What if we were to agree that all humans have value that lies way beyond their financial capacity and academic intellect? That it is obscene to reduce people to nothing more than a unit of monetary worth? That artistic, sporting and practical abilities be as valid? That the higher intelligences such as empathy, grace and kindness be seen as strengths, not weaknesses? That education is its own reward rather than merely a means to someone else’s ends?
The point of a structured period of compulsory schooling should be to facilitate the awareness and understanding of a complex world to children, not merely the ability to pass tests and march to the beat of the latest diktats of fashionistas, inept governments and corporate drummers.
What if we decided that we didn’t want to have to choose which school to send our children to? What if we didn’t feel the need to? What if we made sure there were enough state schools at every educative level, easily accessible to every child in the country? And what if each and every one of those schools were of such an excellent standard that only fools and radicals would seek to pay extra to send their children elsewhere? What if our state schools were so blooming good that every child received the highest possible standard of education and every parent and employer knew it? What if teachers were trusted and valued as highly as are the expectations placed upon them? Any worth their salt would be clamouring to work in such an amazing public sector.
And why the rush to bring our children to employable maturity if emotional intelligence cannot keep up? (Indeed, why the rush if there are insufficient jobs to even require their labour?) It hasn’t been coined as ‘childhood’ for nothing. We are adults soon enough and it lasts, hopefully, for a very long time so why are we heaping panic upon pressure upon stress on our kids? To compete in the global race to be grateful automatons? It is part of being a child that s/he should be in a hurry to grow up but it is the job of adults to temper that impatience, not to concede and actively demand they do. If we really are all living longer then let’s make it a life worth living by getting right one of the fundamental building blocks of a confident, prosperous people.
Education is supposed to facilitate self-confidence and the ability to learn; to encourage critical thinking, curiosity and a love of learning. Thus, though school cannot teach absolutely everything, if it has done its job properly, it shouldn’t need to. Education is supposed to reveal an individual’s potential. In order for this to be achieved, schooling needs to provide the opportunity, time and space for a child to discover what that might be. Teachers need the freedom and scope to assist and appropriately indulge or signpost that opportunity. The next generation are the future, the continuum of the human race. Our children are our legacy. Not in the sense of property, but as the living arrows of Society’s bow, to paraphrase Gibran. Could there really be any task more worthy or vital?
And what if we were to decide to phase out faith-based schools? What if we said that doctrinal faith should not be prescribed to children with little or no escape or counterbalance? Perhaps our society would lose an excuse for the oft-cited sense of cultural division if the doctrines of cults were retired to their temples. The point of a secularist/pluralist society is to achieve and uphold equality under the law and in a multi-faith and no-faith country like ours, that makes Faith (which is not exclusive to Orthodox Religion) a matter of personal rather than public policy. It does not negate nor deride it but recognises that not everyone has it and that no one faith is superior to another. Religion, like Politics, is a living history, based on theory and belief. In schools, shouldn’t it be reflected, explored and debated as such, under the umbrella subject of Philosophy, rather than passed off as though its teachings were fixed by empirical data or as though it were the sole route to ‘God’ and the only expression of a spiritually and consciously lived life?
In fact, what if we decided that any school, within or outside of the state system that was intentionally selective about its admissions or adherence to a compulsory, base-line national curriculum should not qualify for funds from the Public Purse? I don’t mean barring schools from adding subjects to a mandatory curriculum – I’d have loved the opportunity to learn Latin, or even circus skills, actually – I’m talking about the ridiculous notion that a minimum national curriculum is not necessary; that schools should be able to opt out of any of the recommended subjects, particularly such issues as drugs and sex and relationships. This is not acceptable. Students need to know they share a common level of knowledge and that they are not being cheated of vital information or a major life skill.
Obviously it is not the place of a free society to dictate to individual adults the manner in which they live, so long as it does not harm another. Neither, therefore, what individuals do with their income. It follows, then, that it is unwisely authoritarian to take away the freedom to choose and pay for exclusivity. But I would happily – very happily – see governmental policies that rendered it superfluous.