Reflections on Education


Bertrand Russell argued that most education theorists have no children or if they had, are carefully screened from the turmoils of youth. They write their theories without any child in mind.

It is because we don’t respect children that we teach badly. If we respected their rights, we would educate them so as to give them the knowledge and the mental habits required for forming independent opinions.

To be a good teacher or educator, one must be filled with reverence for the other. It is because our educators lack in reverence that

we advocate for  machine-made cast-iron systems: militarism, capitalism, Fabian scientific organization, and all the other prisons into which reformers and reactionaries try to force the human spirit.

This post by Dr. Wandia is evidence we don’t have great regard for our children. If our educators had any, such wouldn’t happen.

Our education is designed for mediocrity through

its codes of rules emanating from a Government office, its large classes and fixed curriculum and overworked teachers

and this is coupled with the mistaken belief in some educators they have a duty to mould the child into some specific product.

A good educator, that is, one with reverence, in the presence of a child

feels an unaccountable humility—a humility not easily defensible on any rational ground, and yet somehow nearer to wisdom than the easy self-confidence of many parents and teachers

The state, the church and many institutions that offer education do not conduct it in a spirit of reverence, but are generally concerned with maintaining an existing order. And in any case, when the individual is considered, it is almost exclusively with a view to worldly success—making money or achieving a good position.

One area, he says, that instruction is harmful is religion and history. In most countries, history is taught as to magnify that country.

On religious education, he notes, and I quote at length

Elementary schools are practically always in the hands either of some religious body or of a State which has a certain attitude towards religion. A religious body exists through the fact that its members all have certain definite beliefs on subjects as to which the truth is not ascertainable. Schools conducted by religious bodies have to prevent the young, who are often inquiring by nature, from discovering that these definite beliefs are opposed by others which are no more unreasonable, and that many of the men best qualified to judge think that there is no good evidence in favor of any definite belief.

He observes, that as long as the aim of education is is to produce belief rather than thought, free inquiry will always be a dream, never attained. The end of education should, he writes, foster the wish for truth, not the conviction that some particular creed is the truth.

If this is the aim of education,

Instead of obedience and discipline, we ought to aim at preserving independence and impulse. Instead of ruthlessness, education should try to develop justice in thought. Instead of contempt, it ought to instill reverence, and the attempt at understanding; towards the opinions of others it ought to produce, not necessarily acquiescence, but only such opposition as is combined with imaginative apprehension and a clear realization of the grounds for opposition. Instead of credulity, the object should be to stimulate constructive doubt, the love of mental adventure, the sense of worlds to conquer by enterprise and boldness in thought. Contentment with the status quo, and subordination of the individual pupil to political aims, owing to the indifference to the things of the mind, are the immediate causes of these evils; but beneath these causes there is one more fundamental, the fact that education is treated as a means of acquiring power over the pupil, not as a means of nourishing his own growth.

our educators score between E and F.

If we took education seriously, we would treat as we treat victory in war. No expense would be spared in the instruction of children. We would employ as many teachers as would be required, we would provide the necessary facilities that would not only make learning enjoyable but also provide room for inquiry. We need more money to secure teachers with more leisure and with a natural love of teaching.

It cannot be said enough that discipline as it exists in our schools today is largely evil. There has been progress in banning corporal punishment in schools though we still have a majority of people who think, as is written in the bible, if you spare the rod, you spoil the child and would want to see a reintroduction of the same in schools.

Ruthlessness in the economic struggle will almost unavoidably be taught in schools so long as the economic structure of society remains unchanged. The examination system, and the fact that instruction is treated mainly as training for a livelihood, leads the young to regard knowledge, from a purely utilitarian point of view, as the road to money, not as the gateway to wisdom.

When he says

It will be said that the joy of mental adventure must be rare, that there are few who can appreciate it, and that ordinary education can take no account of so aristocratic a good. I do not believe this. The joy of mental adventure is far commoner in the young than in grown men and women. Among children it is very common, and grows naturally out of the period of make-believe and fancy. It is rare in later life because everything is done to kill it during education. Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth—more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible; thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. It sees man, a feeble speck, surrounded by unfathomable depths of silence; yet it bears itself proudly, as unmoved as if it were lord of the universe. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.

I can’t help but nod my head.

But if the above is to be true for all of us, then fear must be shown the door. It is fear that holds men back—fear lest their cherished beliefs should prove delusions, fear lest the institutions by which they live should prove harmful, fear lest they themselves should prove less worthy of respect than they have supposed themselves to be.

In conclusion, he writes and I agree

No institution inspired by fear can further life. Hope, not fear, is the creative principle in human affairs. All that has made man great has sprung from the attempt to secure what is good, not from the struggle to avert what was thought evil. It is because modern education is so seldom inspired by a great hope that it so seldom achieves a great result. The wish to preserve the past rather than the hope of creating the future dominates the minds of those who control the teaching of the young. Education should not aim at a passive awareness of dead facts, but at an activity directed towards the world that our efforts are to create. It should be inspired, not by a regretful hankering after the extinct beauties of Greece and the Renaissance, but by a shining vision of the society that is to be, of the triumphs that thought will achieve in the time to come, and of the ever-widening horizon of man’s survey over the universe. Those who are taught in this spirit will be filled with life and hope and joy, able to bear their part in bringing to mankind a future less somber than the past, with faith in the glory that human effort can create.

Teachers, the ball is on your court.

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

59 thoughts on “Reflections on Education

  1. Arkenaten says:

    Most of my schooldays I would cheerfully forget, in fact most of the school education I received, and especially the environment in which I received it, I utterly loathed.
    The best part of schooldays were when I was not actually in school but rather hanging out in record stores or similar during lunch breaks or the occasional bunk.
    Most of the teachers were simply awful and the subjects I did fairly well at were a reflection of the teachers who taught them. rather than the subject itself.

    Like

  2. Barry says:

    Mak, your final sentence missed the mark. Being the spouse of a dedicated teacher, and knowing many teachers, your final remark should be directed at the bureaucrats in their ivory towers instead of at the teachers. If only you knew how much they bang their heads against brick walls trying to impliment much of what you desire. I don’t know a single teacher who doesn’t want to encourage the inquiring mind, although I’m sure there are many who are content to be cogs in the factory of producing ready made productive units.

    The previous government was hell bent on creating a system whereby education was based on a competitive model and success was based purely on examination rankings. The new government is changing direction so that aim is to prepare students for life in the full meaning of the word instead of simply preparing students for the work force.

    Teachers don’t want their job to be preparing students to pass exams – what could be more soul destroying? Rather they want students to learn. If students aren’t inquisitive then they don’t really learn. They simply absorb what they are given and learn to repeat it parrot fashion. That’s the task of animal trainers, not teachers.

    BTW our schools are secular, do not teach civics or ethics, and NZ history is not part of the mandated curriculum.

    Liked by 5 people

    • makagutu says:

      Barry you are right. The ball should be in the court of administrators not teachers.
      Most schools and teachers by extension, in this country, are busy preparing students to pass exams. That is the be all of our education system. You pass this exam to qualify for the next level that places you at an advantage above the next fellow.
      And the nation as a whole doesn’t encourage or promote invention. You develop an idea, someone will steal it and monetize it. It’s dehumanizing

      Liked by 2 people

      • Barry says:

        Under the previous government teachers were being phased out of advisory roles because they were so against the move to a system of school ranking based purely on examination results. Teachers were opposed to salaries and funding being based purely on examination results. Funding at primary and secondary levels is based on the socio-economic background of the communities the school serves. The lower the community wealth, the higher the funding per student. Funding purely on academic results would be a sure way to bring on ghettoisation of poorer communities.

        Liked by 1 person

        • makagutu says:

          Barry, you should talk to whoever is in charge of your immigration to grant me a visa. Your leaders are humane, doing the right thing.
          I promise, I will endeavour to be a good citizen.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Barry says:

            Unfortunately it’s not who you know but what you know that works here. You need to gain a specified number of points over a number of criteria to qualify for a work or resident visa. Academic qualifications and being skilled in selected occupations earn the most points. Nationality, ethnicity, religion etc are irrelevant. Some occupations in the building/construction sector aew in high demand at present as a result of the earthquakes of 2010 & 2011, but I’m not sure exactly which ones. But be warned, it’s not all roses. The cost of living is very high as we are a small market at the very end of a very long supply line.

            Liked by 1 person

            • makagutu says:

              I don’t mind high cost of living if the standard of life is high, public sector works and humans are treated humanely

              Liked by 1 person

              • Barry says:

                Standard of living is relatively high. We have one of the highest average life expectancies in the world, a (mostly) free universal health system, the lowest corruption index, the highest freedom index, and in the top 3 for ease of doing business.

                As to whether humans are treated humanely, we like to complain officials are heartless, but in comparison to most other countries we do extremely well. Kiwis have an obsession for fairness above most other things, which is probably why we are the only country with a universal no faults accident compensation system.

                Liked by 1 person

      • Barry says:

        Examinations are only part of gaining educational qualifications here. There are no examinations at primary level and none for entry to secondary school.

        In secondary school, subjects are broken down into modules, in which a student can get a pass, pass with merit, or pass with excellence. There is no overall grade for the entire subject. Most of the modules are assessed internally by the school from work done by the student during the year. External exams are used primarily as a means of moderating the results so results are consistent across the country. It’s more work for the teachers but they believe it more accurately describes the skills of a student than an examination per subject can do.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent comment. It isn’t the teachers we need to rant at, but the system they’re forced to work in. Well said.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. renudepride says:

    When pursuing my postgraduate degrees, I taught in primary schools operated by the Roman Catholic Church. My principal was a nun. She spent an inordinate amount of time in my classroom during my first year of teaching. During our weekly faculty meetings, she often reported to the remainder of the faculty what she observed. At our final meeting of that scholastic year, she proudly summoned me up front of my peers and presented me with her own “Teacher-of-the-Year Award.” I was shocked. Her comment? “He always engaged with his students and challenged them to think for themselves.”

    Sadly, Sr. Kathleen was killed in an automobile accident two years later. However, I always treasure her comment and even though I now teach university level men and women, I always strive to engage each and every one of them and try to challenge them to think for themselves.

    An outstanding post, my Kenyan brother. Naked hugs!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. “If we took education seriously, we would treat as we treat victory in war. No expense would be spared in the instruction of children.” Could not agree more with this. Excellent post, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, excellent post and commentary! Barry’s contribution is spot-on.

    Like

  6. basenjibrian says:

    Instead of obedience and discipline, we ought to aim at preserving independence and impulse. Instead of ruthlessness, education should try to develop justice in thought. Instead of contempt, it ought to instill reverence, and the attempt at understanding; towards the opinions of others it ought to produce, not necessarily acquiescence, but only such opposition as is combined with imaginative apprehension and a clear realization of the grounds for opposition. Instead of credulity, the object should be to stimulate constructive doubt…”

    I don’t know, Mak. I read this “fluff”, and I could easily write paragraphs arguing that in many respects he is internally contradicting himself and incoherent. It all sounds so well and good. We are all special snowflakes who our elders must coddle and train in the ways of theadult world while not stomping out the unique and special nature of every single child.

    Urk.

    I mean, heck, I want a magic pony to ride through the sky and I want “society” to give it to me.

    (Sorry….in a snarky mood. forgive me)

    Like

  7. Veracious Poet says:

    I have had this idea in my head many years ago that education should be 90% ‘inspiration’ and 10% instruction. Where ‘inspiration’ means to help the students find themselves. I spent £16,000 on my masters degree with a public U.K. university and I can tell you they (and almost every university) cared more about the money. But I also recieved a little scholarship. The lecturers were very knowledgeable in the subject matter and tuition was good but it was also rigid and I think they did it the way it was always done. Generally speaking, many doctoral students even fear to disagree with their professors lest they might not graduate, thereby creating a master- servant relationship. Let us also not forget that all academic institutions are under government regulations and this affects education delivery.

    My personal opinion is that formal education clamps down on imagination and ingenuity. So one has to decide what they want to do with their life first before getting the relevant formal education.

    Like

    • makagutu says:

      And that’s a lot of money to start with. My masters will cost me possibly 1/4 of that amount.
      I think I agree with this

      My personal opinion is that formal education clamps down on imagination and ingenuity.

      Like

      • Veracious Poet says:

        Most of my family and friends thought I was crazy not to have used the money to buy a car or get a wife. But for the partial scholarship they offered me, I think I would not have proceeded. A masters at 4000 pounds is really affordable. Lucky Mak. Another reason for choosing a foreign university is my frustrating undergrad experiences in Ghana. In Ghana, after one’s dissertation, one could be delayed unreasonably before receiving their certificate. You know how crazy things can get on this continent.

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        • makagutu says:

          I think an opportunity to pursue further studies, given the vistas it opens, is far much better than buying a car.
          Our universities can show you things

          Like

          • Veracious Poet says:

            What about getting a bride? A happy wife, a happy life right?

            I’m sure Kenyan universities teach better. But I’m not sure about the ones here. I don’t blame them.

            Like

  8. shelldigger says:

    I would add that parents should be actively involved in teaching their children how to think, rather than what to think.

    Teachers have it tough, underpaid, underfunded (for classroom necessities that often as not they pay for out of pocket) large classrooms, and unruly students with no interest in schooling.

    Then we have our brilliant gov’t, that when a downward trend in education success is shown, they would rather dumb down the testing than increase the effectiveness of the schooling.

    It is no wonder we have so many ill informed fucking tRump supporting morons… If Barry gets you into NZ, can you help pave the way for me? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • makagutu says:

      True, but most parents fear their children will challenge their authority if they were allowed to think for themselves.

      Teachers suffer a lot and we still demand so much from them.

      Let me talk to Barry for both of us

      Like

  9. Beautiful post. I think it is very relevant to the education of our days worldwide. I’m curious to hear your opinion about the following post. I think it is adding to subject. https://backtoourselves.org/2018/02/18/constructive-education-the-foundations-for-a-better-future-part-1

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  10. Mr Benjamin Hamilton says:

    Here, here!

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  11. Mr Benjamin Hamilton says:

    It saddens me to see all of the negative comments about teachers. I may be in the minority, but I appreciated the effort that all of my teachers put in, even if I didn’t particularly care for their teaching style.

    I try my utmost to connect with all of my pupils, but I can’t please everyone – even the most evangelical human beings have their critics. I absolutely care about EVERY kid I teach, including those that verbally abuse me because I asked them to get a pen out!

    Like

  12. navvsworld says:

    very informative article! for similar thoughts and ideas, please do take a look at my blog. thanks!

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  13. drngechu says:

    Quality education is the way to go 100%. I am happy to share this great deal of turning around the education system, check this out–> https://bit.ly/2KGLb1Y

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  14. I agree w Russel often, but disagree strongly on issues of faith. The historicity of the Torah and New Testament is very hard to discount… I think Russel shows himself academically lazy when he attempts to use science to judge great books of antiquity. He’s using the wrong yardstick.
    Thanks for post!

    Like

    • makagutu says:

      Did you say historicity?

      Like

      • Yes. There are many tests to prove the authenticity of ancient texts.
        his·to·ric·i·ty

        [ˌhistəˈrisədē]

        NOUN

        historical authenticity.

        “an effort to assert the historicity of poetry and the political power of poets”

        synonyms: reliability · dependability · trustworthiness · truth

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      • He says he believes in science, yet there is not 1 example of a trans-species mutation. Where’s his proof in the supposed deity of the Fabians?
        He denies 24k written witnesses so he can play god? He denies history. He denies archaelogy. He denies the survival of Israel. He denies the Messiah because he has a motive conflict; how can he hammer stoutly and build a world closer to (his) heart if there is a being greater than him? The 20th century aptly proves that rights given by man, will be taken by man.
        There are approx 100million dead through the followers of his worldview: Marxists, Fascists, Maoist etc.

        Like

        • makagutu says:

          I don’t know what you’re yapping here about.
          All I need from you is the donkeys. I will talk to them myself

          Like

          • Ok, got the message. Ad hominem attack when you have no evidence for your position.

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            • makagutu says:

              What ad hominem?

              Like

              • Russel attacks any faith but his own in education. The 20th century is the proof that his humanistic visions dont end up in utopias but concentration camps. By accepting all as truth, he necessarily exposes himself to evil and advocates teaching NOT using discernment because he cannot fathom right and wrong, lightness and darkness, without losing his sacred cow of the deity of humankind. Thats my talking donkey.

                Like

                • makagutu says:

                  Am I Russell? You said you have evidence for the talking donkeys. To ask to interview these donkeys is not ad hominem.
                  It’s not a competition of who killed many. One person killed because Christians can’t agree on who prays the right way is one person too many

                  Liked by 1 person

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