What shall we do about education?

Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world - Nelson Mandela

…but as someone said, “no-one is going to give you the education you’ll need to overthrow them.” I first saw it as a Charlie Brown cartoon but a bit of Google brought up Assata Shakur.

The education we need

If you can’t analyse a problem, you are not likely to solve it. If you don’t have the vocabulary or critical skills to do so, you can’t analyse the problem. Yes, simple people, “primitive people” and good ol’ “common sense” people will do pretty well on instinct, good will and experience –

If they are left alone and if the means to run their lives is not stolen from them.

But no-one is left in peace these days. For as long as the world is dominated by keep-em-down-and-grab-it billionaires, people are ruled by divide-and-rule media and PR where possible, and by force of arms everywhere else.

And for as long as we have those kinds of media and governments, the “instincts” and “common sense” of everyone who does not have excellent critical thinking skills will let the media tell them who their enemies are. The message coming at us from TV, newspapers, billboards and everywhere else is pretty damned overwhelming. It’s blinding and deafening. It’s rattling in our bones. It must be true.

We all get fooled some of the time. A dangerously large number of people are fooled most of the time.


Until around February this year, “instinct” and “common sense” told us wars are a long way away and involve strange, foreign people, so we need not take any action. Last year, “instinct” and “common sense” told us we have problems of our own and limited resources, so we need to resist the endless tide of refugees coming our way.

This year, “instinct” and “common sense” are telling us Putin is the worst baddie, and if we don’t hit him hard, he’ll bring his war to us. This year, “instinct” and “common sense” say each one of us should move mountains to take in and help the millions displaced by war in Ukraine.

Why now? Think about the media responses to the bombing of the people in Yemen, Afghanistan or Palestine, think about Saddam Hussein/Iraq, Gaddafi/Libya, Assad/Syria, or (if you can remember it) Gauteri/Argentina, or pick the war of your choice – there have always been plenty out there. Or look around and ask yourself why so many people have switched off being angry and opinionated about COVID measures since they’ve had Putin to rant about.

It’s been a long old time since the media messages have pushed so many people so close to baying for nuclear strikes. A lot of things have gone critical in recent years. We tolerated being robbed blind for decades – the latest example is the doubling, tripling and worse of energy bills – do we accept that, ‘for the war effort’? Are we going to tolerate a broken, mindless system run by billionaires driving us all to final destruction for that same reason?

If not, then…

What do we do?

Lots of people are already in action on anti-war, tax the rich, and other efforts (look for The People’s Assemblies, the TUC’s wages v energy bills campaign, We Own It, Stop the War…) those are the essential, “first response” organisations – please support them in whichever way suits your abilities – but let us also put some serious work into giving a generation of kids a secure up-bringing and a sound education. That is the best way I know of filling the world with media-proof humans.

It wasn’t just the Charlie Brown cartoon that said

NO-ONE IS GOING TO give you the education you need to overthrow them.

[Why I’m going on about a ‘Charlie Brown’ meme: Do I *know* this is a quote by Assata Shakur? I think it is, sure enough for a social media share … or one could just use that Charlie Brown meme and not worry! – but I also note that Shakur is on the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list. For….being a black activist? That’s my guess. I am now curious enough to do some proper research on that. It’s on the ‘to do’ page in my notebook. We must remind ourselves, every day – this is how long it takes, and how much effort it takes, to ‘know’ things.]

So we need to look at what we are told to call ‘education’, decide what is missing, then demand it or supply it ourselves.

I’d say top of the agenda is learning to recognise when you’ve been led into an argument that’s already halfway down the wrong road. We need to learn to – and teach our kids to – spot the underlying assumptions that are silently sold to us along with blaring media messages – like the pre-decided notion that wars can be ‘won’, that’s embedded in ‘which side do we support’? Or like deciding this or that war or disaster or crime is the most important thing to be thinking about this week, when elsewhere the whole damned house (planet) is burning to the ground.

What is not education?

Compelling kids to attend school and stuffing their heads with exam-oriented ‘information’ and ‘skills’ whilst harassing parents to secure attendance and compliance, and oppressing and overworking teachers until their last ounce of energy and creativity is snuffed out is not education.

Subjecting schools, universities and libraries to profit-oriented owners/managers/lobby groups and allowing academic decisions to be made by their PR departments is not education.

Behaviourist regimes ruling by means of simplistic, humiliating rewards and sanctions schemes is not education.

Dilligently training and qualifying our kids for a world that probably won’t exist in any form we recognise in thirty years time is not education.

We could – as more and more people do these days, choose to home-educate our kids – but who is ‘we’? Not that many of us have the confidence, the free time or the resources to do so. We need to change education. Drastically. The future depends on it.

What you can do

  1. Stop doing that knee-jerk, Mr and Mrs Angry shouting at the telly in front of your kids. Demonstrate some measured thinking, question-asking and finding-out instead.
  2. Teach kids to love stories and reading. If you’ve stopped reading for pleasure, start again. People who read educate their imagination and critical skills all the time, whether they know they’re doing it or not.
  3. Look at the education your kids are getting, and at what adult education is available to you. Criticise any suspicious commercial influence you find there, and campaign for more and better education, and join in what is available.
  4. Join the movement to halt/roll back academization and commercialisation of schools and universities.
  5. Join the ‘save our libraries’ campaign. Find out about Dolly Parton’s books-for-kids scheme and encourage other projects, rather than ridiculously rich people/organisations, to do useful things.
  6. Read, and think critically about what you have read (ask yourself questions about what you’re learning/believing, and why). Listen, and think critically about what you have heard. Write, and read your writing critically. Discuss, and think about the questions/criticisms people make of your own ideas.
  7. Take up some more brilliant education-building ideas that you and your family and friends have when you’re talking about or sharing the problems of our sub-standard ‘education’. Take them up and run with them. Find new ways.
  8. Please add ideas in the comments after this blog, or share your ideas with others on social media, in the cafe, in your union, everywhere. A problem shared is a problem halved but an idea shared is an idea multiplied and developed.
  9. Try more things. What is life for but living, learning and sharing. What could be more fun than living more, learning more and sharing more?


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2 responses to “What shall we do about education?”

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