One of the Many Things I Haven’t Learned in School

A Reflection on Education, Schools and Schooling, and The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek

Going to school doesn’t guarantee proper education. This paradoxical proposition is one with which North Americans have become comfortable over time. Left-leaning Northerners are uncomfortable with the thought of having their children being educated in religious institutions, for instance. So they make sure to choose proper schools that have progressive and evidence-based curricula. On the other hand, a great number of people choose to forego any type of schooling and dive directly into the so-called “real world.” Both avenues are inherently valid. None necessarily lead to destructive consequences nor create the types of harms (i.e. racism, nuclear threats, propaganda, etc.) that play critical roles in the the wars of today and tomorrow.

Yet, history has proven time and time again that the ideas we foster as communities permeate culture and, in turn, educational establishments. This reality forces us, students, to take one of two diametrically opposite stances. We can acknowledge that we are under the influence of powerful forces (i.e. the creators of those ideological movements) and become involved actors in reshaping them as we please. Or we can simply remain passive, continue to equate schooling with finding a good job, and be at the mercy of ideals and morals that are imposed upon us.

For any of us who value education as being a necessary vehicle for personal growth, there seems to exist a lack of clarity about what schools actually stand for. Especially in the United States, where graduate-level students suffer from financial burdens incomparable to any other country on Earth, schooling is sometimes closer associated with being employable than being educated.

Of course, on its face, there’s nothing wrong about this state of affairs because no single entity, whether it being a professor or an Ivy League university, can force proper education down anyone’s throat. This would presumably be the stance of a garden-variety administrator. They’d argue that schools provide tools for students — the classroom, in that respect, isn’t an end but a means. Notwithstanding the veracity of such a claim, perhaps flipping that assumption on its head might catalyze better judgment and decisiveness. Indeed, there is something dangerous in providing credentials to people who’ve merely learned how to go to school, but actually haven’t received an education whatsoever.

Untangling the necessities of education and school reform is interesting, but, unfortunately, these needs can’t be described in a nutshell. This goes without saying. An easier obstacle that could be tackled in the meantime is our inability to be cognizant of our biases, beliefs, and thought-processes. This exercise shouldn’t be confused with drawing an exhaustive map of everything that goes through our minds everyday and capture the vast array of inputs and outputs that govern our daily lives. Rather, this exercise is solely centered around the awareness that what we know can always be fine-tuned, optimized, and changed. This is difficult, often unrewarding, and requires a tremendous amount of time. Yet, it may be the only way for a maturing generation of students to attend to the complexities of modern-day world order.

Take this excerpt about the consequences of socialism, as argued by Friedrich Hayek in The Road to Serfdom:

“Everything which might cause doubt about the wisdom of the government or create discontent will be kept from the people. The basis of unfavorable comparisons with elsewhere, the knowledge of possible alternatives to the course actually taken, information which might suggest failure on the part of the government to live up to its promises or to take advantage of opportunities to improve conditions — all will be suppressed. There is consequently no field where the systematic control of information will not be practiced and uniformity of views not enforced.”

For any of us, progressive-minded folks, we tend to regard capitalist criticisms of social policies as being abhorrent. It slaps us in the face and forces us to be defensive. Yet, what if Hayek’s submissions were completely accurate? What if the only way to provide the freedom necessary to grow as a species was to decrease (or entirely eliminate) the power of central governments? These words are uncomfortable and probably false, but they reflect education as it should be: A relentless pursuit of achieving the greater good without resorting to personal prejudice. To this effect, our approaches must change, and those of educational establishments will follow in due course.

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