The End of Schooling?

Issue: 

A holistic worldview needs to be nourished - one which honors the principles of ecology, fosters each person’s unique potentials and weaves together a diverse, collaborative human community.

Modern culture has entered an historic phase of transition in which our industrial-age and reductionistic worldview is being replaced by one that is more holistic, ecological and open to the fundamental mystery of the cosmos.

In recent months, I have noticed increasing awareness that this is indeed happening; a growing number of authors and filmmakers are proclaiming what they perceive to be the imminent end of established institutions and cultural assumptions: they tell us about the end of dogmatic faith, the end of an economy based on cheap energy, the end of empire, the end of America, and even the end of civilization. (For an especially provocative and comprehensive overview of this analysis, I highly recommend Timothy S. Bennett’s documentary “What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire”--see www.whatawaytogomovie.com/ .)

As most of us now recognize, we are facing a global crisis due to severe problems such as climate change, peak oil and the exhaustion of soil and other resources, species extinction, widespread poverty and violence, and many more that seriously threaten our survival. We are beginning to recognize that technological solutions are inadequate; the crisis is the direct and inevitable result of a worldview based on violent exploitation of the planet and its life. Some of us dare to suggest that this worldview needs to expire, and all the institutions that it birthed must go with it. It is in this context that we need to consider the end of schooling, or more precisely, the end of our existing bureaucratic system of mass compulsory schooling. Modern educational systems belong to a phase of cultural history that is now coming to an end—that must come to end, according to contemporary observers, because it is inherently and absolutely unsustainable.

The cultural drive to concentrate authority in powerful, coercive institutions is what Riane Eisler calls the “dominator” paradigm, and it has little use for a “partnership” worldview that values individuality, diversity, or organic growth. As dissident educators have been pointing out for two hundred years, schooling serves the interests of the state, society, and business before the needs or interests of young human beings or the larger ecology of living beings. The so-called “No Child Left Behind” program is not about children, but about further consolidating the authority of the corporate state.

For most of the past two centuries, educational dissidents have been characterized as romantic visionaries, too “child-centered” to appreciate the importance of building a modern, well managed industrial society. In a classic encounter, the politician Horace Mann, the leading architect of public schooling in the U.S., refused to allow the Transcendentalist philosopher/educator Bronson Alcott to address a teachers’ convention because his views were “hostile to the existence of the state.” Well, today, as we begin to acknowledge the tremendous violence and destruction that the industrial state has wrought on much of humanity and the natural world, it no longer appears so “romantic” to be hostile to its continued existence. To welcome the imminent end of the dominator paradigm is in fact the only realistic and morally sound response.

We can no longer afford an educational system that manages and suppresses human energies, that turns individual passion and creativity into passive consumerism and dutiful employability. The whole structure of testing and grading, sorting young people by age and academic talent, condensing experience into officially sanctioned textbooks and curriculum units, and imposing authoritarian order in school buildings serves to enforce the dominator paradigm, the exploitative worldview of the industrial age.

The political and business leaders who have run public schooling from the beginning have always been clear that their primary goals are discipline, efficiency, and the development of “human capital.” Today, young children are denied time to play because “seat time” and homework are more efficient ways to mold them into compliant citizens. This is a violation of nature no less outrageous than the destruction of old growth forests.

A holistic worldview needs to be nourished- one which honors the principles of ecology and the possibilities of spiritual insight, nourishes each person’s unique potentials and weaves together a diverse, collaborative human community. Holistic education applies these values to the task of raising and teaching children in various ways, from the joyful freedom of unschooling to the delicately choreographed rhythm of a day in a Waldorf school.

When the culture shifts, when a holistic worldview finally replaces our technocracy, children and families will have access to many kinds of learning environments, and they will be free to cultivate their own personal destinies.

Instead of being managed and measured, learning will be organic and more attuned to the developmental needs of children and the sustainable patterns of nature. This will be the end of schooling, and the rediscovery of genuine education.

Ron Miller is recognized internationally as one of the major thinkers and activists in the emerging field of holistic education. He is currently the editor of ‘Education Revolution’ the magazine of the Alternative Education Resource Organization.