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Politics, Fear and Education

I recently watched the Amazon ‘Shiny Happy People’ docuseries. The series covers a lot of ground on religion which I will not engage with here. It also discusses home education. Again, lots to delve into but I have a particular point to make so I will leave a lot out. One of the interests of the docuseries was on home education as a political force. There was a commentary on home education being used to ‘raise an army’ for particular political positions.

What I want to note here is that the docuseries is correct, but in a broader way: ALL education is political. There is simply no such as thing as apolitical, neutral education. When we educate, we are teaching values. Those can be values of kindness, critical thinking, open minds, and global outlooks – which we seek to support at TMU – or they can be values that support oppression, ignorance, or that justify injustices. Education is the ultimate political project, because we are educating citizens. We are educating those who will vote in the future, who will hold political offices, who will run all the institutions upon which our societies depend. Who will create and debate laws. Those who will decide the path science should take – whether it should stop at any point and why.

Education is such a precious good because it is for the good of the individual as well as for the good of society. Neither can be forgotten.

If education is only about the needs of the community – I think we have been closer to this end for years – then the needs of the individual child are ignored. Those children who do not easily fit into the average are ignored or punished. It is about getting everyone through a system that creates as much uniformity as possible for ease of management. It is about training for the jobs of the present. It is about learning the values of the current society and supporting the nation in charge.

On the other hand, if we value only the needs of the individual, we can forget that those individuals have a social responsibility. I strongly believe we are here to help others. I want my children to feel part of a community, and willing to let go some of their own comfort if that can mean wellbeing for others. I will get up and give my seat to those older than me. I will pay taxes to keep a fellow human warm in the winter.

So education is about seeking the balance, where the needs of the individual are acknowledge, respected, and valued, but where the goal of education is also to foment individuals who are kind, aware of our global connections, able to share, listen, and love. Intelligent, thoughtful, able to participate in society in a way that promotes not just our present wellbeing, but our sustainable future.

One more point to highlight from the docuseries. Fear. Fear was a large component of some of the communities reviewed in the docuseries. I think it is also important to note that fear should never be a driving force for learning. To do or not to do something because of fear is a poor choice. Fear does not allow critical thinking: you are afraid to ‘think wrong’, you are afraid to question the right thing, you are afraid! Fear forces conformity. Fear can force discipline but not respect. Fear can support an education that focuses only on the community good – it can never support an education that focuses on the needs of the individual.

Think about it this way. When I teach my children to drive, I want them to be careful thoughtful drivers. They will be controlling several tons of speeding metal which can easily kill a person or an animal. But I don’t want them to be good drivers because they are afraid of going to jail if they make an error. That is not the point. I want them to be careful drivers because they realise their responsibility. They realise they have great power and that can be used for good, or misused. I want them to value the precious lives they might come across as they drive and to be careful thoughtful drivers because they value others, not because they are afraid for themselves.

Education should never be based in fear. Education based on fear cannot ever succeed. Ultimately fear destroys thinking, destroys loving.


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