out of necessity. When this happens, ‘law and order‘ will become the overriding concern of governments. By doing nothing, as deniers would have us do, we are actually setting ourselves up for global governance.

    A better approach/alternative to telling ourselves what we want to hear even though it’s not so, is to not let science get obscured by social/political/economic factors, and then once we have our head around that we can start to consider how to shape a new future that addresses the issues we face whilst trying to build truly democratic invisible structures that can progressively replace the illusion of democracy we see today, and that will otherwise inevitably collapse.

  7. Alex Jones is both a global warming and peak oil denialist. That anyone interested in permaculture to be a fan of his points to a serious case of cognitive dissonance.

    Also, I’ve always had a hard time with the dogma that says in order to be a good-little-doomer you have to yank your kids out of public school. As someone who used to be married to a Jehovah’s Witness where all information about the world was carefully filtered by their creationist/end-times reality-distortion-field, it smacks of cultish-ness.

    I’m not afraid of my daughter receiving BAU-style messaging through public school because there is no way for her NOT to be influenced by BAU. She’s in the middle of a BAU world and there is no way to avoid this without locking her in the basement 24/7. To me, the responsibility of parents is to help kids make sense of this messaging, just as we had to do the hard way when we took the red pill, not to completely shield kids from it.

    But to each his own.

  8. I agree the education system is tyring, I cant handle it anymore and im leaving my uni. it feels like a degree factory. I feel like i am the only one who asks constructive questions on the whole class… everyone else sits there and doesn’t care. Also you cant have the sort of time limits on subjects because some subjects are really hard, and probably need more time than others. They exepcted us to learn the whole anatomy and physiology, every bone and landmark, tendon, muscle, where they join, etc etc in one semester. it was way too difficult IMO. Other things were just too easy. No one seems to complain and say “hey this isn’t right”, except me lol.

    as for alex jones, i agree, he does alot to provoke thoughts about topics otherwise not discussed but he does have a cult-like qualities. as was mentioned, we must adopt the take everything with a grain of salt attitude. I like how he explains the corrupt federal reserve bank. Also check out how he infiltrated Bohemian Grove, a gathering place for world leaders – pretty horifing stuff. Gives a new meaning to cult.

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