Thinking Unconstrained

Examining the world with a critical eye. Topics span a wide range including but not limited to, observations, insights, problems, solutions, proposals, and hypothetical scenarios.
The modern concept of a formal education for the "masses" has been around since the late 18th century, although the idea itself has existed as far back as the antiquities. The current public education system of nation states around the world is purported to be modeled after the Prussian system of the 19th century. This compulsory, tax-funded, government institution was a major success in equipping the Prussian youth with the knowledge and skills needed for specialized labor in their adult years. All children regardless of social status were taught the basic necessities such as the ability to read and write, and a system was put in place for academically studious children to gain higher education all the way up to universities. It's no wonder that 19th century Prussia had created such well respected minds in academic, scientific and philosophical fields. It's also not so surprising that many countries wanted to replicate this success in their own nations.

Education in the 20th century was an inherited system from this Prussian origin. As an institution, it's frequently one of the most important public services upheld by many modern governments. The emphasis is based on the observation that a well-educated population creates wealth and economic expansion, thereby benefiting the state and its various projects and aims. The common line of thinking is that without a proper education, the next generation will not be equipped to take on the various challenges arising in their adult years, pressured in a highly competitive knowledge-based economy and shifting markets. Hence it's also out of necessity that education should prepare the next generation to continue the society and uphold its accomplishments.

However from a pure governance point of view, education is also about training and indoctrination. It's about making sure that the children are obedient to the authorities, to be predictable, and to be protective of the tribe. Education is about encouraging the right behavior and punishing the wrong behavior. This may sound nefarious but from a governing body's standpoint, it's practical. The masses need to be trained to follow the leadership, to uphold its laws and ideals, and to operate as a productive and positively contributing members of society. Education without social training however leads to independent thinking, which tends to have a destabilizing effect, especially on regimes of perceived ineffectual leadership. In Prussia, this fear was quite rampant among the nobility when the Prussian education system was introduced. The aristocratic elite thought that having a large, educated, and independently intelligent segment of lower and middle classes would bring trouble and unrest. They were right of course, as prevailing thoughts of the intellectuals of the time culminated in the rise of a unified German state and the overthrowing of the monarchy.

Conversely, there's also the idiom, "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing". Indeed this was a tool most effectively utilized in the 20th century to help the rise of National Socialist and Communist states. The enough-educated masses were more susceptible to propaganda and they were more capable than the illiterate peasants of many previous discontents in propagating its cause and its aims. Once in power, those states predictably pushed their own "education" on their populations, scarring and branding their marks upon generations of minds and carving out pieces of themselves in the societal memory. These authoritarians knew too well the importance of education and how the right kind of education could be used to their advantage. It is indeed a sad state of affairs that such a mindset prevailed well into the rest of modern history, and still continue to do so in many parts of the world.

And so, fast forward almost a 100 years, and we now find ourselves going through the motions spurred on by the ideas of education set up for the 19th century Prussia. As we reflect upon the inherited education system of the last two centuries, what learnings and conclusions can we draw from it? Can we say for certain that education as it exists now is adequate? What do we actually want education to achieve and what must we do to make those aims a reality? In other word, what does education mean in the 21st century?
The Prussian education was used most effectively to train the future workers as a way to fill the labor markets without requiring the private interests to provide the bulk of the training to those employees. We're still living through that economic reality in our current existence, but the fact that the bulk of the knowledge is available for free on the internet means that the model is no longer adequate.

For instance, in an era where practically any bit of knowledge is instantly available at our fingertips, the need to retain data in our minds becomes less critical. From a certain perspective, what we face now is an echo of similar situations our ancestors encountered when new tools were introduced. Books and writing for example eliminated the need to retain large amounts of information in our heads and later on having to faithfully transmit them orally to the next generation. Abacus and pocket calculators equally eliminated the need to perform complex arithmetic using pen and paper. Computers brought the information creation, retention and sharing processes to a compact digital form, effectively becoming a one-stop-shop for much of our older functions and modalities.

But even when these disruptive technologies were introduced, there was always a need to continue doing the things that the technologies replaced, at least to a certain limited degree. Just because we could write books and read them later on, did not eliminate the need to memorize key information. Calculators could perform fast arithmetic computations, but people still needed to perform them to understand their operations and apply them in other areas. Computers did not eliminate the need to learn how to read or write or do any of the things that the computer was capable of doing. Hence the internet with its compendium of knowledge and know-hows likewise does not mean that the student no longer needs to learn the things that can be easily looked up in a phone or a tablet. But it does mean that many of those things can now be teaching vehicles.

Therefore the curricula of the student today should not be limited by the technology at hand but instead should be shaped and catered towards success in using the tools and the environment in which the student will need to survive in. In the modern world, computer literacy is then a must and the ability to navigate through the internet is paramount. The ability to read, write and do rudimentary arithmetic is still foundational though and should be well established in all children. And most importantly, technologies should not replace the need for actual learning that needs to take place. They should be used to complement and be used as tools. The curricula should not be limited by them.
Eju-wuh? Ejumucation? Don't you know? We don't need no ... eju-mu-cay-shun. Smart people are snobs and you can't make money by being book smart. If you're really sharp, you better drop out of school ASAP and start making that dollar and pay your bills. You don't want to waste your time and money getting an MBA and then end up working next to the real clever kid stacking shelves straight outta high-school. You'll never be able to make the big dollars. There's too much competition. You need connections. Friends in high places. Be smart. Don't waste your time staying in school.

While I wish this last paragraph was only a parody, cultural anti-intellectualism has been drilled into the young minds (in the US in particular) for generations and has eroded the desire for knowledge and learning at large. Once upon a time, it was highly desirable for someone to study well to become a scientist, an engineer, a doctor, or a teacher; someone of societal worth, in positions of respect and prestige, purely by their nobly chosen profession, thanks to their higher abilities and intelligence. But somewhere along the way, the prestige and the respect disappeared, and what remained was only the money. The money became the sole reason to study. The Physics PhD candidate abandons his thesis to become a software engineer for an investment bank. The bright and logical engineering masters graduate decides to work in statistical modelling for an insurance company. The brilliant math major goes on to write code for a hyped-up software giant. Who's left to carry on the disciplines and do the work that needs to be done? Why aren't these professions paid well to keep the skillful in those noble occupations?

Market dynamics and economic necessity naturally drives potentials to greener pastures. For those who do stay in the occupations purely out of the love for the work rather than for the compensation, do not for the most part like to be concerned with monetary matters. Their meekness and focus on their vocations works against their financial stability. People who do good honest work, not centered on making money, expect that they will be treated fairly and be suitably rewarded for their achievements. Unfortunately other people who put money first do not think in this way, and it is they who have rode the inflation bubbles to the top. The parasitic profiteers, the slave drivers, the class of people built on artificial abstractions to justify their existence; they have all benefited at the expense of their hosts. If we're to encourage young minds to pursue professions requiring skills, then those skilled people should be compensated well financially.

Therefore the financial model should be such that the larger share of the wages go to the skilled occupations and those requiring higher standards of schooling. Anti-intellectualism and money-first attitudes need to be combated in all facets of culture. Respect and pride in professional vocations should be established. The student needs to be motivated to be smart throughout the school years, because that will lead to a better quality of life.
Although there has historically been a bias for anti-intellectualism, many people these days are college educated as many professions demand higher qualifications. Just because you have more schooling does not mean that you have the skills necessary to perform the job. Pegging the salary to the education credentials hence does not translate well. Like you say, there's been an inflation bubble to the top, and those that rode it often have the same education as those who did not ride it. So it's perfectly reasonable by your argument for the more ambitious yet just as equally educated to be compensated better than those who choose to remain where they are.

Rather I think your point was that the salary appears to dictate the career choices of students and this should not be such a large factor. That pesky thing called economics and societal stratification seems to be a large blocker though. Money has always been a strong motivator, and that framework will always be geared towards rewarding those who care most about money. Hence the "parasitic profiteers" are at the top, because they're the best at creating wealth. A materialistic world that views the most wealthy as the "top dogs" is then what the children aspire to be and hope to emulate. Education and seeking knowledge are only pathways towards this goal. You're a mug or a sucker if you think otherwise. Hence if there's to be a shift in attitudes then the world view must change and the culture of mafia glorification be thrown into the dust bin. People must hold the "regular" and truly vocational professions such as policemen, paramedics, farmers and the like in higher regard than the executives, chairmen and representatives. But this is a detraction from the main topic and should be a separate discussion.

Education incorporating the internet is already a reality as many schools have rolled out tablets as an option for learning from home rather than the traditional in-person schooling. So students are already familiar with electronics and using them to navigate through major platforms. But this can't really be qualified as a skill. It's about as skillful as the ability to flick through TV channels or to change radio stations. The real skill is in the ability to understand and write code that makes up the internet. It's about getting the correct information and to think critically amid an ocean of lies, half-truths, and incomprehensible gibberish. The skills should be geared towards creating a capable netizen and a productive responsible adult. A curricula that manages to incorporate this along with traditional pedagogical needs would produce the most successful population. The world would be their oyster as they say.