What the Hell is wrong with education? It's an interesting question, isn't it? To begin we must distinguish between learning and education. One would assume the two concepts are intimately intertwined, but that assumption is faulty. Learning is often an inverted version of education.
When we thinking of learning, we think of gaining knowledge of self, knowledge of the world, and a better understanding of truth. This process is driven internally. It's our own sense of wonder; emotional attachment to some thing, concept, or person; or innate curiosity that propels us to explore the world. Learning is an inside-out process fueled by the spark of spirit and heart that lies within.
Education is all about control. It's not that a teacher wants to be controlling. It might not even be a dean, supervisor, or principal that wants to be controlling. But, who is really in control of education? It's almost always some bureaucrat or politician that makes the real decisions that control the direction of education. And, what are bureaucrats and politicians? Control freaks!
How do control freaks operate? It can't be about the spark of spirit and heart that lies within. That can't easily be controlled. For each individual, that spark is unique. Unique things are hard to control. They’re unpredictable. Control is always achieved externally—through policies, procedures, grades, tests, and whatever other rewards and punishments one deems necessary. In religious circles, this is called legalism. It's when a group or individual becomes overly concerned with meeting externally-opposed standards as opposed to being transformed in the inner man.
So, learning starts from the inside. Education is imposed from the outside. I don't necessarily think education has to be that way, but that's how it's usually done.
Let's consider for a moment how a teacher is wired. I've met many. Most are wonderful people that are concerned for their students. They give, give, and give of themselves—of their time, effort, emotional and spiritual energies. Teachers (by this I mean someone who is a teacher by nature and not necessarily by profession) are wired this way. All their internal goodness flows out—like a spigot that has been welded wide open. They can’t stop giving of themselves. It’s a nature they can’t overcome even when it becomes detrimental to their own wellbeing.
There are people that God has designed to be teachers. Not everyone leading a classroom is one of them. If you’re a student, you know the difference between someone who is a teacher by profession, and someone who is a teacher because that’s who they are. When I speak of teachers, I’m speaking of the latter.
Put someone wired this way into a system that focuses on imposing externals to control behavior, and a pressure-multiplying effect happens. The forces from within are pushing out and the forces from without are pushing in. The effect is the same as a pressure cooker with too much internal pressure. There’s only two options: explode or lessen the steam. We’ve seen the first option on social media—the teacher that explodes. People always blame the teacher, but it’s the system that pushed to that conclusion. The second option is what happens to most teachers. Over time they lose steam. Their love for teaching and students diminish. They don’t want it to happen, but self-preservation demands the inevitable decline of teaching steam.
Let’s consider what happens to students. Place someone inside a system of external rewards and punishment and they do learn—primarily how to manipulate the system to avoid punishments and reap rewards. The direction comes from without instead of within. Overtime students learn to become other-directed and manipulative. But, learning is an inside-out process. People generally don’t let the inside come out unless they're in a supportive, open environment—which is the polar opposite of education. That becomes the crux of the matter—learning and education are often negatives of one another.
Teachers struggle to form the proper relationships with student. They are often at odds—with teacher being the enforcer of the system, and student being the manipulator of the system. A teacher has a hard time turning off their spigot of energy. It’s at the heart of the gift God has given them—an outpouring of positive energy into their environment. Self-directed people reflect and enhance that flow. Other-directed people absorb that energy like a sponge. Remember, students have been conditioned by the system to be other-directed and manipulative.
A true teacher is wired to function within a learning environment surrounded by learners. The inner spark of each member of the community, not the inner spark of a few labeled as “teacher”, fuels such an environment. God hasn’t designed a teacher to be surrounded by other-directed people. In such an environment, the teacher becomes a burnt-out husk—constantly giving while others are constantly absorbing.
What the Hell is wrong with education? Learning is self-directed; education is other-directed. Learning functions best in an open, supportive environment that allows for individual expression and exploration; education is controlling, constricting, and bureaucratic. Learning explodes when a teacher becomes a catalyst; but education takes those gifted to teach and puts them in an environment than exploits them, and surrounds them by people that abuse them. Abuse will only sound like a harsh word to those that have never been an educator. Educators will testify that students and administrators show everything from a mild lack of respect to an utter disregard to the humanity of teachers. Abuse is anything that dehumanizes another—and educators face dehumanization on a daily basis.
Learning and education are opposites. This is a simplification, but it is an accurate one in many cases. I know an exploration of these topics mean different things to those who control the system and those that teach. For those controlling the system, they think, “Okay, then let’s add this structure, or try this policy, or let’s retrain our teachers.” Bureaucrats never think in terms of radically transforming anything, because they wouldn’t know how to function. So, when confronted with systemic problems, they try to solve it by adding something to the system—which, inevitable, ends up another to-do on the checklist of the minions below them. Ever wonder why the most seasoned teachers are often the least vocal at the faculty meeting? They know that great ideas are transformed as they progress up the chain of command—from means of transformation to measures of tyranny.
What the Hell is wrong with education? Education often conflicts with teaching and learning. The product doesn’t meet the marketing, and the only hope is to abandon what we consider education and begin to design something new from the ground up.