Dr. S. S. Sodhi Department of Education Dalhousie University
A state which dwarfs its men in order that they may be more docile instruments in its hands, even for beneficial purposes, will find that with small men no great thing can be accomplished. The mischief begins when, instead of calling forth the activities and powers of individuals and bodies, it makes them work in fetters, and bids them stand aside, and does their work for them.
- S. Mills
Essay on Liberty
Most of the emerged and emerging societies have been conditioned to think that school is a “legitimate” institution for transferring knowledge and culture from generation to generation. It is claimed that formal compulsory schooling is an important component of a lifelong process of education. There is ample evidence that schooling increases the income of those who go to school and increases their ability to function in a “modern” complex society.
Because schooling is seen as an important component of a lifelong adjustment process, many decision makers jump to the conclusion that the population of a nation is “uncivilized” if it has undergone little schooling. It is asserted that through schooling individual and societal liberation can be achieved.
Some recent studies have attempted to show that a highly schooled society is likely to be more politically democratic. It is concluded that raising the average level of schooling in a society will create more humanizing and democratic institutions.
It is interesting to note that in the recent past quite a few educators and social scientists in the Western world have dug below surface issues and have exposed for public debate the politics of schooling. Their assertions are briefly summarized for the benefit of the readers.
According to Miriam Wasserman author of a famous book entitled Demystifying School, schooling is not an opening of knowledge and understanding and an excess way to wisdom, but a ritual and an incantation and a doctrine which blinds and deafens the mind and cripples and corrupts the soul, she further comments: If the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, the Jokers of Watergate were trained in the playing fields of the high school suburbia.
Dr. Marcus Raskin, co-director of the Institute of Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. thinks that through schooling the child comes to learn and respect the idea that in the colonized society authority dictates and individuals internalize the notion that papers are more important than the person itself. So as to “stream” him he is measured from time to time and “placed” according to his cognitive level. It is an empirical fact that children of the poor and minority groups are usually tracked to the bottom level where they are provided ‘special treatment’ by middleclass experts.
It is felt that schools which act as ‘Channeling Colonies’ are not a great melting pot for Canadians of every color, creed and nationality, but sorting boards. They help children to get into enclosures that society provides and hence debars them from seeking self-fulfilling adulthoods.
According to Dr. Samuel Bowles of Harvard University, schools are developed and operated to fill the needs of cooperation in a capitalistic economy. They attempt to provide a disciplined and skilled Labour force that very seldom produces divergent responses.
Children who go to different schools get different schooling. Even in the same school different children get different ‘“education.” Class stratification within schools is scientifically achieve through the application of 1.Q. Ideology and differential attitudes of teachers, administrators and guidance counselors who expect working class children to do poorly, to terminate schooling early, and to end up in jobs similar to those of their parents. Needless to say, that school has failed to serve its egalitarian function.
It is a known fact that school is the only institution in which everyone is legally compelled to spend ten or more years of his life. During these years most of the individuals are mystified in believing that school is a must for personal growth. Some social scientists think that Plato’s useful lie operates only too efficiently for schools. The demand for education has become compulsive as it is universal.
Adam Curle author of a recent book Education for Liberation argues that we have schools all around us and they are here to stay. Any amount of fulmination will not make them go away. At the same time standing aside will not help matters.
N.S. School Boards Association while presenting a brief to the Royal Commission on Post-Secondary Education has urged the Provincial Department of Education to see that “a coherent body of learning is presented to students,” and for finding out whether it has been one, Departmental Examinations be used as accountability tests.
In my research, I have found:
- a) That most of the “learning disabilities” especially in mathematics are created by poor curriculum, poor math teaching and not expecting children to learn more. They gradually become “learning disinterested.” The schools then let them drop mathematics, hence further reducing their life chances in our computerized world. Do you know that a Grade 5 U.S.A. child is expected to develop competencies in long division whereas the long division is taught in Grade 2 in Japan!
- b) We have developed a business model to run our high schools. Walk into any high school, and you will find Principal, Vice Principal, Guidance Counselor, Reading Specialist, Curriculum Consultant, Head of the Department and Offices, etc. all separated from the teaching area. Actually a student could graduate from a high school without even knowing or talking to the Principal who along with other administrators do not teach and hence miss a golden opportunity to stay in touch with the learning climate of the school.
- c) Guidance Counselors because of their role definition stay busy preparing recommendation for graduating students. These recommendations are based on
Information collected by teachers since the child was in the elementary school. Scholarships etc. are provided by the universities based on this information so the school guidance counselor ends up working for the universities instead of providing intensive developmental or vocational counseling.
It is an unfortunate fact that a smorgasbord type of “basket weaving’ courses are provided to students who are gradually and successfully “streamed” into “adjusted” classes. These unfortunate “learning disinterested” children after providing jobs to educators leave schools without any selling skills. I am told that even their school leaving diplomas are “special,” which are not acceptable to any vocational school.
Dr. Martin Carnoy of Stanford University thinks that the knowledge most of our institutions provide, colonizes our minds. To demystify, we must make education congruent with the reality of teachers and students. Real education should put the child into the path of awareness, and affirmation of his conditions for possible action. School’s purpose should not be to legitimize a pyramidal social structure and hierarchical relations but to have children discover that the institutional organization and purpose is not derived from “natural order” but from people’s mind.
Besides exploring the methods of improving instructions in our schools, we have to see that broader knowledge about the way our society functions should be made available to our teachers and students. His awareness’ produced through decolonized knowledge is bound to humanize our schools.
An appropriate thought for the closing of this essay might be the inscription which is to be found on the administration building at Santiniketan, a famous school established by Tagore at Bolpur, India, which reads as follows:
A teacher can never truly teach unless he is still learning himself. A lamp can never light another lamp unless it continues to burn its own flame. A teacher who has come to the end of his subject, who has no living traffic with his students can only lead their minds, he cannot quicken them. Truth not only must inform, it must inspire; if the inspiration dies out and the information only accumulates, then truth loses its infinity. The greater part of our learning in the schools has been wasted because for most of our teachers their subjects are like dead specimens of once living things with which they have learned acquaintance but no communication of life and love.
Sir Rabindranath Tagore