Part 4 of 4
The primary obstacle blocking our way to an education system that truly fulfills our moral obligations to our children, society and all of life is the illusion that was operating when schools were originally designed to be factories to mass produce obedient symbol manipulators.
The flaw in the plan was not the industrial design process, which has been the core of classroom criticism for a century now.
The flaw is that the system is designed to mass produce obedient symbol manipulators when it should be mass producing socially interdependent state of mind optimizers.
In the 19th century when the modern concept of classroom schooling was developed Western culture was deeply informed, and by today's standards fundamentally deceived, by the illusion that human beings are disembodied spiritual essences trapped in Earthly forms but ultimately destined to escape.
(The fact of our embodiment does not logically preclude the possibility that we each have some form of disembodied spirit, but it does logically require us to translate those experiences into embodied concepts in order to share them with others. Thus, purely spiritual disembodied experiences are strictly ineffable and beyond the capability of language to convey accurately.)
The crucial framework for understanding how to shift our schooling system is morality.
Morality is ultimately about well-being.
The larger challenge we face, beyond schooling, is how to align our efforts to create well-being across many levels of reality.
We are challenged to balance all human actions spanning from the global level at which climate change is occurring all the way down to the cellular level at which disease and environmental toxicity can have detrimental effects on our well-being.
This is a spiritual challenge because it involves grappling with understanding and aligning our actions across scales of magnitude that we do not have access to directly experiencing. The tools of both science and religion are necessary. Morality is our guide to achieving well-being and we need to apply moral reasoning to the challenges that face us at this time.
Morality, however, is not about following rules, it is about the imaginative application of principles that are intended to result in well-being.
Our moral quest is to overcome our divisions of ideology to focus on taking actions that create well-being simultaneously for every cell and the entire planet at the same time.
We have to weave together the strands of both science and religion to arrive at moral principles for taking action at all levels.
And we need to base our judgments of the results on the achievement of optimal states of mind and the creation of strong social systems to facilitate whole populations to attain that achievement across the globe.
The education illusion is a major barrier to accomplishing the moral task ahead.
As long as we distract children for years on end from the urgent task of tuning into the their ability to access optimal states of mind then we squander the most important tool God gave humanity for solving problems.
We are biological beings who have a 4 billion year heritage.
That heritage gives us a limited range of moral options though we do have a choice about how we are going to proceed.
I suggest that what distinguishes the options available to us are our aesthetic judgments about what would serve goodness, truth, beauty, and joy.
We can continue to support systems of schooling that are infamous for being ugly, joyless places that inspire acts of evil and encourage self-fulfilling prophesies of apathy, mistrust and disinterested behavior based on a conception of what it means to be human that few, if any, continue to accept as true.
Or we can take courage from a combination of the ancient wisdom of life itself to optimize each person's state of mind, the elegant distribution of power through social identity from the wisdom of our original human ancestors and the modern innovations that we have created for global systems of exchange to facilitate the great variety of human ways to optimize individual states of mind.
Optimal states of mind as the legacy of life itself has a practical implication for our primary and elementary schools; they should lay off bombarding children with symbol manipulation activities until after the children have a good map of their personal means of accessing optimal states of mind.
After the kids have a pretty good map of how to achieve optimal states of mind, then they will be better able to efficiently incorporate various symbol manipulation activities as a valuable addition to a growing repertoire of mind optimizing strategies.
The moral obligations of schools is to make their power structures and exchange processes transparent.
Every parent and child should be able to understand the connections between how the power to control their own and other people's behavior for the common good is wielded, how it can be changed, and how their participation in the decision making process makes a difference in their own lives.
I am not advocating for a wholesale transition to Sudbury style democratic** schooling, but, I am advocating for the development of a systematic look at the power structures and exchange processes that shape the patterns of consciousness of students and teachers in every school. With that evaluation in hand then plans for increasing the effective participation of students and teachers in the decisions that affect their activities most directly should be formulated.
Parents and teachers can lead the way by acting on their implicit moral obligation to each child in their care to choose the most democratic form of schooling they can find or create.
It is an illusion that causes us to believe that the orderly behavioral control demonstrated in typical classrooms is universally beneficial to children.
That same illusion leads us to judge the day-to-day behavior in a democratic school to be inappropriate for educational purposes.
That illusion arises from an inherited gap in our understanding of the history of life.
Once our short literate heritage is put into perspective as a continuation of our previously neglected long evolutionary heritage of optimizing states of mind in participatory social groups then it is clear how the illusion arises and, I hope, equally clear how to dispel the illusion.
From the perspective of our deep history then we can see that symbol manipulation is important, but it is less important than achieving optimal states of mind and facilitating the strong internal social identity that will encourage a lifelong practice of respect, responsibility and resourcefulness in every child.
** My use of the term 'Democracy' in this article is meant to designate a broad range of power structures that engage students in making meaningful real-world decisions about the operations of their school, including participating in the formal resolution of conflict through some form of student dominated group often called a 'justice board.' My use of the term does not recognize any distinction between democracies and republics.