Ignore the young

State education is no longer about making sure students acquire key skills – it’s only about giving the adults the good feeling of having really given it a go.

Traditional schooling and Sudbury schooling have one central idea in common: the result of schooling should be that young people are prepared for life as adults.

The similarities, of course, more or less end there.

One difference I find very curious.

While anyone involved in education of any sort will admit that there are certain skills which every young adult should probably have – setting aside the question of who gets to identify what those are, and how, on which Sudbury schools differ radically from traditional eudcation.

It is also generally accepted that not every student will acquire all of these important skills perfectly. The curious thing is this: traditional schooling seems to be based on the belief that “at least we have to try”.1

So on the one hand, the argument is that it’s critical that young people know things like English and math, and hence the state and its schools have to make every effort to ensure that young people learn them. On the other hand, the system and its supporters can’t escape the simple fact that they’re not going to succeed completely – but the system is still justified, because what matters is the attempt.

In some situations, that’s a fair argument. But let us be clear here: this is not some trivial pass-time being justified. It’s an enormous state mechanism that requires huge numbers of public servants, bucketloads of public money, and severe limitations on individual rights for every single human currently between the ages of (more or less) 6 and 18.

But it’s okay – at least they’re trying to help them out!

What matters is not what happens to the learner, not even what happens to society, but only that the state has “done its best” to equip the next generation with skills and knowledge. How much more could you possibly ignore young people? What are they, iPods?


  1. This is a perspective I heard in a lively panel discussion I was part of last night; the event was basis’12, a very cool conference of school students, and the speaker in question – whom I hope I didn’t misunderstand – is a high school principal and an active functionary in state and non-government organizations representing teachers. []

2 thoughts on “Ignore the young”

  1. Well, the justification given for a certain structure in society obviously is not necessarily the “real reason” behind it. I think it is much more likely to be the case that both the justification as well as the structure do have a similar origin.
    I suppose you could start by suggesting that all social structures (be they institutional or ideological in nature) on some level serve the reproduction of the current relations of production, i.e. they keep the system running and stable.
    What kind of people does our economy need? (Note: The elite obviously has their own private and expensive system in place.) Knowledgeable but uncritical people, as well as cheaper, less knowledgeable, also uncritical people. Of course that doesn’t work as a (system stabilizing) justification easily (although a lot of arguments go into that direction as well; naturally they do so even more and more often), so the justification necessarily has to differ from the system it justifies. Justification for example asserts the free individual (sounds great although it’s only an apparent freedom only, of course), using this broad concept to justify the (reproducing) selection that schooling does. After all.. all people are different individuals, right?

    (I have work to do, otherwise I’d try making a longer, much more thorough argument here. ;) )

    1. Absolutely.

      On some level, the justifications for schooling are merely a result of said schooling. If for no other reason, then simply because the vast majority of society has been through the system, suffered, and desperately needs to believe it was necessary.

      From there, it’s a short step to provide yourself or the less-fortunate (if you went to a private school) with emotionally satisfying but logically unsound reasons to maintain the status quo. Those who suffer(ed) need to know it’s for a reason, those who profit need to know they can continue to count on it.

      This makes it all the more important to point out the inconsistencies in the supposed reasoning behind the system. If more people start to see the system as cruel and absurd, there might conceivably be enough good will in the public to change the situation to some degree.

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