Many in our society are living in a fantasy world that they desperately want to preserve, and that fantasy revolves around the premise that people are basically good.
Our education system and our government are massively invested in this fairytale. The problems in the world, to this way of thinking, are that people don’t understand how counterproductively they are acting. All we need to do is educate people more, and they will stop making bad decisions.
So if Hitler had been educated, he wouldn’t have been Hitler? I don’t buy it. Most of the high profile recent terrorists were highly educated. The Underwear Bomber went to the prestigious University College in London, England, and he was rich to boot. For years, the head Palestinian terrorist was a trained pediatrician. That’s a lot of years of higher education in a field which should make one sympathetic to deaths of civilians, but nevertheless, the guy is still evil. Colonel Russell Williams spent years being educated by the military, but that didn’t stop him from allegedly doing the unthinkable. That’s why I don’t believe this “education will cure all ills” claptrap. Some people are just plain bad. They aren’t interested in doing what is right; they’re only interested in doing what they want to do, regardless of what you may think about it.
That’s why education is not always the answer. Sometimes it can actually be counterproductive, because by treating people with kid gloves and trying to make them all feel better about themselves, we show that we fundamentally misunderstand the very ones we are trying to influence. And then why would they listen to us at all?
Unfortunately, we’re so invested in this education tool that in the process we’ve wrecked the real potential of education. After all, if every ill in life can be cured by just teaching people to think the right way about it, then we have to change our whole curriculum to get people to think the right way, right? So we have downloaded a ton of responsibilities to the schools that shouldn’t have been their responsibility in the first place. Education has becomes agenda-driven. We are trying to teach kids to think right, rather than to teach them how to think in the first place.
Originally an “educated person” was not one who held certain political opinions. Instead, it was one who had a broad depth of knowledge of particular subjects: one who knew history, and art, and literature; one who understood basic math concepts; and one who understood the nature of logic. An educated person was someone who could write an argumentative essay, and who knew how to stand up in front of people and make that same argument. It was believed that if you could equip students with the ability to think and reason for themselves, they could then go on and make good decisions and influence society for the better. It was not about teaching people what to think; it was about giving them the tools to think in the first place.
Today we have squeezed out those tools. The things that used to be mainstay of a classical education have been thrown out the window as we concentrate on feelings and morals. But we cannot force people to believe certain things. If we turn our schools into factories for certain behavioral choices, from observing Earth Day and respecting Kyoto to not bullying their classmates and using condoms, we will fail, both in trying to get children to act the way we want, but also in educating children properly in the first place. Education is not the answer for all the ills in the world, but it is the answer when it comes to raising a motivated, intellectually stimulated citizenry. We won’t be able to do the latter, though, if we’re concentrating on the former. Maybe it’s time to realize that the schools can’t fix all the problems in the world. But they can educate children. So let’s make a choice.