From the book: The Eye of the Needle by Richard Turner

At this point I want to make a small excursion into the field of education, for four reasons:

1. Most thinking about education exhibits graphically the weaknesses of non-utopian, common sense thinking.

2. The educational system illustrates the relationship between structure, content, and socialization that we have seen in discussing participation. Just as the organizational structure of the factory socializes the worker in a particular way, so does the organize structure of the school,

3. The attitude to education in Africa is a prime example of cultural neo-colonialism, of the fascination of Africa with the western capitalist model.

4. We have valuable analyses of inequality and discrimination in our educational system that make important proposals for improving the system, but they seem to me to be inadequate as Christian approaches education. They fail to analyze and challenge any values implicit in our educational system, with the exception of racism.

Western tradition has it: (a) that education is the process of imparting certain key facts to children; (b) that there is a certain sequence of such facts that the child must go through, expressed in the division of children into classes with barriers (examinations) between them; (c) That education takes place in special institutions, schools, and (d) that schools require a special authority structure, from principal through teacher to pupil, and the corollary of this authority structure, discipline and deference on the part of the child.

Within this framework there are, of course, wide dif­ferences of opinion. Which are the key facts? How exactly does one test whether the child is ready to pass from one level to the next? How many different kinds of schools should there be? How much discipline is necessary? But we never question or even notice the framework itself. We don't notice it because it does not occur to us that education could have any other framework. And so we do not ask the two vital questions:

What role does this structure itself play in the education process, and could there be some other kind of education process?

The four basic assumptions are in fact wrong. There is no body of key facts that have to be learned in some special order. What has to be learned is a particular way of thinking, the ability to analyze, to think critically, and to think creatively. And if there were a body of key facts children would not learn them in school. Adults know that they have forgotten nearly every "fact" learned at school, and yet they all on believe religiously (or idolatrously) in school. The facts have been forgotten because they were never learned. They did not become a meaningful part of the child's world. They were part of a competition played between child and teacher, tokens to be thrown away after use in exams.

Perhaps the only important skills to come out of school are the abilities to read and write. Yet being acquired in school vitiates even these. For both have become specifically "school" things. They are not part of one's life, essential media for communicating with the world and with other people. Children spend years writing compositions about "My Favorite Pet," containing three metaphors and a simile-and remember, spelling and punctuation count. They learn how to please teacher, how to hide their own emotions and interests behind plastic phrases for putative examiners. They learn how to read the grey cardboard prose of the children's readers and textbooks and leap straight from there into the incomprehensibility of the "classics. Those who learn to love reading do so at home, not at school.

At the end of their school careers they know a few simple falsities: That somewhere there are "the facts ready to be given to one, rather than discovered. That the world is full of authority figures, but that these are relatively inefficient and can usually be got around. That studying is not a part of life. That they are educated." That some people make it, but most fail. And if they have failed they have already learned that they are failures. Speaking of Latin America, Ivan Illichi writes, "The majority is already hooked on school, that is, they are schooled in a sense of inferiority towards the better schooled. Their fanaticism in favor of school makes possible to exploit them doubly: it permits increasing allocation of public funds for the education of a few increasing acceptance by the many of social control".

This state of affairs cannot be remedied by spending more money on education or by changing the syllabus. It is a result not of the content of the education system of its structure. The concept of "the school" separate from society and teaching "the facts" in a regular progression simply goes against the normal methods of learning. Children are placed in this peculiar environment, and because it doesn't meet their needs, they have to be disciplined. This completes the vicious circle by isolating them even further from the teacher and from learning. The teacher, already the "fact authority becomes also the discipline authority". This places intolerable burdens on him or her. Since "the facts" are all known, the teacher can never admit to ignorance. Ignorance would be a weakness. The class must therefore be kept in familiar bounds; the teacher cannot risk opening out. As discipline authority figure, the teacher has always to be on edge "in case they go too far." Any openness would immediately risk "chaos." And it really would, for the pupils have long ago learned to see the teacher as an authority figure, rather than as somebody with whom one could possibly communicate. They have learned only two categories for teachers, efficient disciplinarians and inefficient disciplinarians. The teacher is bound down by this weight of role, expectation, and prejudgment.

Why are children placed in this peculiar environment? All societies have educational systems of some sort: specific ways in which children are taught the facts and values necessary for their social roles. In various societies this has been done by parents, by older children, in temporary "initiation schools," by specific relatives, and so on. There are a number of reasons for the particular form taken by the education system in Western Europe over the last few hundred years. One impor­tant reason is connected with the custodial role of the school, with the fact that one of the main jobs the school does is to look after the children while their parents are at work.

All the earlier methods of education had one thing in common: The child's education was essentially part of the life-process of the community. But this was possible only when the community had a unified and communal life process. With the onset of industrial capitalism this ceased to be the case: (1) The work sphere and the living sphere were separated; (2) work became work for another person. While work was still done for the family or for the village, it was possible for the children to take part in the work to the level of their capacity. The work was meaningful to their group, and the group's personal relationships with the children ensured that working would not involve mistreatment or overwork. But once work became work for another in the impersonal a rigidly structured milieu of the factory all this no longer applied. Children could not work without being exploited. The socially disjointed life of the new industrial towns was no substitute for the communal life of the village. The children could neither accompany their parents to work nor stay at home without them. The custodial school became necessary. Furthermore the school had to socialize the child for its society, a hierarchical society of little pleasure and much pain. Thus the school as a separate institution was made necessary by a breakdown in the life of the community.

The disciplinary structure of the school still bears marks of that breakdown. A central aspect of people social being is the way in which they think about and behave toward rules, whether they be those of the family or of the school or the values and laws of the wider society. We need to investigate how the individual becomes "self-disciplined" and what relation this has the discipline practiced in schools. There are good reasons to believe that in fact school discipline discourages the development of self-discipline.

In his survey of our present knowledge of the socialization process, Kurt Danziger points out that there is a close relationship between the way in which children experience control by other people and the way in which they come to control themselves. He distinguishes between "direct methods of punishment," such as psychological punishment or deprivations like detentions, and "psychological" types of discipline involving persuasions and explanation. He writes, "What direct methods of discipline have in common is that they sensitise the child to the anticipation of punishment, they reinforce the child for attention to the potential punitive responses of others. On the other hand, psychological types of discipline expand the child's own cognitive resources for internalised control of its own behaviour by focussing attention on his intentions and on general principles of conduct" (Socialisation [Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1971]). What this means is that a method of "disciplining" that lays stress on "rules for the sake of rules" and enforces these rules by punishment is likely to be very inefficient, or even negative, in teaching self-discipline. It teaches the child to look for ways of avoiding punishment. This may indirectly mean follow­ing rules, but it is more likely, given normal inefficiency of detection, to mean looking for ways of beating the system. "Discipline for discipline's sake" produces anti-social individuals. On the other hand, if the rules are reasonable, and the reasons are explained, they help the child to understand the relations between his or her own behavior and other people's needs, and to become internally self-disciplined rather than externally controlled. That is, many school rules are probably counter-productive, playing no role in developing self-control, and the necessity to enforce them by coercion inhibits the rest of the learning process.

There is a common objection to this sort of argument:

Although reason would be nicer, it won't work. Children have to be obliged to learn. This "carrot and stick" theory of learning, learning by social reinforcement, "as, as Danziger points out, been shown to be totally inadequate. Most learning occurs not through the use of reward and punishment, but through observation and imitation, that is, the child continually observes and imitates the behavior of others. The child is continually trying out new roles, or aspects of roles: role as male, role as bicycle-rider, and role as symbolic reasoner. This is the essence of the learning process.

The significance of this fact for moral development is that "the development of a self involves the taking over of roles, and hence the points of view, of others." This process Piaget calls "decentration"-the process whereby the individual moves from a view of the universe as having one center-oneself-to a view of it as having many centers,

Reasoning with the child and explaining the consequences of his actions creates a different kind of parent-child role system than the habitual recourse to punishment. The fact that the parent does not exact retaliation for the consequences of the child's actions, but merely requires the child to adopt a certain point of view towards them, clearly implies a certain respect for the child's ability to take responsibility for his actions. If ratings of moral responsibility have been found to be correlated with such features of family life as confidence-sharing awarding responsibility to the child, and sharing in family decisions, this is presumably due to the role-taking opportunities which these factors imply for the child.

Furthermore, "there is an observed positive correlation between intellectual level and the level of moral judgement in children" and this is also a function of decentration and role taking. On the intellectual level decentration involves "the progressive replacement single, limited view of problems by the adoption of many points of view simultaneously," that is, the ability to synthesize many different aspects of a phenomenon some sort of coherent whole. It is also linked with the capacity to think hypothetically , which is a crucial factor in intelligence.

To summarize, Danziger's survey of the current social psychology literature shows that the development self-discipline and the development of intelligence are linked, and that both involve the development of the capacity to see things from many points of view. Further, it shows that the development of the capacity is inhibited by a particular form of external control' that depends on authority and obedience. This means that the child is likely to develop both morally and intellectually in an environment where there are no unnecessary restrictions, where the rules that do exist are necessary to the well-being of the children and are com­prehensible to them, and where the education process depends essentially on the utilization of the role-taking and imitative propensities of children, rather than on external punishment and/or reward. Children naturally wish to expand the number of roles they can play and are strongly influenced in the roles they want to play by the adults around them, if the right relationships exist between them and those adults.

If the school is full of petty rules, incomprehensible to the pupils, a vicious circle of distrust, punishment, and hostility is set up. This directly stunts the moral and intellectual development of children by pushing them back into themselves and developing only their capacity to minimize punishment and indirectly destroys the possible basis of trust that would make possible learning other than "carrot and stick" learning.

How, then, can we design an educational system that will meet the above requirements, that will rely largely on the child's curiosity and desire to learn, and that will encourage in the child that kind of thinking which makes continuous self-education possible? There are at least two educational prerequisites: The child must go to "school" voluntarily, and the "teacher" must no longer be seen as "the one who knows," but rather as a helpful companion in a common search for truth. The school must be seen as a place which has resources that can be used when needed. We cannot return to the pre-industrial educational system, for there is now so much more to know that specialists are necessary. They need not, of course, all be concentrated in one place. As Ivan Illich has pointed out, many other places could, if one abandoned strictly economic criteria of efficiency, be turned into "learning environments." Workshops and offices could also be places where children go to learn, either as observers or as participants. In a worker-controlled democracy, children could be gradually in­tegrated into the work process in a non-exploitative way at a much earlier age than they are now. And the combination of work and education could continue long past school-leaving age."

But the "school" would still be an important community center where: (1) children could come together to play, learn, or work; (2) there would be facilities such as books, telescopes, laboratories, and animals, which would stimulate interest and be available for use; and (3) there would be people available for consultation, who could give advice on specific problems and offer courses on certain technical matters. Not all learning is easy. Children interested in space rockets are quickly going to discover that they need to know some mathematics and some physics. But once these are learned with a motive, the enormous excitement of coming to grasp basic principles will help to offset the difficulty of the task. And the idea that people naturally shy away from hard work is a myth. People shy away from meaningless work. But hard, directed, motivated work, even it includes elements that in them are dull and uninteresting, is one of the most satisfying and pleasurable of human activities. Compare the athlete training of our long-distance race with the convict forced to run on the spot for hours on end as punishment.

The problems of our schools are the problems of our society, and education cannot be turned into a liberating experience until our society makes room for free people. Nevertheless, education is one sphere in which we can at least make beginnings. We cannot introduce the education system I have just outlined above in a capitalist society. But we can move toward it, even in South Africa.

This is particularly important for black South Africans, since the one concrete advantage of separate development" is that it has placed or will place education in the control of the various homeland governments and representative bodies. It has not placed the financing education in their hands, so while they remain fascinated by the "white" model of education they will be condemned to be very poor imitations of a very inade­quate original. However, if the "white" model is rejected, it will be possible, even with the very limited finances, to provide a much better and more liberating education.

In Africa, Julius Nyerere has done much to criticize and reject and replace the "white" model. In his Education for Self-Reliance he has sketched out the way in which education tied to the communal problems of agriculture could help children to build a complex worldview through helping them see and solve problems as they arise in daily experience.

He writes that colonial education was motivated by a desire to inculcate the values of the colonial society and to train individuals for the service of the colonial state... [to satisfy] the need for local clerks and junior officials.... [It was] modelled on the British system but with unit- even heavier emphasis on subservient attitudes and on white-collar skills. Inevitably, too, it was based on the assumptions of a colonialist capitalist society. It emphasised and encouraged the individualistic instincts of mankind, instead of his co-operative instincts. It led to the possession of individual material wealth being the major criterion of social merit and worth.

Nyerere argues that this form of education is basically elitist, that it divorces people from the society it is supposed to be preparing them for, that it teaches that all knowledge which is worthwhile is acquired from books or from "educated people," and that it takes some of the healthiest and strongest young men and women out of productive work. Instead he suggests a school with its own farm, run by the children, where their formal teaching based on the technical understanding of agriculture, and on the social and financial problems which arise out of the communal running of the farm. The students should make as many of the decisions as possible: "The whole school should join in the programming of a year's work, and the breakdown of responsibility and timing within the overall plan." Here the children discover the necessity of learning to read and write, of learning arithmetic, of learning about people and how they interact, from a situation in which they are actually involved. This is not an education to prepare children to be "hewers of wood and drawers of water." It is an education in which "academic" skills are integrated with meaningful work and responsible participation in community self-government.