Schooling the World: A Recipe for Competition, Compliance & Consumerism

By Sean Crawley

A healthy social life is found only, when in the mirror of each soul the whole community finds its reflection, and when in the whole community the virtue of each one is living.

– Rudolf Steiner

Humans need community – planet earth built us that way. We are social animals that not only survive physically by cohabiting with each other, but we thrive emotionally and psychologically when our groups are functional and nurturing.

One of the symptoms of an upside-down, insane world, that is collapsing around us, is that the human inhabitants are running around in circles, grieving the loss of community, and wondering how on earth to recreate it. Ironically, in a world of over seven billion people we are lonely and lack a sense of belonging. People are yearning for meaningful connection with each other and with the natural world from which we evolved.  Simply stated, modern industrialised and capitalised society is not conducive to healthy, happy, human communities.

A comprehensive analysis of the causes of the downfall of community in the modern world would be a massive task. The scope of this piece will focus on one hypothesis: that the modern compulsory schooling system has created generation after generation of individuals that have been indoctrinated to be compliant consumers and competitors in a human race that effectively destroys community. That community still exists at all is due to the resilience of our true innate nature to live in harmonious groups that share and care for each other and the natural world that supports us.

‘Educating’ for economic growth

The reality of schooling for many of today’s children is approximately thirteen years – from the ages of five to eighteen – of compulsory training in highly regulated institutions. Children who are not getting this brand of “education” are deemed to be disadvantaged, and global efforts are directed towards every single child on the whole planet being gifted with the opportunity to sit in a classroom for the duration of their childhood. The craziness of this is rarely contemplated because we have either been indoctrinated ourselves by the same regime or, if we missed out on school, we have been sold the lie that school is the best form of education for children. We therefore send our offspring off for daily instruction, in their uniforms, without even a question.

During this decade-plus of compulsory training, children are delivered a prescribed syllabus that has been predetermined to be essential for success in the contemporary world. Their skills and performance are constantly measured and ranked within class groups, and even on national and international scales. These educational levels – or should they be called employability skills? – are championed by government and business leaders as essential for a nation’s economic success in an increasingly competitive world marketplace. If our children do not come out of the education system more technically adept – and therefore more economically productive – than their parents, the nation will fall behind on the global playing field. This is then sensationally extrapolated by media commentators as a certain disaster that will result in falling living standards for the populace.  Perpetual economic growth depends on the increased productivity of the next generation. We can clearly see the ethical issues related to factory farming of animals to satisfy our rapacious hunger for more, but we are essentially blind to the human factories called schools.

Children are well aware of their place in the pecking order. If it is not on a chart on the classroom wall, it is sent home to the parents in regular report cards so they can assess whether their offspring deserve reward or punishment. Imagine if adults were informed that they would be forced to attend a decade of full-time prescribed training at which they would continually be assessed and disciplined to improve their performance, behaviour and attitude. Some might argue at this point that adults, once they leave school, are actually forced into institutions (workplaces), and trained and ranked and pushed to perform for 40 years. Maybe that explains why we “school” our children – the reality of a lifetime of servitude is so entrenched in our psyche that preparing children for this is the kindest thing to do. The insidiousness of this is that we lie to our kids that doing well at school is the pathway to wealth, freedom and happiness.  The expectation to be grateful for a first class school education, so as to become a contributing member of a sick society, is surely the final insult. To actually get away with this type of child abuse, a lot of bullshit is required.

School ≠ education

The biggest lie of all is to label school as education. Most of us accept education, in the true sense of the word, as an essential requirement for a meaningful life, but the compulsory schooling of children to train them for the workforce is not education.  The Jesuit doctrine of ‘Give me the child for his first seven years, and I’ll give you the man’, has been usurped by modern secular society to ensure that we all ‘become a useful member of society’. Innate human curiosity and a love of learning are systematically and effectively destroyed by the school system. Ask any year 12 student why they are studying so hard for their final exams and they will tell you it is for the marks, not for knowledge or understanding and certainly not for the love of learning.

The school children who challenge, question, and resist the system are targeted for reform by humiliating discipline, and are shunned and condemned as failures.  It is not hard to imagine future archaeologists, sifting through the ruins of modern industrialised civilisation and struggling to understand why the artefacts of the school system obviously point to the enslavement of children. What won’t be such a mystery will be that a civilisation that did practice such universal child abuse would eventually collapse.

The mass production of unquestioning, self-loathing and competitive consumers is an art form that has been carefully crafted ever since the invention of the modern school system required by the industrial revolution. Its success has been outstanding. The human race is now seven billion people striving and competing against each other for their slice of the planet. The rapidly declining state of the planet in the wake of this madness is hardly a surprising outcome. In fact, the current state of affairs is so bad, that many humans are convinced that Homo sapiens is a fundamentally flawed quirk of the evolutionary process, and that our destiny is to wipe ourselves out.  And because we are a mistake, an evolutionary dead end, the sooner we exit stage earth the better – we truly do hate ourselves. Some have decided to give up and run away to the ‘dark mountain’ to observe the inevitable collapse. The rest of us are scratching our heads, wondering how it all went so pear-shaped, and what the hell are we going to do about it.

Educating the next generation

The evidence is steadily mounting to debunk the myth, still vociferously defended by those already on top of the heap, that studying hard to get the marks to climb the socio-economic ladder is the pathway to a good life. Unfortunately, the indoctrination has been so thorough that parents still blindly send their offspring off to school at the tender age of four or five – I know I did it without batting an eye. The cycle of abuse needs to be broken. While ever we continue to school the next generation to be competitive consumers, to not trust themselves or others, to view the planet as a resource for our own use and abuse, then we will only continue to get what we are getting now. It is not community; it is a plague.

Every one of us has a responsibility to stop and take stock of where we are at and where we are heading. Any rational assessment will uncover a very unpleasant and confronting reality. It is little wonder that so many of us distract ourselves from this unfolding nightmare with the mindless indulgences of sex, drugs, celebrity, and spectator sports. If we dare profess that we want a better future for our children, then surely a serious and critical look at why we train our kids to contribute to a society that is destroying the planet is well overdue.

Community naturally springs from the collective beliefs and actions of the people that reside and intermingle with each other. Let’s be honest, a good community is a nice place to be, a place where people feel  welcomed and valued for simply being themselves. If we are going to school our children, then humility, co-operation, kindness to others, creativity and critical thinking ought to be the core of the curriculum. The modern compulsory school system has manufactured a population of ambitious, competitive, ignorant and fearful consumers who lack the essential attributes required for healthy, happy, and sustainable communities. Decent communities must have, at the very least, decent people.

The good news is that despite the lengthy and rigorous training of our schooling system there still exists deep within us a desire to be social, peaceable and loving animals. We are hanging in there. 

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