Edev_501 Response wk10_2

Your post brings up a very, very important topic: the purpose and value of education.

Before I speak to that, we must clear the ground on a point of fact. Steven Pinker’s book, “The Better Angels of our Nature”, tells us that we have far less war than at any other time in human history. He makes a case for why this is so. It is so, but the reasons for it being so are problematic. Pinker’s case is compelling. More money in numerical terms is spent on warfare these days, but in relative terms, warfare is only one of other major economies.

Now, that aside, I’d like to address your point.

(I need to state this at the beginning because it colours my meaning.) I’m an atheist. I live in the 21st century and came from a Roman Catholic Scottish family. My Master’s degree is in Historical Musicology and for that I had to study historiography and pure history. I grew up in a Kantian deontological environment that drew its sense of duty and morals from the Vatican. That these were man-made notions never crossed my mind until my 20s. The study of history and how history is created (by (hu)man) gently nudged me into questioning my ontological categorisation of the world, and eventually I found myself rejecting the very epistemological systems of how humans create and maintain knowledge systems, and with that, systems of power. I lived through my 20s and 30s thankfully not meeting much resistance. People generally left me to think my own thoughts as I pleased.

The Scotland of the 1970s and 80s would not have left me alone. The Europe of the 1470s and 80s would have burnt me. Even today in many parts of the world, those who don’t conform to religious standards are ostracised and even murdered. Yes, you are right: to the individual ignorance is bliss. Not knowing, not perceiving, never having to contend the nature of truth is safer, easier, more comfortable.

But without education, Scotland could not have moved away from the 70s (either version). Those in power would always have power. They would subjugate others with military, political or more importantly, ideological power. Only education can free us from tyranny. Educators have an ethical responsibility to protect our students. And that includes making the decision not to empower them if empowerment leads to their death without their prior consent. (With their consent is a different matter.)

The market economy is currently the best ideology we have. Libertarianism aside, it allows the individual the freedom of choice at every level. Yet currently, there is disparity in the economies of the world. Only education can eradicate differences and lead to true equality in humans. I live for that.

My words may seem reasonable enough, but the cost of this high ideal is, as you rightly point out, the cost to the individual. I’m not utilitarian (although I do share some of their principles) and each individual’s life is sacrosanct. The question becomes one of balance. At the end of the day, the only way forward is education. And that makes me proud to be an educator.

Pinker, S. (2011). The Better Angels of our Nature. presented at the New York, New York: Viking.

About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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