Educational systems are called systems for a reason. Many would view the educational systems as empowering and some are, but what is important to recognise is that learning takes place in a structured environment.

Now there are different types of structured learning environments. In my experience of Comprehensive School during the 1980’s there was a clear structural process at play in all classroom and school interactions. First and foremost there was a distinct hierarchy at play in terms of the teacher being the giver of knowledge to the student, the teacher was the giver of knowledge and dissent from the pupils was not encouraged. This structure also rewarded those who conformed by agreeing that the teacher was correct as they received good grades for agreeing that the information given to them was correct. Suffice to say there was little movement for critical debate. Furthermore, those pupils who conformed to the power structure the most, were rewarded with roles within it. Those lucky pupils were made prefects and thus had authority bestowed onto them from above over other pupils. They were given power as a reward. They then were put on prefect duties which involved maintaining the order of other pupils on behalf of the school system, in effect policing other students.

Now you may think this has little to do with learning, but this was an extremely profound learning experience as it was teaching subservience to an hierarchy, an hierarchy whose knowledge was sacred and untouchable, you were also being taught that hierarchies are to be expected and what your role would be within them. Obey and conform and you will be rewarded with good grades, power as a prefect and increased life chance. Refuse to cooperate or question the authority, then expect detentions, exclusions and reduced life chances. What you were being given here was a one long lesson in structural relationships. Furthermore the rewards are often given based on the individual, so it is the individual who suffers or gains in the world of school, thus promoting competition, division and self interest against cooperation, solidarity and community. This still exists to this day when you look at the ultimate reward at all levels of education in terms of grades, they are given to the individual.

This structure then sets up the working class for their roles as workers who are subservient to the boss, who do not question for fear of repercussions, who will succeed and be rewarded if they conform.

I am not saying that all learning is like this and I will post a second account of education that I received at Ruskin College later on in life, but it is always important to consider not only what you are being taught but also how you are being taught and not just only in the classroom but outside of it.

This post was inspired by a book called Schooling In Capitalist America by Bowles and Gintis, which I read at Ruskin College.

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