Education discourse has become focused on the need to get children a good career with high earning potential and the creation of great character in a meritocratic society but education is for none of these things. A good education might create the possibility for some that these things might follow on but make them your aim and you will fail, and also you will fail to educate. Education in the Western tradition is tied to the idea of freedom, it must embrace the possibility that children will end up with a disastrous career, low earnings, bad character and the rich might remain rich or killed by anarchists. It is not for teachers to brainwash their pupils so that they will forever be in their thrall, it is for teachers to pass on the tradition into which children can grow in order to be free of their teaching, to accept it or reject it, or, more likely, a bit of both.
Tim Oates said, as reported in the TES, that: “The notion that kids should be ‘work ready’ from school, and the constant champing of the CBI of this absurd proposition really needs to be attacked by all of us.” This is wonderful to hear. School leavers should not be like oven ready fat birds for Christmas, ready to sacrifice their possibility of living a good life by sticking their head in some employer’s gas oven and sitting their arses on a baking tray surrounded by the trimmings of office life. School shouldn’t stuff children’s nether regions full of the need to be a good team worker, a curious collaborative creator adept at nonsensical twenty-first century skills. Who cares what Volkswagen, Amazon, and Bernard Matthews want from school leavers, school is there for the human being not the disposable human functionary that employers want to gobble up.
In his book ‘Excellent Sheep: Thinking for Yourself, Inventing Your Life, and Other Things the Ivy League Won’t Teach You’, William Deresiewicz writes that education has come to be seen as “not far from game theory, an algorithm to be cracked in order to get to the next level.” And it is this idea that is far too prevalent in our system. Education like that is only about the next level, it is never about the now or the past, yet without the past or the present it has no intrinsic value. Early years ain’t about being primary ready, primary ain’t about being secondary ready, secondary ain’t about being job or university ready, neither is university about being job ready and a job ain’t about being retirement ready and retirement ain’t about being death ready! Do all that and you’ve forgotten to live! You might’ve got a high score folks but it’s GAME OVER!
This is why you educate for its own sake. By bringing the best of the past into conversation with people in the present you have a chance of building up the principles that should endure in the future: the freedom to know, to think, play, love, work, create or even the freedom to not do these things. An education that doesn’t do this, which has a closed end point in mind is one that is paranoid, it closes down freedoms, it restricts what you study or how you study to centralised diktats determining what the future demands, it closes down texts and it denies a voice to people who dare to contradict the utopian world where everyone has been taught to think in the same way. Can you imagine a world like that, where in schools and universities debate is restricted and incorrect texts that might trigger incorrect thoughts are banned? Next, books will be burned and people will be told what to say and how to say it.
The only restriction on education for its own sake should be that its own sake is freedom, for that is its raison d’être.