I’ve been reading Wendell Berry lately. If you don’t know Berry he’s an american writer/farmer who is neither liberal (he hates big government), or conservative (he hates big corporations and loves the environment), not libertarian, but is very sharp and funny.

In his book Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community he opens with a bit of a diatribe against traditional education. At first this gave me an uneasy feeling as at the age of 37 I’m still going to school for yet another piece of paper that would give me a ridiculous title (for those who know me personally, the title received with this degree doesn’t fit me at all) and a knowledge about things that no else cares about). But in the midst of Berry’s semi-sarcastic diatribe on undergraduate/graduate/post-grad education is alot of truth.

Quoting Berry:

‘I’m more and more impressed by the generality of the assumption that human lives are properly to be invented by an academic-corporate-governmental elite and then either sold totheir passive and choiceless recipients or doled out to them in the manner of welfare payments.’

‘Actually, as we know, the new commercial education is fun for everybody. All you have to do in order to have or to provide such an education is to pay your money (in advance) and master a few simple truths:
1. Educated people are more valuable than other people because education is a value-adding industry.
2. Educated people are better than other people because education improves people and makes them good.
3. The purpose of education is to make people able to earn more and more money.
4. The place where education is to be used is called ‘your career’.
5. Anything that cannot be weighed, measureed, or counted does not exist.
6. The so-called humanities probably do not exist. But if they do, they are useless. But whether they exist or not or are useful or not, they can sometimes be made to support a career.
7. Literacy does not involve knowing the meanings of words, or learning grammar, or reading books.
8. The sign of exceptionally smart people si that they speak a language that is intelligible only to other people in their ‘field’ or only to themselves. This is very impressive and is known as ‘professionalism’.
9. The smartest and most educated people are the scientists, for they have already found solutions to all our problems and will soon find solutions to all the problems resulting from their solutions to all the problems we used to have.
10. The mark of a good teacher is that he or she spends most of his or her time doing research and writes many books and articles.
11. The mark of a good researcher is the same as that of a good teacher.
12. A great university has many computers, a lot of government and corporation research contracts, a winning team, and more administrators than teachers.
13. The main thing is, don’t let education get in the way of being nice to children. Children are our Future. Spend plenty of money on them but don’t stay home with them and get in their way. Don’t give them work to do; they are smart and can think up things to do on their own. Don’t teach them any of that awful, stultifying, repressive, old-fashioned morality. Provide plenty of TV, microwave dinners, day care, computers, computer games, cars. For all this, they will love and respect us and be glad to grow up and pay our debts.
14. A good school is a big school.
15. Disarm the children before you let them in.

People's mandala - 12 hands

An interesting news story appeared on BBC news this morning in London. Manchester City council is considering passing a new law where a school could close for a day if more than 40% of the students are absent, presumably because of religious holidays.

The possible decision is arising out of the fact that large numbers of Islamic students are absent from schools on some Islamic holidays. While in and of itself this appears to be nothing abnormal, it has been asserted too many muslim students missing school due to Islamic holidays in a ‘Christian’ country could cause social cohesion in England to deteriorate. The logic supposedly goes that if religions are allowed to take days off from school from their own holidays, this could encourage segregation within communities.

What concerns me about this assertion is that it places the burden of ‘social cohesion’ on schools. While I agree schools are one of the primary focal points of any community, the schools primary purpose is education, not to create social cohesion. But critics argue Christianity remains our state religion and claim communities risk becoming more segregated if different religions dictate school calendars. It is this kind of thought process that seems to dilute a school’s ability to deliver a quality education and give a child the environment they need in which to work on individuating.

Second to this, it is surprising as a Canadian who has lived in the United States and now lives in England, to move from one country where they still think they are a Christian nation (when it certainly appears on every level that it isn’t) to a post-Christian nation and to hear people assert that Britain is still a Christian nation. Third, i’m shocked that someone would assert that in order to be ‘british’ means you have to have one holiday calendar. ‘Either people are British and have a particular holiday system, or we decide to carve the country up into areas that are Muslim and non-Muslim, and I think that’s what this does.’ I’m an evangelical Christian who is still modern enough to believe it is the one true way but post-modern enough to see the danger in statements like this…the right to religious diversity must be preserved…schools must be allowed to deliver quality education, not be charged with the preservation of social cohesion.

The ultimate victims in this kind of thinking are the kids.