Context and Education
Context can be such a traitor, always looking for an opportunity to betray. But context isn't biased. However, it is easily manipulated by those who have something to gain; therein lies the irony of the profit-based driven society we have created for ourselves. One example is in education. We inherently know that we have to value education. We know deep down that our children need to have an education. We deem it important to ensure that our offspring continue to learn and to grow. That sentiment is a natural one shared by many, if not all, cultures around the world. For first world and third world nations alike, the desire for that society to educate their young is paramount. Western society predominates our world. The way our society is structured today, success has become a value to which we aspire for ourselves and our children. Success almost beckons for society to offer reverence. Success conveys an image of having attained education. Success is not education. Yet many people subscribe to the notion that success equals education. Success has nothing to do with learning the relevant knowledge required to understand how our actions affect our environment. Success doesn't convey the symbiosis between humans and everything in this universe. If our society was structured in a way where we truly valued education, would not an education, the act of attaining intellectual wealth, matter over material success? I think this is just one example of how context has betrayed us. Success being used as a measure of intellectual achievement steers us away from our true values.
Case in point, here in the United States, recent allegations have sprung up in Georgia regarding cheating on standardized tests. Now, to many, this may seem scandalous, as it should. However, it's not the only time it's happened in our history. The Chicago Public School system adopted high-stakes testing in 1996. In the book Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner very poignantly demonstrate how high-stakes testing encouraged cheating amongst teachers. Our system of government enacted legislation in 2002 (No Child Left Behind law) that mandated high-stakes testing across the country. Our education system is strife with teachers who are so concerned with what's at stake, usually their salary, so much so that they are sacrificing time and effort away from actually teaching. As a consequence, our country's international test scores keep dropping. So you see, as much as we value education, the system in place is not appropriate to achieve higher levels of understanding. In this system, we continually make efforts to improve our schools, but don't ever show any improvement. High-stakes testing affects the test taker (our children) in negative ways, but the method also allows for financial gain or loss on behalf of the test administrator. Those issuing the test stand to gain or lose as well, be it the individual teacher or the school district. I have not met anyone yet who doesn't mind when someone begins to mess with their money. We get anxious about our money. We will go through extreme measures to get money or to mitigate our chances of losing money, including cheating on standardized tests. It's an interesting physiological response.
To elaborate on this, it's a fact that many domestic disputes are about money. We fret about money constantly. Our daily lives revolve around making money, deciding how to spend money, how much to save, how much to give to charity, if at all. It's easy to see how much money affects our lives. Have you ever asked anyone why they choose college? Most answers aren't “to get an education”. Most answers are “College graduates make more money”, or “to increase my chances of making more money”, or “to achieve a higher level income bracket”. The answers are those of a society that is preoccupied with affluence. Everybody wants to be affluent or hang out with the affluent. It seems to be the only thing that matters. Here again we see a parallel where affluence conveys success. Success being associated with education conjures up images of the college experience. Study hard, get that education, achieve success and you will be wealthy. With a focus on earning potential, we have sacrificed true learning and understanding. Our true societal values are distorted because we have assigned a value to affluence and success. In reality, colleges have become institutions that provide training in revenue generating careers. Relevant knowledge is an afterthought. Education is synonymous with college. Education is synonymous with affluence. Education is synonymous with attaining knowledge. Context has so betrayed us here.
Our highly valued public school system is suffering. We have an economist who has effectively argued against high-stakes testing. Why in the world did our government pass a law mandating it? We can only speculate. I read the book Freakonomics, It's such a good book. Have any elected officials read this book? It says on the cover that it was a national best-seller! It is plain to see that our governing body is busy making financial decisions with complete disregard to relevant legislation that will ensure a happy and robust society. Our multi-trillion dollar deficit can attest to that. I believe society suffers from a detrimental condition, put upon us by a tool of our own creation. The solution to this condition lies in understanding it. Think of hypochondriacs, those people afflicted by a condition that puts them in a mental state which allows them the perception that they suffer from physical ailments. Also think about the “placebo effect”, an improvement in someone’s condition just because they believe they were treated, when in fact they were not. These conditions highlight something wonderful in human behavior that can't be fully explained in this article. What is obvious about these conditions, and relevant to this article, is that here is something truly amazing about human behavior that we should seek to understand. Could this very unique ability in individuals affect our cumulative mindset? If human behavior is capable of such a destructive condition (hypochondria) in an individual's mind, and capable of healing (placebo effect) in another, is it possible for human behavior to similarly affect the whole of our society simultaneously? We know very well how greed is affecting our economy as exemplified by corporate excess. We are slowly starting to awaken, or realize, how the unbridled desire for more is affecting our world, from oil wells spilling crude to nuclear power plants spewing radiation and everything in between. Slowly, we are learning. An understanding of our societal dysfunction is slowly taking hold. Our environment, our true classroom, is not funded by any governing body. Real learning is gripping our consciousness. We learn from our environment. Our human body is the environment from which our consciousness manifests. Our Cosmos, our Universe is one we all share. We learn from it, and thrive from it. Carl Sagan said,
“For we are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self-awareness... Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for Earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring.”
Carl Sagan eloquently speaks of our technological advancements throughout our history. He also explains how our species now has the ability to exterminate itself. The Cosmos is asking for our attention. We are not minding her. The condition of greed, if you allow yourself to examine it closely, is a condition that exists because of a money-based economy. The lure for profit is the bottom line. We have become a society that considers the financial ramifications of every decision we make. For large corporations, the lure for profit has worldwide consequences. Cheap labor, cheap oil, cheap energy and cheap food dominate our economic landscape as well as our environmental landscape. It should come as no surprise that a profit-based society would set up a system of education that is focused on the financial impact rather than the intellectual impact it would have on its people. As a consequence, our society becomes unaware. The tide is turning however, as the Occupy Movement can attest. There is unrest amongst the people. It is as if some of us are becoming aware that our collective minds, and therefore our actions, are showing symptoms of illness. This mindless escalation of debt is out of control. The condition of greed has taken over our psyche. Large corporations exemplify through their actions what greed is capable of doing to our environment and our economy. Individually, we are at fault as well. This economy depends on the people to spend money, whether you have it or not. We are more than happy to oblige. The people are taking notice.
A possible solution presents itself in the study of human behavior. Hypochondriacs can recover from their condition when they become aware. The placebo phenomenon is so effective that 50% of Doctors in Germany prescribe placebos. The individual mind can heal itself of delusional pathologies. It would be fair to suggest then that societal greed can be healed as well. It could be stated that the healing process has already begun. The people taking to the streets in protest is a sign of healing. The key is understanding the grip that this profit-based economy has on human behavior. Our ability to overcome it will depend on our ability to bring this awareness to others. For that to happen, we need to spread real knowledge. This knowledge is not restricted to the classroom. We need to expand our educational environment.
The Cosmos is our environment. We've always learned from her. Human behavior is included in this Cosmos, understanding it will naturally lead us to a solution. Socrates is known to have said “The unexamined life is not worth living”. We need to understand our way of life. We devised money as a tool by which we can ensure the proper distribution of resources. The tool has now become associated with being the foundation by which our society functions. Our monetary system cannot print money fast enough to sustain itself. Through Quantitative Easing, we have effectively bypassed the printing of money and have resorted to creating it electronically. In 2008, the cost of the presidential election of the U.S. topped $1 Billion, a first in our history. It's estimated that the 2012 election will top $6 Billion. Clearly our governing body has gone insane. Greed is rampant. Politicians are now puppets to their corporate masters who supply them with their money fix. Yet the collective is aware and it's time to remedy the out of control mindset of our society. Is it time to dismantle this monetary-based economy from its foundation? Indeed, this is a revolutionary concept. There is a proposed alternative – a resource-based economy to replace the money-based one in place now. We have a lot to learn. In the proper context, learning can be a wonderful thing.