Leave your job, stop studying, and hear me for just one minute. Have you heard of rising blockchain technologies and their affiliated currencies and commodities such as BTC, ETH, and NFTs? Worry not because, in the next 3 minutes, I’m going to say absolutely nothing about these because I’m not launching a pyramid scheme.
When I say scam, do you think of the online trading scams, or perhaps the “Prince of Nigeria” contacting you to safeguard his lifelong wealth, or your “friend” asking you to change your Instagram verification email to something obscure to cast a vote for them in their apparent ambassadorship contest? Maybe you think of more elaborate scams that are better planned and carefully executed, such as diet plans.
However, this article will not be about any of those scams but something much larger, deeper, hard to notice, understand, and hardest to incorporate as lessons in life. The scam of education.
Education as a Scam
There are so many things that come to mind within each of these subheadings. You could create entire fields of study and books within them. But for simplicity, we’ll narrow down only a couple ideas here.
Commenting on education as a scam is not a call for dropping out. Sorry, you still have to study for that math test that’s coming up. Please also accept my apologies for not setting you free from studying those other subjects that span the social sciences and customary moral values modules/subjects, too. But let’s pose a fundamental question: Where does studying those subjects actually get you?
Does Education Make Good People?
I remember an experience from my high school. It was just another school morning and having arrived early to school, I slept, waiting for people to come and the first period to begin. I was woken up to my de facto alarm, a friend, and the sounds of papers being distributed. We had a moral education exam that wasn’t marked on my schedule. And to this day, I cannot recall a single moral education period in school or anything written in those exams. Did we not have those periods? Did we use them for other subjects? Was the material so redundant or repetitive?
All possible answers aside, what worries me is that I would still question how far those periods would have gone for the general student community even if they were appropriately conducted.
The point is, perhaps education does not necessarily teach us values or make us better humans. It may seem that it does, but how do we know that these better values result from education and not parenting, friend groups, and independent learning in an information-laden age?
Despite education, we can also see that many cases of discrimination, hate crimes, and other anti-social actions occur at the hands of well-educated people. Issues such as sexism, abuse, exploitation, and inhumane practices occur not predominantly in backward houses but in corporations, factories, and powerful entities. No matter how much information is available and what education seeks to achieve, democratic progress, political events, and social cohesion worldwide seem to be threatened. If education breeds humanity, then why aren’t we reaping those results? Do those results even exist? Or is the causation irrelevant entirely? Obviously, this is not generalizable, and education is not redundant, but it’s not a 100% guaranteed process of humanity either.
Of course Amaan… Education is not a guarantee; why do you say these things?
I find this important to mention because my observations across several discussions and platforms have shown that people often conveniently blame err’s of humanity on a lack of education. Yet, I fail to see that connection upon further studies of many of society’s intricate issues. Like, I’m not sure your neighborhood manager who passed sexist remarks or billionaires underpaying workers lack education. If we can realize that blaming issues on lack of education is not valid, we can start working on studying issues more and finding out how we can make changes, and how and towards whom should we start increasing pressure to bring changes as obviously increasing education is barely an achievable task at an individual level.
Does education bring humanity is one question, but what if we ask if education was ever meant to bring humanity? What if we also ask, what is humanity? Who defines these terms? Who decides the objectives of education? In answering those questions, think about what you have learned in less calculating subjects (think moral science, politics, economics, history, global studies, environment, business…).
Our Education System Might Just Be Propaganda
“Education teaches people how to think, while propaganda teaches people what to think”
(James AC Brown)
What balance did your studies strike between how to think and develop ideas versus handing those ideas down to you as law? When I think of these in terms of politics, it makes me wonder why we assumed democracies were a “superior” form of government. In economics, how did principles such as options that “maximize profit” at the expense of workers, the environment, and other stakeholders automatically become important unless you wanted to lose your grades in an attempt of rebellion?
I would thus warn you against how seriously you take what is taught to you in school. My apprehensions mostly come because of my studies in economics. I’m not going to spring into a Nihilist monologue seeking to erode basic concepts of morals and values. Reflect on the quote above and question the validity of everything taught to you, especially regarding how much it matters to the world and its impact. For example, do we really want to hold principles such as “profit maximization” as law? In other cases, we can even question the very validity of said things. Does the passive framing of “higher wages causes lower employment” stand true in and of itself or should we be studying those statements in different contexts or reading it as “higher wages cause employers to fire workers because they care more about profit than social welfare”?
One more quote because it’s too good to leave out.
“Education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed”
This is something that is often very visible in the manner some countries design their curriculum. The inclusion of some content over others and deliberate exclusion says a lot about what the state wants to control. This not only shows itself in the form of syllabi but also in the state sponsoring of different types of institutions and subject-dependent scholarships.
Even more interesting is that in some cases, people will consider the dominant ideologies spread through education as genuine, natural, or facts, while anything challenging gets labeled as “propaganda.” If you were to see a university that teaches communist economics, you might think of it as propaganda. That may be fair, but shouldn’t you also look at “standard” economics as propaganda, too? Why should you be presented with one system as “natural” and the other as “learning propaganda” instead of being provided with the tools or at least the acknowledgment that these are different systems with their own ramifications, not natural ways of things being nor facts.
The bottom line is, feel free to question even your education and focus more on how to think, not what to think.
Joining Prestigious Schools and Universities
Have you heard someone say things like, “if you join this university, your life is set”? Super likely. Such notions are also presented to us in different forms, such as, “workers in abc company are taken mostly from xyz university.” Essentially, apart from the obvious systems of ranking, we also internalize beliefs about admission in universities and how that will affect our post-graduate life. True? A little. Is the causation entirely accurate? Nope.
The only super crucial thing you should be looking at when applying to schools and universities is if they are accredited by relevant bodies so that the authenticity of your qualification will not be questioned. Apart from that, what difference does it make if the university is ranked top 100 or top 1000? Sure, there might be some, but a lot of us tend to undervalue the importance of our own effort. Sure you might get into Harvard, congratulations, but of what use are all the facilities and opportunities if you do not tap them and do more than just going with the flow and thinking that your life is set once you are there? And for those who get into universities that are far less ranked, perhaps in the 10,000s range or even unranked, why do we instantly label their future as questionable instead of being supportive to motivate them in exerting independent effort and making the best use of their university life?
This is not to say that universities do not matter at all. Yet, the formula of succeeding in university also includes individual effort beyond academics. If universities are not equal, is society even fair? Sounds like a jump, but it’s not. While we think we have an equal opportunity to apply to any university, there is competition in terms of who actually gets accepted in that university. There’s nothing wrong with meritocracy until you think about where merit comes from. Privilege. Who has a higher chance of getting into Harvard, (1) an individual coming from a well-off family who did not have to worry about working along with his school life and had sufficient funds for pretty much any kind of support, or (2) someone (in the same social group) from a financially disadvantaged family whose grades and extracurricular portfolio is weaker, not because of his lack of merit, but the responsibilities of survival in the same time both of them have?
According to an Urban Economics Axiom, “self-reinforcing effects generate extreme outcomes.” It applies perfectly in this sense. As people get more opportunities due to their privilege, others are left behind and as meritocratic values and falsely defined notions of equal opportunity persist, these inequalities, advantages, and disadvantages further reinforce themselves. As our generation grows and goes through these processes, it should be a task for anyone with the available time and resources to think about how to positively change these things. For those who are getting into government, social sciences, or education, the task should be taken with even more gravity.
Sounds idealistic? Maybe, impossible? Definitely not. If you’ve read till here, don’t forget to spread the message. Here’s to step one of meaningfully redefining our relationship with education. Cheers.
“You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invent the future”
What are some other scams of society and life that you’ve thought about? Let me know in the comments or talk to me on Instagram and I would love to hear your thoughts as well. Be sure to subscribe or follow so you can stay tuned for more content and stay vigilant. In the coming weeks, I plan to comment on a few other scams of society and life, too. What are some you’re interested in reading about?