Organic Solidarity

I recently watched Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk called, “Bring on the learning revolution!” It’s interesting and empowering, because you’re made more aware of how the education system just doesn’t work. This talk may not be as big as his first one called, “How schools kill creativity” – although I highly recommend both – but it does touch on a few important points about how the world works and how there is so much more potential within ourselves than we’ve been made to realize.

One of them is that life is not linear; it’s organic. We create and shape our lives as we go along. We can’t see straight ahead, because there is no straight ahead. There are detours, roundabouts, one-way streets, freeways, broken paths, and no exit signs. It’s scary, yes. But it’s also liberating. It makes us think about what we want, where we should go, and who we are. And we learn all of this along the way.

Shouldn’t education reflect that? Shouldn’t our schools teach us that there is no clear, direct path to success? Or, for that matter, that success is different for everyone? Sir Robinson mentioned that schools take on a fast-food approach: everything is standardized, everything is the same, and drifting from those standards is wrong. In his book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, he writes:

One of the essential problems for education is that most countries subject their schools to the fast-food model of quality assurance when they should be adopting a Michelin model instead. The future for education is not in standardizing but in customizing; not in promoting groupthink and “deindividuation” but in cultivating the real depth and dynamism of human abilities of every sort.

I actually love how this reminds me of what I’ve learned in my sociology classes. Thank goodness I’ve remembered something from school! Seriously, though, this just rings true for me. While I may have succeeded in the fast-food framework of the education system, I still felt a bit off. I didn’t feel like me while I was in the school system. In fact, it was only after being out of school for a year that I felt like I was truly getting to know myself again. Imagine how somebody who’s dropped out would feel.

It goes to show that Sir Robinson and Émile Durkheim were right in that advanced (and honestly, better – that’s me and Ken Robinson, not Durkheim necessarily) societies feature people with individual talents and aptitudes, with specialties that serve the community as a whole in order to move it forward. “Organic solidarity,” is what this is called. Now that I’m away from my sociological theories class, I can fully appreciate that term. We’re all different and special, and we need to nurture that. But, we’re all in this together. We need to work together, make use of our differences, and create a better world.

It’s a truth that I’m working towards.

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School vs. Education

I always liked school. I liked attending classes, learning about new things, doing well on tests, getting praised by teachers and other students, making friends, and feeling like I belonged somewhere. School was such a natural thing for me and for everybody else. It was the “right path” for people to be inside a building, grouped with other people their own age, for the most formative years of their life. That’s around 14 years of your body changing and your mind opening and your heart breaking and hardening and softening – and you’re with hundreds of students going through the same thing. But this doesn’t always become a bonding experience. Children can be nasty.

It was only during university that I fully realized that this business of schooling just isn’t working for everyone. For one thing, we’re made to believe that our paths are linear: elementary school –> high school –> post-secondary education, preferably university –> job –> career – with, of course, marriage and children. But life isn’t a straight line. It’s a series of loops and zig zags, and it’s messy. And the educational system doesn’t really reflect or teach that.

One of the things that I remember the most from The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, by Sir Ken Robinson, is his claim that the educational system has been formed to churn out work-ready adults during the Industrial Revolution. That’s why there’s a subject hierarchy, and why people believe that getting credentials from a school will directly lead to good work. Think of that what you will, but if this is an agenda that was put into place hundred years ago, then we maybe should be worried that it hasn’t changed that much when pretty much everything else in society has. Of course, this agenda isn’t followed by every school in the world, but the prevailing notion of using education through schooling as a tool or path for the working world is unchallenged.

Education is supposed to challenge. It’s supposed to be about critical thinking, thinking for yourself, appreciating different perspectives, and growing into whoever you are supposed to be. Education happens over a lifetime. And I think that this is something that we forget or take for granted, which is a shame, because there are opportunities every day for us to learn.

And I’m not just talking about those everyday lessons like, “if you hit your sister then she’ll get hurt,” or “if you’re rude to the server your drink might taste funny.” While they are valuable and teach us about basic human decency, they don’t fully encompass what I talk about when I explain the difference between schooling and education. For me, education is also about finding a subject that interests you, and taking your own time and making an effort to learn more about it in whichever way makes the most sense for you. Take writing for example. You can get a BA or MFA in technical writing, communication, creative writing, public relations, and so on. But in order to make a living or lifestyle around writing, you have to figure out how to integrate this practice into your life. And so you learn about what other writers have done and are doing, through their blogs and other written work, going to events, and engaging in conversation with them.This kind of education is like training or development, and actually makes room for the subject to become a part of you, rather than a topic that you read about, take a test on, and then neglect for the rest of your life (here’s looking at you, algebra).

So, what I’m trying to say is that education is not and should not be reduced to a method or a business. It’s a significant part of our lives, and is integral to our growth. It’s empowering, especially if we’re the ones who take it upon ourselves to continue learning about what matters to us.

I hope you take the time and care to learn something that matters to you.