Sunday, July 22, 2012


Hitler would have said 'Kampf' and meant it in a completely different way. I'm a researcher in the sociological 'sciences' and I have a problem, if not a struggle. The thing is that education, now globalizing like everything else these days, has got to think about what to do with itself.

As many people have commented, 'education' is from Latin educaré — a 'drawing out' or 'drawing forth' of something. That is why it's important to think about what rabbits you are planning to pull out of what hats. Stalin is reputed to have said, "Education is like a weapon; its effects depend on who holds it and at whom it is aimed."

Well, in that case, we need to think seriously about what to teach and how to educate — that is, what rabbits are to be pulled forth and how. How is the world to survive and make good the potential of billions? One kind of eschatology would say that it won't matter in 'the end' — but even that kind must admit that from now to the end, we owe it to the educable to educate them or at least offer them a good chance of a good education.

But what is a good education in this age? Is it different from that in any other age? And what do we educate ABOUT?

An example: in the sciences, we sometimes take for granted that objectivity levels the playing field for all subjects — if a subjective viewpoint cannot be dominant, then all of us are equal; therefore, teach more science and convert the humanities and aesthetics through postmodern strippery.

I don't subscribe to this at all. Science is supposedly neutral, but it comes easier to those reading a dominant corpus in a dominant language. Like money, it is a neutral tool. But like money, it also heavily favours the possessors, holders and users of such tools; it 'privileges' them, to use a popular discourse-perverted term — it makes them privy to secrets and powers and 'specials' which nobody else has.

So you can have a financial priesthood and a technological priesthood, and inequality will grow. But the other arguments all lead to inequality as well, it appears. Perhaps one should just adopt a Sam Harris style 'major in empathy and common sense without religious irrationality and you'll be fine' approach.

It looks good. But again, 'empathy' would require trying to think in the black cave of ignorance and 'irrational' belief and intuition without actually being in there. All scientists are human. They admit to leading irrational lives, but they try to rationalize them in a way that... makes them happy. And having the power to do so, they are good at effective trying sometimes.

But still, it doesn't answer the question of what to teach and how to teach it. It's not that I don't already have many answers. I have to question all the answers if we're going to do anything useful with the trillions of silver pieces yet to be spent on an education-hungry world.

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