December 27, 2015

Education and Liberation

Education and Liberation

Two Things to Change
It's difficult for me to identify the root of the problem but whatever it is I see it manifest most strongly in two ways: control and ignorance.

I know how natural it is to want to stop people from doing what we don't like, just watch some three-year-olds for five minutes. We like to think that growing up means outgrowing our juvenility, but more often then not age fails to make us masters of our immaturity, it only makes us masters of obfuscation. Politics is a complex system of childhood rivalry, and adding rules and mores doesn't make it any more acceptable to take your neighbor's ball or make that loud kid shut his mouth. It's the need to be the boss of others, to control how others live, or to ban the lifestyles, associations, and ideas of others merely because they differ from our own. Simply put: politics is a means to control other people, I don't care how democratic or non-governmental the politicking is. I'm speaking abstractly right now but I believe that this need to control others is the origin of all violence and the primary cause of poverty.

I mentioned ignorance because it's closely related. Our impulse to control is born from our inability to empathize. We don't understand someone's perspective so we consider it illegitimate and in its stead our point-of-view or desire takes precedence. I would argue that ignorance is simultaneously a symptom and a cause of the impulse to control, bind, and silence others—in other words, control and ignorance are the two forces of a vicious circle. In contrast, empathy and understanding are mutualistic qualities, each contributes to the development of the other (I would even say they're two sides of a coin). The natural solution is that we combat the viciousness of ignorance and control through learning and education.

How We'll Change the World
Education is liberating—I've said it before—but to be effective education itself has to be liberated. For this reason, I'm passionate about relinquishing control from education and from cultural exchange in general and becoming a part of a community that promotes the free exchange of meaning. I want to be in the business of providing opportunity rather than dictating a predefined course. We need to free education from the value laden demands of public interest groups, from the ideological constraints of partisans, from the mafia system of licensure and accreditation (institutional education is a pay-for-protection mob-economy writ large).

But the answer isn't to legislate a neutral educational system because none could ever exist. The answer isn't to remove interest groups, ideological partisans, or oversight from the system. Any such attempt fails to achieve neutrality and results in the ideological monopoly of the gatekeepers. Instead, the answer is to open up the system, to diversify and pluralize, thus allowing every interest group, every partisan, and indeed every peer to oversee and contribute to what's taught.

I would love to see everyone who wants to take part in educating the world to be free to do so. I don't care if someone lacks a degree or if the peculiarity of their experience disallows them from being "officially qualified." I care about what they have to contribute to a growing, open, and democratic body of knowledge and understanding. If their approach is beyond the pale, and hence not remotely acceptable to the administrators of institutional education, then all the better. Diversity is more then a spice, it's the breath of life.

One practical matter I've already brought up concerns oversight. Of course, the problem's been solved already. I advocate peer review but with a radical understanding of 'peer.' Not, as the old guard academic model would have it, a group of ideological "good ol' boys" telling us which ideas are worth being taught and which are not. Now we have the 'share' model of social media, the review model of the online economy, and the collaborative model of new libraries like Wikipedia. Between them we have a whole new system of peer review and much more dependable way of discovering the value that some bit of knowledge or some critical insight has to our shared education.

My point here is that I'm passionate about jumping a train that's already steaming ahead at full speed. In part because its momentum doesn't guarantee its success in the long run. There's no certainty to the liberation of education because there's the momentum of centuries telling us that we can legitimately use education as a form of propaganda. This is why I teach, this is why I write: to add a voice to the democracy of thought and learning, because that's all anyone can do and because it's enough to change the world.