That’s right, abolish education.
Before you come to my house with the pitchforks and the torches, though, let me ask you what comes to mind when I say the word “education.”
For me, it’s teachers and schools, venerable buildings and administrators, politicians ranting and parents raving. It’s preparedness for a “21st century economy.” It’s testing and standardization and outcomes and evaluation and funding‚Äìmy lord, the funding.
Basically, education is the institution within which learning happens, it is not learning itself. And, although we tend to forget it sometimes, learning is the raison d’etre of all education and not vice-versa.
Many debates and discussions get derailed because these two things are mistakenly conflated. When someone suggests that we should decrease the hours in the school day, they are greeted with a screech that makes it you think they suggested we give our kids lobotomies. How can my kids learn, they think, if not in a school, sitting at a desk, wishing he was somewhere else?
Yet, it would be ludicrous to suggest that receiving an education and learning are the same thing. I have yet to see a study, in fact, that suggests that students learn more than 10% of what they know in an educational institution! And, when you look at the percentage of their waking hours are spent in school, that seems like a pretty paltry number.
I am not certainly not the first person to suggest that we separate learning and education. Ivan Illich made a similar distinction in his book Deschooling Society. Illich also makes the point that, if we aren’t careful, institutions begin focusing more on their own propagation instead of focusing on what they were ostensibly created to do. We can see this in the case of contemporary universities, who no longer bat an eyelash when deciding to construct a multi-million dollar Student Activity Center (read: mall) while laying off instructors.
What do you think drives enrollment more, adjunct Italian instructors or ping pong tables and a sweet food court?
I’m not willing to go as far as Illich, though, who seems to desire the wholesale destruction of schools. That seems a little melodramatic for my taste. What I do think is that we should look for ways to improve learning AND THEN make institutions and organizations to do so, not the other way around. Measuring learning is a whole different mess, but a worthwhile mess, which is more than I can say about measuring institutional factors like money spent on student.
Measuring money spent on students instead of measuring learning is like comparing a meal at El Bulli and to a meal of 20000 chicken McNuggets because both cost 500 bucks.
This may open us to the possibility that our present educational configuration is the local optimum and not the global optimum. This is to say that our educational institutions may be crudescence of centuries of kludges and easy fixes which may not strictly be the best for learning. And when assessing these institutions, we should do so based on how well students learn, not how well the educational institution is doing of keeping itself fat.