Learning Attitudes


There are many different attitudes and viewpoints and beliefs about education and learning. Some say it is a way to develop society, while others say it is a way to limit and enslave people. Some say “education” is learning how to learn, while “schooling” is the mass programming of young minds. What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Think differently? What are 10 other things, like this, that you feel are true about education, learning, schooling, etc?

“Whoever controls the image and information of the past determines what and how future generations will think; whoever controls the information and images of the present determines how those same people will view the past.”

Arnold Toynbee

“[Administration] covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting; such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which government [and corporate/banking interests] is the shepherd.”

Alexis de Tocqueville


“Learning is about knowledge, not relationship.”

We mostly do not remember much of the content of what we study in school. Can you remember the details of what you studied in any class, say, five years ago? Or even one year ago? You probably can't. But what you do remember most clearly is how the class was, whether it was fun, or boring, or dynamic, honest, false, etc. In other words, we remember the relationships between student to student, between students and teacher, and between teachers/students and the learning institution more than anything else. Any knowledge without a sense of relationship is usually useless, and very likely dangerous. Knowing how to make and drop bombs on people requires great knowledge, but if you do not pay attention to the relationships (what they will be used for, how they will be used, who they will affect, etc) that are connected with that knowledge the whole thing loses its meaning. We often think that what is inside the box (received knowledge) is what's most important – what we already know. But it is equally as important to realize that the box is a box, that we have the received knowledge that we have because we chose to focus on this instead of that. And, finally, also as equally important, is looking for what is outside the box. Education and learning, then, should really function with something like this in mind...

What's In The Box
(Received Knowledge)
The Fact That It Is A Box
(Critical Thinking)
What Is Outside Of The Box
Education and Learning
(Positive Creative Action)

...because this approach allows for a focus on relationship. Which is the interconnectedness that we call existence.

"We have to always constantly be doing something to be learning."

This is a Capitalistic view of learning: How much (money = time = productivity) is each second in class worth? To think beyond this attitude, ask yourself: "What about time for absorbing and thinking about what we are doing? What about taking time to know the people with whom we are doing things? Do we have conversations with our family and friends and the people we care about while constantly looking at our wristwatches?" How would you feel if you only interacted with your family and friends in the way that teachers and students traditionally interact? Read this article:

As Jerry Farber writes: “What about Freshman English? What actually gets taught? The purported subject matter is usually writing. But consider, up front, who teaches the course? And how does he teach? What's his method? Well, that depends – because things are changing. Somewhere in some college there is undoubtedly a heavyweight, on the verge of being fired, who is teaching silence to students so that they can hear themselves.”

"There are proper (mostly unspoken) ways that teaching and learning
should work.”

Most school systems are based on an old Prussian military mentality. As John Taylor Gatto describes, the Prussian military wanted that: “Centralized schooling should deliver: 1) Obedient soldiers to the army; 2) Obedient workers for mines, factories, and farms; 3) Well-subordinated civil servants, trained in their function; 4) Well-subordinated clerks for industry; 5) Citizens who thought alike on most issues; 6) National uniformity in thought, word, and deed.”

These are specific (if unspoken) ways that are promoted for classes, teaching and learning, and how they “should” work, and these mentalities are so deeply engrained in us that when they don't fit those ideas even the students themselves feel as if learning and teaching is not actually happening. Are there only just a few ways to learn English? Only a small number of ways to improve writing? Or to learn any subject? Of course not. There are at least 100 different types of bananas in Brazil! Abundance of variety is the essence of life. So, too, with learning, thinking, teaching, educating.

“It is the teacher's responsibility to teach
more than the student's responsibility
to learn and teach him/herself.”

This is false. If a student doesn't want to learn, he or she won't learn. And if he or she does learn through force, what is learned will be negative. If a student is inspired to learn, that student will teach him or herself, and the result is far more likely to be a healthy, positive one. Teachers and educational institutions, therefore, should be designed to foster a desire to learn in students by providing information, ideas, and a healthy learning atmosphere/environment – and not much more. Teachers are not military generals, or they shouldn't be, but are best when acting as facilitators and supporters of positive self-determined individual growth. To “force” students to learn is the Banking Model of Education: open up the brain, pour in information (memorize, etc), and hope some of it doesn't ooze out. So any student who feels that a class is boring or bad – well, what is that student doing about it? And to what degree does the institution allow the student to do something about it? Also, if a teacher is providing a healthy, supportive environment that encourages real thinking and learning, but a student still feels he or she is not learning... doesn't this demonstrate the student's lack of personal responsibility and inspiration more than anything else? No teacher can, or should, force a student to learn; and every student can and will learn who cares deeply about his or her own education and life. Therefore the relationship between teacher and student, student to student, and teacher/student to institution is what should be closely monitored, analyzed, discussed, and modified according to the dynamics of a particular given interaction.



School is where you let the dying society put its trip on you. Our schools may seem useful: to make children into doctors, sociologists, engineers – to discover things. But they're poisonous as well. They exploit and enslave students; they petrify society; they make democracy unlikely. And it's not WHAT you're taught that does the harm but HOW you're taught Our schools teach you by pushing you around, by stealing your will and your sense of power, by making timid square apathetic slaves out of you – authority addicts.

School is a genetic mechanism for society, a kind of DNA process that continually recreates styles, skills, values, hangups – and so keeps the whole thing going. The dying part of society – the society that has been – molds the emerging part more or less in its own image, and fashions the society that will be.

Schooling also makes change possible – evolution, if you like But here we run into a problem. Although our schools foster enormous technological change, they help to keep social change within very narrow limits. Thanks to them, the technological capacity of society evolves at an explosive rate. But there is no comparable, adaptive evolution in the overall social framework, nor in the consciousness of the individuals who make up society. It isn't just that schools fail to create the necessary social change. They actually restrain it. They prevent it. By and large our schools are in the hands of the most entrenched and rigidly conservative elements in society. The modern university is not much more than a Research, Development and Training center set up to service government and industry.

Schooling doesn't have to be this destructive. If it weren't compulsory, if schools were autonomous and were run by the people in them, then we could learn without being subdued and stupefied in the process. And, perhaps, we could regain control of our own society. Students can change things if they want to because they have the power to say 'no.' When you go to school, you're doing society a favor. And when you say 'no,' you withhold much more than your attendance. You deny continuity to the dying society; you put the future on strike. Students can have the kind of school they want – or even something else entirely if they want – because there isn't going to be any school at all without them.

In fact, for most of your school life, it doesn't make much difference what subject you're taught. The real lesson is the method. The medium in school truly is the message. And the medium is, above all, coercive. You're forced to attend. The subjects are required. You have to do homework. You must observe school rules. And throughout, you're bullied into docility and submissiveness. Even modern liberal refinements don't really help. So you're called an underachiever instead of a dummy. So they send you to a counselor instead of beating you. It's still not your choice to be there. They may pad the handcuffs – but the handcuffs stay on.
Which particular subject they happen to teach is far less important than the fact that it is required. We don't learn that much subject matter in school anyway in proportion to the huge part of our lives that we spend there But what we do learn very well, thanks to the method, is to accept choices that have been made for us. Which rule they make you follow is less important than the fact that there are rules. I hear about English teachers who won't allow their students to begin a sentence with 'and.' Or about high schools where the male students are not permitted to wear a T-shirt unless it has a pocket. I no longer dismiss such rules as merely pointless. The very point to such rules is their pointlessness.
The true and enduring content of education is its method. The method that currently prevails in schools is standardized, impersonal and coercive. What it teaches best is – itself. If, on the other hand, the method were individual, human and free, it would teach that. It would not, however, mesh smoothly into the machine we seem to have chosen as our model for society.
It's how you're taught that does the harm. You may only study geometry for a semester – or French for two years. But doing what' you're told, whether or not it makes sense, is a lesson you get every blessed school day...
You know how malleable we humans are. And you know what good learners we are – how little time it takes us to learn to drive a car or a plane or to play passable guitar. So imagine what the effect must be upon our apt and impressionable minds of many years of servility taught in school. Think about it. Years and years of tardy bells and hall passes; of graded homework, graded tests, graded conduct; of report cards, GPA's, honor lists, citizenship ratings; of dress codes, straight lines and silence. What is it that they're teaching you? The game is Doing What You're Told. The winners get gold stars, affection, envy; they get A's, honors, awards and college scholarships. The losers get humiliation and degradation. The fear of losing the game is a great fear: it's the fear of the principal's office, and above all the fear of failing. What if you fail and you have to watch your friends move past you to glory? Heavy losers are like severed heads displayed at the city gates to keep the populace in line.

Why does the medium of education affect us so deeply while its purported content – the subject matter – so often slips our minds? This is partly because the content varies from year to year while the form remains more or less the same; but also because the form – a structure of rules, punishments, rewards – affects us directly in a real way, while the subject matter may have no such immediate grasp on our lives. After all, don't we tend to learn best what matters most? Under a coercive system it isn't really the subject that matters; what matters is pleasing the authorities. These two are far from the same thing.

If how you're taught exerts a profound effect, what about the physical environment? What does a classroom teach? Consider how classrooms are set up. Everyone is turned toward the teacher and away from his classmates. You can't see the faces in front of you; you have to twist your neck to see the persons behind you. Frequently, seats are bolted to the floor or fastened together in rigid rows This classroom, like the grading system, isolates students from each other and makes them passive receptacles. All the action, it implies, is at the front of the room.

What would be better? A circle? For a while I used to ask classes to sit in a circle (in rooms where we weren't bolted down). It was much better. But after a time I became depressed about it. It was still awkwardly geometrical; it was still my trip, and they were still dutifully following orders.
But why those chairs at all? Why forty identical desk-chairs in a bleak, ugly room? Why should school have to remind us of a jail or the army? For that matter, why are there classrooms? Suppose we started over from scratch. What would be a good place to learn stress analysis? What would be a good place to study Zen? To learn child development? To learn Spanish? To read poetry?

The scariest thing about a classroom is that it acts as a sort of psychological switch. You walk into a classroom; some things switch on in you and other switch off. Any sorts of weird unreal things start to happen. Any teacher who has tried simply to be real in a classroom knows what I'm talking about. This is so hard to express... you walk in an everyone's face is a mask.

Our schools make democracy unlikely because they rob the people, who are supposed to be sovereign, of their sense of power and of their ability to will meaningful institutional changes. The democratic ideal means government of, by and for the people. Our schools, however, remain less suited to this ideal than to an authoritarian society; they are more effective in teaching obedience than in fostering freedom. A more substantial degree of democracy will become likely only when we understand that political freedom is not merely a constitutional matter; it's also a state of mind, which can be either nurtured or blighted in school. A democracy cannot possibly function if its citizens are educated to be clever robots. The way to educate children for democracy is to let them do it – that doesn't mean allowing them to practice empty forms, to make pretend decisions or to vote on trivia; it means that they participate in the real decisions that affect them. You learn democracy in school not by defining it or by stimulating it but by doing it.


Ordinary people have a right to govern themselves.

John D. Rockefeller Senior said: “Survival of the fittest is nature's way of producing beauty.” As a principal stockholder in U.S. Steel, he approved of school experiments in Gary, Indiana, to dumb down curriculum and seek more effective means of mind control. Rockefeller's General Education Board wrote this in 1912: “In our dream... people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions [intellectual and character education] fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets of men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is a very simple as a very beautiful one... we will organize our children... and teach them to do in a perfect way the things that their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.” [Do as you are told!]

Henry Ford. “I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration,” Hitler told a Detroit newspaper in 1931. In July 1938, automaker Ford received the Grand Cross of the Golden Eagle, highest award the German government could give a foreigner. Lenin, as well, acknowledged his debt to Ford's genius.

Utopian speculative analysis regarding isolation of children in custodial compounds where they could be subjected to deliberate molding routines began to be discussed by policy elites of business, government, and university life, to impose on the young the ideal of subordination. Students were to think of themselves as employees competing for favor of management, not as self-determined free agents. The control of human behavior.

The idea is that a small elite will control all important matters, where participatory democracy will largely disappear. Children are made to see, through school experiences, that their classmates are so cruel and irresponsible, so inadequate to the task of self-discipline, and so ignorant that they need to be controlled and regulated for society's good. Under such a logical regime, school terror can only be regarded as good advertising. It is sobering to think of mass schooling as a vast demonstration project of human inadequacy, but that is at least on of its functions.

Schools train individuals to respond as a mass.

Years ago it struck me as more than a little odd that the Prussian government was the patron of Henrich Pestalozzi, inventor of multicultural fun-and-games psychological elementary schooling, and of Friedrch Froebel, inventor of kindergarten. It struck me as odd that the Peobody family, so closely aligned with J.P. Morgan and his British father, was instrumental in circulating Prussian-type schooling through the prostrate South after the Civil War. But after a while I began to see that behind the philanthropy lurked a rational economic purpose.
The strongest meshes of the school net are invisible. Constant bidding for a stranger's attention creates a chemistry producing the common characteristics of modern schoolchildren: whining, dishonesty, malice, treachery, cruelty. Unceasing competition for official favor in the dramatic fish bowl of a classroom delivers cowardly children, little people sunk in chronic boredom, little people with no apparent purpose for being alive. The full significance of the classroom as a dramatic environment, as primarily a dramatic environment, has never been properly acknowledged or examined.
The most destructive dynamic is identical to that which causes caged rats to develop eccentric or even violent mannerisms when they press a bar for sustenance on an aperiodic reinforcement schedule (one where food is delivered at random, but the rat doesn't suspect). Much of the weird behavior school kids display is a function of the aperiodic reinforcement schedule. And the endless confinement and inactivity to slowly drive children out of their minds. Trapped children, like trapped rats, need close management. Any rat psychologist will tell you that.

In 1928, Edward L. Bernays, [nephew of Sigmund Freud], godfather of the new craft of spin control we call 'public relations,' told readers of his book Crystallizing Public Opinion that 'invisible power' was now in control of every aspect of American life. Democracy, said Bernays, was only a front for skillful wire-pulling. The necessary know-how to pull these crucial wires was available for sale to businessmen and policy people. Public imagination was controlled by shaping the minds of schoolchildren.

Close reading of tough-minded writing is still the best, cheapest, and quickest method known for learning to think for yourself. Once you trust yourself to go mind-to-mind with great intellects, artists, scientists, warriors, and philosophers, you are finally free.

People are not little plastic lumps of dough. They are not blank tablets.

Something strange is going on in schools and has been going on for quite some time. Advertising, public relations, and stronger forms of quasi-religious propaganda are so pervasive in our schools, even in 'alternative' schools, that independent judgment is suffocated in mass-produced secondary experiences and market-tested initiatives. Lifetime Learning Systems, one of the many new corporations formed to dig gold from our conditions of schooling, announced to its corporate clients, “School is the ideal time to influence attitudes, build long-term loyalties, introduce new products, test-market, promote sampling and trial usage – and above all – to generate immediate sales.”

Bell-curve theory, evolutionary theory, aristocratic social theory, eugenics theory, strong-state political theory, and some kinds of theology are about [proving that “bad” students] aren't victims at all but perpetrators, cursed by inferior biology to possess only shadows of intellect. Only an imbecile would pretend that school isn't a pressure-cooker of psychodrama. Wherever children are gathered into groups by compulsion, a pecking order soon emerges in which malice, mockery, intimidation of the weak, envy, and a whole range of other nasty characteristics hold sway, [revealing] a murderous subterranean world whose law is eat or be eaten. [Yet,] Paulo Freire taught ignorant campesinos with no tradition of literacy at all to read in thirty hours. Adults, with other than juvenile motivations to please. But when he showed them a sentence and they realized 'The land belongs to the tiller,' they were hooked.

He who controls language controls the public mind.

Bringing children [students] up properly is a helix sport forcing you to realize that no boy or girl on earth is just like another. If you do understand this you also understand there can exist no reliable map to tell you all you need to do. If you aren't making it up as you go along, you aren't doing it right.

Inglis breaks down the purpose -- the actual purpose -- of modem schooling into six basic functions, any one of which is enough to curl the hair of those innocent enough to believe the three traditional goals listed earlier:

1) The adjustive or adaptive function. Schools are to establish fixed habits of reaction to authority. This, of course, precludes critical judgment completely. It also pretty much destroys the idea that useful or interesting material should be taught, because you can't test for reflexive obedience until you know whether you can make kids learn, and do, foolish and boring things.

2) The integrating function. This might well be called "the conformity function," because its intention is to make children as alike as possible. People who conform are predictable, and this is of great use to those who wish to harness and manipulate a large labor force.

3) The diagnostic and directive function. School is meant to determine each student's proper social role. This is done by logging evidence mathematically and anecdotally on cumulative records. As in "your permanent record." Yes, you do have one.

4) The differentiating function. Once their social role has been "diagnosed," children are to be sorted by role and trained only so far as their destination in the social machine merits - and not one step further. So much for making kids their personal best.

5) The selective function. This refers not to human choice at all but to Darwin's theory of natural selection as applied to what he called "the favored races." In short, the idea is to help things along by consciously attempting to improve the breeding stock. Schools are meant to tag the unfit - with poor grades, remedial placement, and other punishments - clearly enough that their peers will accept them as inferior and effectively bar them from the reproductive sweepstakes. That's what all those little humiliations from first grade onward were intended to do: wash the dirt down the drain.

6) The propaedeutic function. The societal system implied by these rules will require an elite group of caretakers. To that end, a small fraction of the kids will quietly be taught how to manage this continuing project, how to watch over and control a population deliberately dumbed down and declawed in order that government might proceed unchallenged and corporations might never want for obedient labor.

[William Torrey Harris wrote in The Philosophy of Education that]: “The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places... It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world.” Nearly a hundred years ago, this schoolman thought self-alienation [like iPODs!] was the secret to successful industrial society. Surely he was right. When you stand at a machine or sit at a computer you need an ability to withdraw from life, to alienate yourself without a supervisor. How else could that be tolerated unless prepared in advance by simulated drills? School, thought Harris, was sensible preparation for a life of alienation. Can you say he was wrong?

[As Frances Fitzgerald notes, most] schoolbooks are superficial and mindless, that they deliberately leave out important ideas, that they refuse to deal with conflict.

School is about creating loyalty to certain goals and habits, a vision of life, support for a class structure, an intricate system of human relationships cleverly designed to manufacture the continuous low level of discontent upon which mass production and finance rely. Once the mechanism is identified, its dynamics aren't hard to understand. Spiritually contented [aware, informed, and critically-minded] people are dangerous for a variety of reasons. They don't make reliable servants because they won't jump at every command. They test what is requested against a code of moral principle.