Here's the thing ladies and gentlemen - there are things you need to know and things it's good to know.
The things you need to know are those things that will give you agency in your life. The lessons taught to us in our youth are meant to be built on - not lost to time.
In the school system we empower adults to convey the same stilted knowledge to an entire cohort of unwilling experimental subjects. Standardisation of education has led to homogenuity in thought and in desire. A school system should teach about humanity - the lives people have led.
As I get older I realise how little education actually occurred prior to my PhD. Rote learning will get you a superficial certificate and an unearnt contribution to your ego.
I believe we need to strip the system back. Identify the topics that are needed and dismiss the rest to history. The first and last lesson of a school education must, must be to teach the love of learning. We will never write the perfect history book. We will never be able to write the perfect lesson. Each person has a different life - A different need.
We already accept, though only teachers seem to recognise it on a daily basis, the truth that a school is generally one of two things. First, a place to house your young whilst you go to a job you don't enjoy. And second, a place for your children to become normalised. I did not enjoy my school education. I doubt sincerely I was the only one.
I don't claim to know the best outcome, but here is how I would do it. The following follows the age of the child, until the next age is listed. This is purely to indicate progress under my system with respect to what exists here today. Some children develop faster, some slower. The fact we don't even accommodate this shows our utter contempt for the children we are supposed to protect.
First formal education should not begin until 8 or 9 years old, at the earliest. Prior to this, concepts such as forest schools must be explored further. The wonder and innocence of childhood is an essential bedrock. The lesson of the Hogfather was that in our youth we must learn to believe in small lies, before we can believe in the big ones. Truth and justice. Freedom and Hope. These lessons are not taught from a book, they come from genuine human interaction. How do we expect people to express empathy for their fellow human when many of us go years without experiencing it.
From this age, children should learn the tools of our civilisation. In the year I write this, this is a pen and paper and the keyboard + mouse. The physical and the digital. This latter is new in its all emcompassing prevalence in our time.
Next students should learn the context in which they are born. The history of their community, the history of our species, the history of our 12,000 year old civilisation. The shared human rights we all should hold. The basics of game theory and cooperation. The essential need to put the survival of the human species above all other concerns. It is in our children we must place our faith for our salvation. If we deserve to be saved at all.
Schools cannot fix broken homes. But we can help fix broken people. Compassion, support and an education on the good mental hygeine. We don't expect people to have perfect teeth without being told to brush.
Now many would ask - how much time would these essentials take up? Would we not lose much technical knowledge as a species. After all - none of us know all that is needed to rebuild a fraction of our technology. None of us became civilised alone. I would argue that this is an unfounded worry.
This may seem like an odd argument coming from a teacher, after all, isn't my job to pass on knowledge? Well I would argue bluntly you can lead a horse to water but you cannot force it to drink. Some knowledge, like languages, can be learnt rapidly at a young age. Ethics, I would hypothesise, is another. I will leave it to braver souls to identify those seeds. They better bloody work quickly.
As we approach an older age, let us say the teenage years, students will hopefully begin to develop passions and reason. Students should challenge each other and their teachers. Every idea, every concept we insist on bestowing. Every gift should be treated as propaganda. This should be encouraged.
Educators should be beyond ego and revel in the exploration of ideas. The Internet exists - students can and will learn. Some ideas are misguided and some are wrong, but how can blame anybody if we never let them engage in discussion in good faith.
All should be led towards curiosity and creativity in its many forms.
A student's formal education in the first part will draw to a close when a student desires a path forwards. To work towards science or the simple life. Above all, students should be broken of the pernicious habit that is learned helplessness. Our civilisation will not survive this rot indefinitely.
In this first stage of education - perhaps from the age of 8 to the middle teenage years - or frankly whenever the child is ready to progress. Competition has its place, but not in setting one child against another. In the UK our schools only purpose is to ensure that students close to an arbitrary pass threshold are in fact on the other side of it. To quote Marilyn Strathern :
When a measure becomes a target, is ceases to be a good measure.
Teachers should be guides. I would argue that we should lead by example. Teachers should be those of us for whom learning will never stop. For the passion of it. The joy of it. Any teacher joylessly handing out yet another rote learning exercise to prepare for a test that serves no purpose is complicit in a system charitably 'designed' for a different age.
Mentors and experts from society must be brought in. In this time, in 2020, we have the concept of a jury service. Perhaps we should consider an essential part of being civilised is to help teach our young. Plumbers and philosphers. Chefs and coders. Only in exposure to a wide array of ideas will innovation occur.
What of the elephant in the room that I ignore? What of those who have no clue, no desire, no engagement. Does my system imply shifting responsiblity to the children? Should we let them waste their youth?
In the first instance, it is their youth - not yours. Second, a school implies some form of structure. Some form of discipline. In the sense that we have police by consent in this country, perhaps 'teaching by consent' should become a thing also. We are all human and we are all flawed. A post listening every mistake I have made in my short time so far on this Earth, would increase this article's length tenfold. I needed to learn discipline of the mind and of the body. In private education the essential nature of sport for instance is heavily pushed. I would do the same.
As we age out of the formal system, opportunities for continued education must be free at the point of access and prevalent.
I want to conclude this, first of many, articles on why I am writing this. Our schools and indeed our entire public sector is reliance on the good faith of those within it. People who genuinely believe in the words of vocation. Their sacrifice is often ignored. It is in their quiet dignity I have humbled. Sadly I have met too view teachers of this quality. Rightly so they have turned away because the changes required are too hard. They endeavour to fight within a system that binds them. In their fruitless struggle they learn that apathy does not affect their wage. That schools are often more about politics and bureaucracy than teaching. This must end. And it must end now.
If our species is to survive we must spread the joy of thought to all. We must encourage thinking and the pleasure of education throughout a lifetime. We must insist on a society where every individual seeks their own goals in life. For the sake of our home planet we must break the need for our desires to be hemmed in one furious direction. If our species survives they will look back at how we allowed the economy to become the master not the servant. They will see the misery we have inflicted and the lives we failed to save. And they will weep.
I woke up only recently. And the scale of my failure as a human being was laid bare. And all my emotions long surpressed, long held in check lest I be beaten back again. Ignored again. Alone again.
I was lucky. I've always been very lucky. In this time I had friends who could help me. Those small gestures are the bedrock of our society. Here in 2020 we have destroyed them all. I won't quote statistics at you, but individuals with no social circle is a terrible crime. A crime committed on a scale beyond human comprehension. Community, society, kinship. It's what I believe is missing at the centre of all things. It is why our species is on the verge of decimation. We seek only to survive, not to live.
I saw that was complicit in a society that swallowed its young whole. That with every compromise I made, every decision to stay quiet, to look away from harm. These were crimes. I was a collaborator of Moloch. No more.
Never again. If you have the ability to think, you must think. If you have the desire to write, you must write. And if you can change the world for the better, and you can, it is your only obligation.
There is very little time left. The populous must be roused from slumber. They must be given their freedom and they must be taught how to think. I don't think there's enough time left, but I will not go quietly towards the destruction of our species by our worst aspects. Narcissism in the powerful. Hatred in the weak. Apathy in the wealthy.
Silence is complicity.