February 11, 2010
Ah, the sound of the word alone evokes feelings of hope, prosperity, success and—what's that?—money, you say? Ah, yes. And money.
We grow up believing that education can defeat all circumstance, transcend social classes, and pave a 24 carat, solid gold nugget path to upward mobility blissdom. Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh! (No, that was not a scream, people, those were the angels harmonizing. Clearly.)
And, isn't that the case?
Don't we go to school and get an education to learn, think independently, develop our interests and become all-around badasses? Don't we praise, worship and promote education as the be-all, end-all solution to the world's worries? Don't we embark on philanthropic missions to spread the good word of education to those that don't have access? Doesn't education equal opportunity? Don't I ask a lot of rhetorical questions?
We're constantly talking about what education can do for us.
Sure, there's plenty that education can do for all of us. But in our flurry of excitement, we fail to recognize that tiny little detail called the law of reciprocity. What, exactly, are we doing for education in return?
The answer: A hell of a lot more than we realize.
Why do you suppose presidents go out of their way to make education a priority? And I quote, from President Obama's website:
“Preparing our children to compete in the global economy is one of the most urgent challenges we face.”
Sounds noble enough, doesn't it? (Note: This is not a political statement for or against President Obama. Just an example.) As much as we'd like to believe that those in power are petitioning for education because they're good people, or because they're looking out for our personal well-being, or because they want social equality, or maybe just so we don't look like big, fumbling, sloppy idiots next to the Chinese—it's a happy little love story, but it isn't the real reason. The real reason is tucked nicely right into that quote up there. See it there? Look closely. See it now?
Economy is a fun little word, especially right now. Our economy happens to be based on capitalism. This means that goods, or capital, is traded for profit, and profit is the name of the game. The term capital can encompass many things, but there's one form of capital in particular that's the most important form of all, and guess what?
That capital is YOU.
You probably think of yourself as far more than a mere factor of production, but human beings in a capitalist society are exactly that–human capital. (Worse, what really stings is that economists refer to human capital as a “fungible resource,” which basically means that you're interchangeable. Ouch.) Basically, your knowledge contributes to your ability to perform labor, in order to produce economic value. Therefore, more knowledge = more labor = more economic value.
And how do you get more knowledge? Ed-u-ca-tion. (Cue angels.)
This is why education is promoted. And I'm sure it comes as no surprise, the link between education and economic value. We've always grasped that concept on on the surface, but the question is, do we understand what that means? For example, what if it's the case that the only education you're receiving is that which contributes to your economic value? Some might argue that it is.
We educate people to perform the functions that are needed, so that they can be productive members of society. You've heard that phrase before, right? In this sense, within the education system we are essentially a bunch of giant pawns that are manipulated, shaped and formed into what is needed in order to produce, AKA, what is needed in order to make a profit. We aren't gaining knowledge for the sake of knowledge; we are gaining specific knowledge–that which is dictated by the elite, with their goals in mind, since they run the education system in the first place–in order to perform certain functions later in life. We're being prepared for the work force. We're being primed to produce.
We're being used, in the deepest sense.
From this perspective, the economy doesn't exist to support its people; its people exist to support the economy. The term “wage slave” has never held more truth.
Let's put ourselves in an imaginary secondary school setting for a moment, shall we? No gum allowed, or you're going straight to the principal's office.
Let's say a school curriculum emphasizes mathematics over history. (It isn't too often you hear of AP History, do you?) It's highly probable that the students that attend that school will rank mathematics as more important than history. In turn, those people are going to regard jobs that require specialized skills in mathematics as more important than those that require specialized skills in history.
Students are told that jobs in mathematics will mean greater economic opportunities, which may be partly true, but what society gets out of promoting mathematics through the education system is a greater supply of math geniuses. A greater supply of math genius human capital. And a greater supply of math genius human capital translates into a more competitive society. And a more competitive society translates into a more profitable society. And a more profitable society–you guessed it–translates into a better economy.
Was the connection clear there?
So let's skip past all the wordy explanations and get down to it–basically, you're busting your ass to learn math so someone at the top can get even richer. It's a hidden curriculum, if you will. It's a case of those in power manipulating schooling to serve their own agenda. The opinions of the majority are formed mainly through education, and the government decides what's taught in an educational setting.
Coincidence? I think not.
The education system is the perfect way to transmit fundamental values necessary for capitalism to be successful–competition, individualism, consumerism–because it has access to children right from the beginning, and for a really, really (really) long time. It's socialization by education. Education is a tool to wield power.
If you need more proof, think back to when schooling first became widespread, when Western nations tried to colonize indigenous peoples, providing them with moral guidance in an attempt to convert them to Western values and norms.
So Westerners could exploit them by extracting taxes and getting cheap labor, as well as encourage the spread of Western culture and language. Doesn't sound so much like an institution with your best interests in mind, does it? It was about power and money then, and it's about power and money now.
Here at The Middle Finger Project, we're all about rejecting the expected in favor of unexpectedly better results, in both business and life.
But, it's pretty hard to reject a piece of the status quo when you've spent your whole life unconsciously perpetuating it.
In school, too often we are taught what to think, not how to think, and there's a fundamental difference. It's crucial to acquire the latter if you want to do big things. Critical thinking skills are lacking, and that's why I blog–to encourage it.
Sometimes it makes people uncomfortable, but that's the point. By inspiring critical thought, the hope is to nudge the human race forward, if only just a little bit. Critical thinking leads to action. And if we ever want to shake up the status quo, we're going to have to act.
Am I rebelling against capitalism? No. But I am calling for a more conscious awareness of how the world works around us–and how it affects us, in turn? Yes.
Am I rebelling against education? No. But am I calling for a broader base of knowledge within the education system? Hell yes.
I get capitalism, but here's the thing:
I don't like being someone else's capital—I want to be my own.