This is the first article of a 3 part series, the second article of which was written by my colleague Stephen Armstrong, focusing on the current situation of education in Canada.
At the end of 2011, Canada was ranked number one when it comes to university and college enrolments, but we are also number one in the number of people with university degrees that live in poverty. Critics may pass this off as an after-effect of the 2008 recession, however even before the economic downturn, the 2006 census showed that as many as one-quarter of young people with bachelor’s degrees were holding down jobs that did not require one. These are terrifying statistics that highlight important issues within the Canadian education system, but first I would like to guide you through the journey of the institutionalization of how we learn, and further, how this affects our country as a whole.
The Second World War and the industrial revolution changed the structure of the North American economy in such a way that turned our countries into a “factory” – striving to manufacture peace against the tyrants overseas. Our men were sent to fight, our women were introduced into the workforce, and our children were forced into mandatory education. The fight that emphasized capitalism over communism ironically caused our countries to adopt several ‘socialist’ policies such as free education and subsidized childcare, which were used to help ensure the survival of struggling families during such a necessary contest. It was a time where North Americans were called upon to help defend the freedom of our fellow humans overseas, and our citizens answered their call and were aided by their government for doing so. Both during and following the war, North Americans were subjected to multiple forms of propaganda causing social changes including strict support of capitalism, nationalism, and mass-media. Westerners were slowly directed down the path of individualism by their government as they were manipulated to aspire to achieve the American Dream, turning their old fighters into new tools – Consumers, to be used towards the achievement of a new task: build the largest economy imaginable.
Unfortunately, the transformation of citizens into consumers has brought about an interesting change in our education system, where education is being “sold” as a route to higher earning potential, rather than an opportunity to expand your knowledge base for personal or social reasons outside of employment capability. Our youth begin to understand the world though the focused view of capitalism, which restricts their ability to understand their experiences from a number of perspectives. The reason why innovation is so hard to come by is because we are restricted to thinking within the ‘box’ we are provided by our government. The additional restrictions placed on higher education pose even greater threats to our aging society by further limiting our abilities to develop our own understanding of how our world works.
Mandatory education has played a great role in our country in the fact that it helps to decrease crime rates, increase our potential for employment, and provides direction for our youth until we have deemed them “mature”. Some open questions to consider regarding mandatory education include:
- What is the purpose of receiving an education for ~12 years?
- Who determines what knowledge is necessary for dissemination?
- How is that knowledge packaged and delivered to students?
- What relationship does the student have with the teacher?
- How is each party involved rewarded for their commitment?
Here is how I might answer these questions:
- The purpose of receiving a mandatory, ‘free’, education is to occupy a youth’s time while their parents are off contributing to the economy; to instill the necessary knowledge for a citizen to participate within society (i.e. free, basic job training); to demonstrate the various and plentiful areas of knowledge that are available to expand upon; and to prepare each youth for their future potential to contribute to the economy.
- The party that holds most power is the ultimate decision maker when it comes to handpicking the information that will be taught to our youth.
- Knowledge is packaged by educators who have mainly only experienced an environment of institutionalized learning, it is delivered in such a way that teachers and professors have become instructors rather than learning facilitators – spewing a continuously regurgitated ideology that one should conform to memorize facts and processes rather than challenge the status quo.
- A student learns from a teacher because they are the main source of knowledge available to them in this social context. The teacher assumes power and control over their students because they have the answers, in addition to the questions. The lack of a connection between student and teacher may result from the idea that the student has no choice in the matter, or that the teacher is not rewarded for additional effort on their part.
- A teacher is rewarded for their commitment with a salary, usually less than $50,000. While the student is rewarded with a piece of paper acknowledging the completion of their education.
What questions would you like to ask or have answered about our education system?
What is your perspective on the questions above?