Part 2 - Health: The Primary Casualty
Education Disconnected from Life Wisdom
“I don’t want a nation of thinkers, I want a nation of workers.” John D Rockefeller
Many education systems in democratic countries have created dependent, addictive cultures susceptible to the messaging of those with political, ideological and financial agendas. They have reinforced the picture of one all-powerful leader on whom we must depend and to whom we relinquish responsibility. They have perpetuated the domination mindset of separateness, hierarchy and privilege. The structure, content and teaching methods have created a culture of passive, dependent citizens who are to a large extent disinterested in global issues, addicted to competitive consumer culture and disconnected from life wisdom.
Public education systems are the primary socializing systems that prepares youth to take up their roles as adults in the community. As they stand, they are for the most part disconnected from the vital principles of human health and thriving eco-systems. Our culture, with its severe impact on human and environmental health, is a reflection of the education of previous generations.
When children are forced to sit still at their desks in crowded classrooms they become disconnected from their bodies, nature and life. They are not given an opportunity to develop their instincts, intuition, or critical thinking. They are not educated to become creative and caring problem solvers willing to contribute to their larger environment.
Public schools and public higher education systems are steeped in rigid bureaucratic structures and colonialist legacies. They instil principles of privilege, control and compliance that go against the principles of life and healthy living systems. The system perpetuates myths on which the democratic system is founded. It has for the most part succeeded in maintaining cultures that preserve the socio-economic status quo and feed the leeching economic system. It has failed in raising healthy aware adults with the ecologically sound professions required to tackle the global crises we face.
We are now in the absurd situation where higher education systems are producing over-educated people struggling to find jobs. They are mired in debt from college expenses and skilled in many knowledge areas that have little practical relevance to the health challenges of society today.
The focus of teachers is primarily on providing isolated, subject based knowledge and encouraging achievement defined by grades. Teachers are not trained in cultivating values or dealing with emotional, psychological and community issues. The vacuum is filled by media that plays a powerful role in shaping the minds and behaviour of children. A vast amount of money is spent on sophisticated advertising targeting children as consumers.
Addiction to technology is becoming a recognized problem worldwide. The addiction to screens is creating not only a vast array of social disorders but concern as to the long term impact of such extreme exposure.
Advertisements use whatever means to sell unhealthy and addictive products, ideas and behaviours inundate susceptible minds and shape their perception of the world. The majority of content is profit driven and sells cultures of war, social violence, sexual abuse and the sexual objectification of women, men and children.
A school is a microcosm of the larger societies and of the competitive culture where self-interest, deceit and bullying abound. Classrooms today are more multi-cultural and multi-religious than ever before yet educators are not trained to deal with complex inter-personal and inter-cultural dynamics. The education system is generally disconnected from the community and while it is given full responsibility for a child’s education it has neither the authority nor the tools to take up the role effectively.
Intensifying rates of bullying, sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, drug addiction and a range of social and behavioural disorders are a direct result of the divisive, consumer culture and political discourse. Children are conditioned by the culture they witness through media. Politicians, celebrities, reality tv stars and talk show hosts become role models. One can imagine the impact of democratic election campaigns, and the often bullying, demeaning, deceitful and corrupt political discourse and behaviour on the psyche of children. The divisive, abusive campaign culture is a core part of what we learn from democracy in action.
It is unrealistic to believe that the education system can contend with the spectrum of social challenges rampant in our divisive, consumer driven societies. How can teachers be expected to help children deal with the onslaught of false and addictive messaging or the violent and narcissistic, self-indulgent role models they are exposed to on television, video games and social media?
Mainstream methods teach children to relinquish their power to external authorities without questioning its integrity or value. They are taught to rely on external, biased “authorities” for assessment of their character and worth in the world. They are not taught to trust in their own sense of self-worth or recognize their own value. A child’s sense of self-worth is thus easily impacted by the prejudices, moods and whims of their educators.
The dynamics of competition are imposed on children when they learn to compare their own worth to others’ according to narrow parameters that privilege certain intelligences over others. Diversity is oppressed and images of success are standardized. Teachers trained to teach specific disciplines usually have limited perspectives and use language and techniques that are relevant only for children with particular skill sets.
This means that the education system privileges only those with a narrow range of intelligences, particularly the more rational and scientific intelligences. Many children go through twelve years of school frustrated, unseen and uncultivated in their diverse talents. This in turn depletes the diverse range of talents and skills necessary for society to flourish.
Ruthless focus on grades distances children from the innate pleasure of learning. It also encourages deceit of children, teachers and parents around the grading process. Evaluation through dualistic judgments such as right, wrong, good, bad, successful, unsuccessful, sabotages the child's capacity to discern in more nuanced and pleasurable ways and develop intrinsic motivation to learn.
With the primary emphasis on competition, children learn to see each other more as a threat to advancement than a kindred soul with shared needs, complementary gifts and a common destiny. This perspective aborts the development of emotional intelligence and capacity of empathy for others.
It does not educate toward individual, community and environmental health – our most fundamental resource.
Children are taught a narrow range of disconnected knowledge areas with very little understanding of the fundamental interconnectedness of these subjects and their relevance to life. They are not exposed to system theories, ecology or life enhancing community practices. They do not learn to apply their knowledge in real, integrative life situations.
Mainstream education reinforces the system of privilege as it is often divided into public and private schools and in many countries public and private universities as well. While public schools generally perpetuate outdated modes of learning, it is usually the expensive private schools that offer children extraordinary opportunities for creative learning, adapted to their diverse needs. In this way, the system perpetuates the growing divides between rich and the poor.
The education system has created dependent citizens with little skills or resources to grow their own food or ensure their own health and safety. They are not given the tools for self-realization and mutual enrichment with their environment. They are not taught how the body works, basic nutrition, hygiene, healthy movement or meditation practices, healthy sexuality, environmental conservation or eco-system vitality. They do not learn how to grow or prepare food. They are taught to outsource their own self-care to others leaving them further susceptible to false information and the profit driven “health” industries.
It is naïve to believe that either parents or the education system are equipped to deal with the symptoms of democracies today. Educators and parents are products of the same system and are exposed to the same content and culture. They too have grown up in power and profit-driven, hierarchic societies with little ability to sift truth from falsehood. How can adults impart values different from those they learned as children?
The result is that rather than educating towards healthier people and planet, the structure and content of the current education system contributes to many of the human and environmental health crises we face today.