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Monday, May 2, 2011

The Functions of Schooling: to Deaden the Mind, to Weaken the Will?

Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. …
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains.-- Shelley
Power has many sources: among them, wealth, fear, luck, tradition and knowledge. For those powerful people whose relationship with knowledge is minimal, power is all too often a precarious, fleeting thing.

Despite what the familiar slogan says, knowledge, in and of itself, is not power. It takes the Will to use it to make the transformation.

People in power have long feared knowledge and its dissemination. Will is even more feared. Will can be transformative, damaging, even where knowledge is lacking, although less likely to cause lasting change.

This is why education for the masses tends to stultify two of the main human impulses to the development of Knowledge and Will: curiosity and assertiveness. Schools, by their very structure, reward narrow focus on “approved goals” and obedience within a hierarchical framework.

To enter the school curriculum, simple ideas have to be made complex, made onerous with pointless memorizations, or castrated of any threatening application. Can you imagine what it might mean if the Declaration of Independence were used by students and applied to the governance of the schools?
You can think and think and think/
Till your brains are numb, 
I don't care what teacher says, 
I can't do that sum. -- V. Herbert & K. Baker
A majority of Americans suffers from a school cultivated fear of mathematics. Ritual and obscurantism are used hide its potential for the experiences of beauty, and of insight and its suggestive indications of power. Only those who have suffered long preambles of tradition, who have shown themselves willing to subject themselves to the arbitrary discipline of academic, i.e. politically safe, pedants, get to see the treasures of the inner sanctums of the discipline.

The goals of constraining knowledge and suppressing will is what makes “science education” in K-12 education less than science, more like a magic show with much preachment, and little critical thinking and interesting exploration.

Are schoolkids -- are adults -- sufficiently curious and assertive to make the most of the knowledge available? Many are. The others might be, if they didn’t live on the brink of economic disaster and ill-health; or in communities of self-perpetuating debilitation.

For references and to examine these issues further, see Evaluating Learner Strengths and Weaknesses: 
the Impediments of Formalism

--- EGR