Andrew Seaton Education  
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Introduction: Education Out of Control*
* This is Chapter 1 of my 2010 self-published book, Deep Intelligence: Giving Our Young the Education they Really Need. In my 2002 article, 'Reforming the Hidden Curriculum', I have described what I see as the best way that schools can attempt to minimise the negative impacts of schooling. In my four-part article, 'A Truly Nurturing Education', I describe some of the things parents can do themselves.
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e can educate young people in such a way that they keep and strengthen their authenticity, their creativity, their intuition and their reason. We can educate them to recognise and celebrate the unique beauty within themselves and others. They can keep, into adulthood, their sense of joy, enthusiasm and aliveness. They can keep and strengthen their sense of connectedness, their tenderness and caring, their sense of the magical, and their sense of their own beingness and unlimited capacity. We can educate the young so that they become response-able – able to consciously choose behaviours prompted by a deep sense of self-as-connected-with-all-life, rather than those prompted by a sense of self-as-separate.

Does schooling do these things? No. Our current approach to education treats young people as objects, as statistical units. It de-humanises them. It disconnects them from faculties, sensitivities and processes within them that make them 'human'. They lose their sense of stillness, of beingness. They lose their creativity. They lose their sense of autonomy. They lose their sense of relatedness. They increasingly come to feel separate. They come to feel that life is empty and meaningless. They come to feel insecure. They come to feel worthless. They learn to function in 'mechanical' ways, according to external authority, given rules and superficial rewards and penalties.

Why is this so? It is because we allow our consciousness to be dominated by our intellect. When we do so, we experience and view the world in a particular way. We deal with it in a particular way. Most people on the planet right now, especially those involved with education of the young, not only allow the domination of the intellect, they celebrate it! They aspire to it. They advocate it. Our current approach to education of the young reflects the view of the world given us by the intellect.

What is that view? It is the perception of separateness. The intellect seeks to comprehend or interpret the world by perceiving and choosing between differences. It arises from and perpetuates a way of being 'in' the world, but experiencing the self as separate from the world. Reliance on the intellect appears to offer us some certainty, some control, some security. The intellect allows us to know something about the world, but only in an abstract, interpretive way, as something external and alien. We 'know' things and relate to them as abstractions, as objects of generalisations – by labels, categories and definitions.

Yet, we can provide educative experiences that help young people to engage all the faculties of their consciousness as they live 'with' the world. We can educate them so that their perception and experience of the world is not dominated by the constructions, limitations and distortions of the discriminative intellect, not dominated by rigid patterns of memory, definitions, expectations and judgements. They can know people, objects and phenomena freshly, by a delicate but profound relatedness or identity with them. We can help them to live with a kind of 'deep intelligence', intimately and dynamically connected with the world. What a world it will be, when we do! What a world it will be, when we take the lid off humanity. What tears of joy we will shed, when our education programs help us all to manage consciousness so we live with Deep Intelligence, having the universe in harmony with us.

As it is, the mass of humanity lives, in varying degrees, in an alienated mode of being, dominated by a sense of self-as-separate. The prevalence of this mode of existence has produced soulless governments, institutions and organisations characterised by a bureaucratic spirit – where human beings are administered as things.1 Not all individuals who work in bureaucratic institutions are uncaring, or deeply grounded in an alienated mode of being. Far from it. Nevertheless, the bureaucratic spirit and the efforts at control, that flow, ultimately, from the prevalent experience of separateness, pervade schooling and society. They manifest themselves in several particular, but interrelated ways.

In our mostly well-intentioned efforts to educate the young, our sense of separateness and desire for control reflect and perpetuate a mental view of intelligence. Recent recognition by some that intelligence has multiple aspects has done little to change the static, commodity view of knowledge that lies deep within the culture of schooling. We seek, through the technology that is schooling, to transfer as much knowledge as we can to the young. In recent decades there has been fairly widespread acknowledgement that human beings do not just passively absorb 'knowledge', or receive it into an empty 'container'. Accordingly, the talk in education circles has moved from an almost exclusive focus on 'teaching', to a more common reference to issues of 'learning and teaching'. Nevertheless, the nature of curriculum, and the activities and practices of schooling are fundamentally unchanged. The focus remains on compulsory, same-for-all, closed-ended, fragmented, atomised and tightly sequenced syllabus content, objectives or outcome statements.

The technology that is schooling serves the essential control function of ranking young people.2 Formulations of curriculum serve the more essential function of assessment practices that allow for quantification and comparison of the 'knowledge' acquired by each individual, school, state and nation. Such ranking is seen, by those with a strong sense of self-as-separate (including school-as-separate, state-as-separate, nation-as-separate) as an essential control mechanism for achieving image, status and security. The so-called educative function of schooling also has a 'hidden' curriculum. The very nature of the experience of schooling has an influence on each young person over and above the explicitly stated content and intentions of the formal curriculum. As described above, the effect of that hidden curriculum is to create or reinforce a sense of self-as-separate. The technology that is schooling perpetuates the cycle of the alienated mode of being.3

Our sense of separateness and desire for control have vital implications for the nature of relationships with others. The technology that is schooling necessarily involves a bureaucratic approach to the management of its young participants. They are ultimately abstract elements within a massive system that demands rule-bound order, conformity and quantification. Young human beings are administered as things.

Schools are characterised by coercive management of the lives and behaviour of young people, by a deep lack of respect for the individual human being. In most parts of the world, attending school is not a choice given to young people. They are forced to attend. Then, for ten or twelve of their formative years, young people are told in school what they must know, what they must do, and what they must not do. Most schools even force young people to do school work at home in the evenings. Limited rewards are offered, mainly in the form of good grades. A variety of penalties, such as detention, are frequently imposed, when young people do not comply with demands made of them. Those young people who are willing to accept the rewards, submit to playing the schooling game. They learn to do what is expected and work hard,4 and to give the required answers, even when they do not understand them, or the process of reaching them.5 Those who do not accept, or have difficulty achieving the limited rewards on offer, sooner or later tune out,6 lash out7 or drop out.8

The authoritarian approach to relationships in schooling violates young people's autonomy in other significant ways, too. The technology that is schooling denies young people the opportunities of significant self-direction, choice of aims and choice of responses.9 It denies them significant opportunities for the productive use of their own powers.10 The consequence is the significant atrophy of young people's powers. They become 'domesticated'. They develop a learned dependence and a sense of security in conformity. They learn an alienated, symbiotic form of relatedness, sometimes submitting to domination, sometimes dominating others.11 Deep within the technology that is schooling, bureaucratic beliefs and practices concerned with controlling the behaviour of young people perpetuate the cycle of alienation.

Our efforts to educate the young are often justified as preparing them to be able to get a good job, and to strengthen the state or national economy. Again, our sense of separateness and desire for control lead to a particular view of life. A consciousness dominated by a deep sense of self-as-connected-with-all-life has an overwhelming sense of security, of limitless creativity, of faith in its own powers, and of the reality of abundance. However, a consciousness dominated by a deep sense of self-as-separate will have an overwhelming sense of vulnerability, and will posit or accept as the fundamental principle of economic life the perceived 'reality' of scarcity. As the mass of humanity currently lives in the alienated mode of being, dominated by a sense of self-as-separate, this is the position of modern economic theory and of modern schooling practices. In the technology that is schooling, young human beings are reduced to potential resource units. The commodity to be valued, won and accumulated is 'knowledge', especially knowledge converted into the currency of good grades. In coming to feel themselves to be a mere resource unit, young people lose their sense of beingness.

A deep acceptance of a scarcity view of economic life leads to a materialistic character structure pre-occupied with acquisition, possession and consumption. Such an orientation leads to competitive behaviours intended to secure and maximise self-interest. Actions, statements and perceptions that might threaten job and economic security are avoided at all costs. Fear of making a mistake, or being seen to have made a mistake, suffocates creativity. A bureaucratic, marketing approach to being in the world seems to maximise the possibilities of 'looking good', of being in demand, of being rewarded. Security is found in submission and loyalty to bureaucratic and intellectual rules, rather than to the dictates of the human spirit, rather than to the promptings that might be felt in a consciousness possessed of a deep sense of self-as-connected-with-all-life. This prevalent orientation of commodity accumulation is based on a sense of self-as-separate (and nation-as-separate), on fear, on a belief in scarcity. It leads eventually to the dissolution of the bonds of human solidarity and to perpetuation of the cycle of alienation.

Around the world, governments spend billions of dollars each year on improving the quality of education. Every educational 'reform' effort makes a government and/or its proponents look good. Education is one of the most used and valued political footballs. Everyone thinks education is important. Any government, organisation or individual who trumpets an educational reform wins great favour, so long as they employ the 'right' rhetoric.

The reforms that win the greatest approval are those that leverage the most popular slogans and images of the time, but, importantly, leave things fundamentally unchanged. A currently popular slogan, for example, is that school reforms will make our state or nation more competitive in the new, global, knowledge economy. Governments are using young people as pawns in a game of gaining greater status in the global economy through superior achievement of quantifiable educational outcomes. This game has not helped workers to actually be more creative, or intelligent, or fulfilled, or genuinely productive. Such rhetoric only achieves an appearance of value, an image of quality, a pretence of superiority.

The history of school reform over the past century or more shows that schooling has remained fundamentally unchanged.12 It has rarely led to any significant improvement in educational outcomes. Why? Because these efforts do not question the mistaken assumptions underlying school education that are holding humanity back. They do not fundamentally change the technology that is schooling. They do not address the illusion that we can control other people without dire consequences. And they do not address the alienating illusion of the commodity view of knowledge. In short, they do not confront the issue of our experience of separateness, let alone propose an adequate solution.

Emancipatory reforms will not be seriously championed by those accountable for controlling large numbers of people, for improving quantifiable student performance relative to other schools, states and nations. The arguments for student-centred curriculum and educational paradigm change contradict and eventually erode the very reason for the existence of bureaucratic education systems. Despite periodic rhetoric at all levels regarding a shift to a more flexible and student-centred paradigm, when push comes to shove, bureaucratic and political imperatives over-ride evidential, ethical and humane ones. The pre-occupation of governments and bureaucrats with 'looking good' is destroying our humanity. It is destroying our world.

We need to see through these empty agendas. We need to see what underlies the current technology that is schooling. When we realise what values and assumptions it rests on, many will see them as misguided and abhorrent. Anybody who wants a saner world needs to ask deeper questions about our education of the young, and how it can unlock each individual's powers, instead of locking them up.

Our experience of the world can be fundamentally different. Education is 'out of control', in the sense that it is not guided by the mountain of evidence about how human beings function well. Rather, it reflects bureaucratic, political and intellectual values and interests, based on a narrow and distorted way of seeing the world.

Notes to Chapter 1

  1. See, for example, Fromm 1976, pp. 148-49, 185-87.
  2. Julia Atkin (1999, p. 7), identifies some of the practices adopted to make schools more efficient in serving the 'political purpose' of ranking: 'curriculum content shaped by preparation for University requirements; streaming; norm referenced assessment; ranking; learning driven and shaped by written assessment...; judgements of worth having to be objective and quantifiable... ; and “League” tables comparing school performance on formal assessment and equating school success with performance on public exams'. Elliot Eisner (1991, p. 81) observes that, 'More than what educators say, more than what they write in curriculum guides, evaluation practices tell both students and teachers what counts. How these practices are employed, what they address and what they neglect, and the form in which they occur speak forcefully to students about what adults believe is important'.
  3. William Pinar (1975/2000, p. 381) refers to the 'hidden' curricular impact of schooling as the 'disconfirmation' of the child – dependence on authority, obedience to duty, separation of feelings and moral concerns, seeing oneself and others as objects, lack of trust in one's own power. 'We graduate, credentialed but crazed, erudite but fragmented shells of the human possibility', observes Pinar. 'What we call “normal”', wrote R.D. Laing in The Politics of Experience, 'is a product of repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection and other forms of destructive action on experience… The “normally” alienated person, by reason of the fact that he acts more or less like everyone else, is taken to be sane… The condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one's mind, is the condition of the normal man. Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves and to become absurd, and thus to be normal' (1967, pp. 23-24).
  4. John Loughran and Jeff Northfield (1996, pp. 89, 126) reported on an action research study that found students have 'well-formed perceptions of the personal and institutional demands of school... Doing what is expected and working hard are the predominant values'.
  5. A study of the interrelationship between thinking styles and learning showed that those students who achieve highest academically are actually those who prefer to work individually, who show adherence to existing rules and procedures, and who do not enjoy creating, formulating and planning for problem solution (Cano-Garcia & Hughes 2000, p. 413). However, it is highly significant that the researchers confirm that, 'As outlined by many educational researchers in the UK, Sweden and Australia, it is untenable to think that students possess inherent, invariant learning styles, or that learning is a decontextualised process... Schools reward with good grades those students who assume an orientation towards merely reproducing the meaning of learning materials' (pp. 424-425). Paul Black and J. Myron Atkin (1996, p. 90) also report that students prefer to follow rules and procedures they have been given like recipes, rather than developing their own and reflecting on learning. And Paul Ramsden (1988, p. 14) notes that there is a 'depressing litany' of studies that constitute a huge body of data with an unambiguous message, that students who 'pass examinations successfully', are 'highly adept at very complex skills', and can 'reproduce large amounts of factual information on demand… are unable to show that they understand what they have learned'. Commenting on a particular case to illustrate a general phenomenon, Ramsden notes that, 'the pupils “learned”, with great success, many strategies unrelated to mathematics in order to provide their teachers with what they predicted the teachers would reward (the correct answers)… even though the child did not understand the process of reaching them' (1988, p. 17).
  6. Take the acquisition of language skills as an example. Trevor Cairney (1987, 1988) has observed that one of the main causes of limited literacy development involves the kinds of literacy demands and practices students experience, and the lack of relevance students see in literacy for their own lives. Pam Green (1998) conducted research to find out what kinds of literacy demands were experienced by ten students in their last year of primary and first year of high school. The study found that in the final year of primary school, 45% of writing involved non-fictional genres, 45% fictional, and 10% listing and labeling (p. 121). In the first year of high school, in English only 12% of writing involved non-fictional genres, 16% fictional, 53% predominantly literal Q&A activities, and 18% copying, filling in the gap and listing (p. 122). Similar proportions were observed in History, and in Science. Green noted that between 50% and 69% of all 'writing' was copying (p. 122). A very similar pattern was found in reading activities (p. 127). It should not surprise us, then, that 'Students across target groups are carrying basic literacy difficulties with them into the middle years' (Carrington 2002, p. 2), and that the middle years of schooling are virtually free from additional learning in literacy (Hill & Russell, cited in Carrington, 2002, p. 20). Nor should it surprise us that Green also noted a dramatic decline in positive attitudes to writing, reading, and school in general (1998, pp. 122, 127).
  7. According to Evelyn Field (2007), more than one in six children is bullied at school every week. See also, for example, Smith, Pepler & Rigby 2004, and Marr & Field 2001.
  8. The tendency of educators has been to illegitimise students by 'psychologizing' student disengagement and failure (McLaren 1998, p. 210) and 'blaming the victim' (Ryan 1976). However, Robert Sternberg's view of human intelligence, for example, emphasises the purposeful, practical nature of an individual's behaviour in a sociocultural context (1988, p. 65). Intelligent behaviour in everyday life involves '(a) adaptation to a present environment, (b) selection of a more nearly optimal environment than the one the individual presently inhabits [when the environment does not fit one's values, aptitudes or interests], or (c) shaping of the present environment so as to render it a better fit to one's skills, interests, or values' (Sternberg 1985, p. xi). Young people who tune out, lash out and drop out of schooling may often be demonstrating more intelligent behaviours than we have wanted to admit.
  9. This is so, despite such clear understanding that it is crucial for young people to have freedom to choose meaningful activities, set personally meaningful goals, and achieve them. See, for example, Barrett 1999; Erikson 1965, pp. 246-252; and Sheehan et al. 2000. Corey (1996, p. 105) emphasises that, without such opportunities between the ages of six and twelve, young people develop 'a negative self-concept; feelings of inadequacy relating to learning; feelings of inferiority in establishing social relationships; conflicts over values; a confused sex-role identity; unwillingness to face new challenges; a lack of initiative; dependency'.
  10. Many researchers have emphasised how crucial it is for human beings to have opportunities for purposeful action. Erich Fromm (1949, p. 219) observed that 'the power to act creates a need to use this power and that the failure to use it results in dysfunction and unhappiness'. And Abraham Maslow (1954, p. 91) concluded that, 'What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization.'
  11. Erich Fromm maintains that, in the prevailing, alienated mode of human functioning, 'The dominating person is as dependent on the submissive person as the latter is on the former; neither can live without the other. The difference is only that the dominating person commands, exploits, hurts, humiliates, and that the submissive person is commanded, exploited, hurt, humiliated' (1974, pp. 19-20).
  12. It is common for educators to get a great deal right and still miss the point of school reforms (e.g. Ball & Cohen 1999, pp. 3-4; Goodlad, Klein & Associates 1974, pp. 72-73; Oakes et al. 1999, p. 242; Stigler & Hiebert 1999, pp. 106-107; Thompson & Zeuli 1999, pp. 345-346). Indeed, the history of curriculum change shows that little has changed (e.g. Cuban 1984; Deal 1990; Fullan 2001, p. 10; Gerstner et al. 1994, p. 3; Glatthorn & Jailall 2000, p. 97; Gordon 1984; Hargreaves 1994, pp. 43-44; Holt 2004, pp. 138-169 ; Hood 1998, p. 3; Sarason 1990; Sungaila 1992, p. 69).


© Andrew Seaton