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Friday, February 26, 2021

Education should lead to freedom

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an ordinary man trying to do extraordinary things

A rough characterization of the free spirit might be “live, and let live”. A friend would always remind me that it would be illiberal to insist on everyone following Socratic rule to examine and reflect on what is valuable. Freedom lovers must let people live unexamined lives; their concern arises only when such people try to stop others from getting on with their own preferred life-style.

If we should let people get on with their lives, always, except infringements on the equal liberty of others, it might seem that we should let people get on with bringing up their children, pretty much how they like. Unexamined modes of life can be reproduced. Let people get on with it.

An important value for freedom-lovers, which is often forgotten and yet is implicit in many of the things we strive for is Education. Education is a central value for people whose goal is freedom. The commitment to the individual doesn’t stop at the notion that the individual is the best judge of his/her own interest. The commitment to the individual includes a commitment to maximizing opportunities and commitment to self-fulfillment.

It is a truism that the educational literature is replete with conceptions of education that tell us that in this context of bringing children into the human fold we have some special obligations to them that we do not have towards adults. Even when education is viewed as little different from any other mode of socialization, educators are not likely to advocate exposure to prostitution or child abuse as part of their offerings. Fortunately or unfortunately, what schools offer is colored by normative conceptions on everyone’s view.

But the important point is that within this range of conceptions of education are some which stress intellectual detachment from what is socially given and promote intellectual independence and autonomy. It is likely to cut people somewhat adrift from their social moorings. Nor is it a particularly congenial site for toleration. We want learners to get things right, not just do any old thing that occurs to them, or is customary in their social milieu.

When we speak about education, it is not about learning by mechanical repetition of something so that it is remembered, often without a real understanding of its meaning or significance, but learning to decide for oneself. I know most of us were taught to be passive learners, to just “get through” school. It’s easy to be lazy but cultivating a zest for knowledge and igniting an inner fire for learning is rewarding.

Our values define and affect our thinking about education policies. If you’re a right-winger, your proposals would emphasize tradition. You would probably have a greater emphasis on History, Literature, Arts, Geography of your own country. Maybe an emphasis on Religion. Your school rules will reflect the tradition in the behavior it promotes.

If you are left-leaning, you will probably emphasize the importance of a uniform and unified single school system owned and controlled very closely by the state. The purpose of such an approach would be to ensure that the system produces an equitable outcome. You will try to avoid coaching high performers, concentrating your efforts instead of helping those who have difficulties in education.

But if you’re a centrist, progress as a value is inconceivable without education. Freedom lovers also put a great premium on education. It is not important in itself but in the outcome, it produce: better answers, greater quality, and choices.

In the seminar I attended in Germany a few years back, there are propositions that I put forward. And here are some of those:

1. Every human being has a right to education and a duty to educate himself. And Excellence is not the end-all of it, the purpose is not just to make us winners but first and foremost teach us to think and fight ignorance.

2. Education is primarily self-development that provides emancipation, opportunity, and security hence it is the responsibility, not just of the government but of all free citizens.

3. Quality can be achieved through competition. This means competing schools, curricula and it also means direct control by consumers.

4. Education is a life long learning. Was it Mark Twain who said “I don’t let my schooling interfere with my education” It doesn’t end after graduation. Even in our deathbeds we continue to learn

5. Occupational Skills are just as important as academic skills. We tend to give importance to education that could provide us white collared jobs but can you just imagine a world without carpenters, caregivers, attendants.

6. In financing education, the right approach is to encourage and invite all potential actors to play their part in the finance and provision of education.

7. Just as corporations would invest in human resources re-tooling, schools should put in more money to teacher and administrator training. You must invest in your self too.

8. Access to Education is as important to the content of education.

There’s never been any time that’s been easier, or more important, to learn and improve your own knowledge base. Autodidacts like Charles Darwin or Leonardo Da Vinci did it without the help of the internet, obviously, it would be easy for us too. There are treasure troves of learning videos on Youtube, documents on Scribd, educational apps like Duolingo, and even free courses offered by ivy-league schools. You have to learn to teach yourself.

If the end goal is to be free, you need the right mindset and attitude. The pandemic isn’t the first disruption to our school systems. Typhoons are a regular occurrence, sometimes earthquakes, and sometimes wars disturb our learning. In this uncertain environment, it’s important that learning continues, even if it can’t happen in person. To paraphrase a meme every rainy season, CoViD ka lang Pinoy tayo. The pandemic will directly and permanently change education now and in the future. Only time will tell whether online or alternative modes of learning will be a good substitute for in-school classes. This is the silver lining in all of this chaos seeing that we must be able to adapt to any kind of situation and disturbance.

“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” – malcolm x

Today more than ever is the time to help each other, especially the children. We believe that education is a tool. There is an old Bengali saying that knowledge is a very special commodity, the more you give away, the more you have left. Imparting Education not only enlightens the receiver but also broadens the giver.

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