How the education system breaks difference

I want to take a bit here to talk about the current westernized education system, though the model has been applied in many places across the globe.  With human populations being the sheer size they are, it is easy to understand how being able to quantify a person statistically is appealing, but it is also dehumanizing and cannot truly objectively get the results it desires.  Our very methods of testing are based upon what is valued or considered the ideal, or even just normal by the dominant paradigm, and thus when a child fails to thrive in that, they are defective, disabled, morally inferior to others.  This is a judgment based on ideology, not neurological fact.  When one talks about the bell curve and intellect, the measure of intellect is biased by the society measuring it, it has pre-conceived expectations on what makes someone a “functional” member of society.  Introverts for example, those who may favor deep thought, or have their “heads in the clouds” are often demeaned as lazy, because many in our society believe you need to see the activity directly in front of their own eyes, they fail to understand how many variables there are to meaningful human endeavor.

The current education system continues to try and apply one size fits all approaches to education, even though there are so many of us who keep saying clearly that we need to teach to the difference.  While working on my Masters in Education, a common theme for the US education system was the notion that an educated population is needed for a healthy democracy, but our standards for what makes an educated person are both limited and woefully out of balance.  The intersection of the industrialist mindset with our education system, coupled with the cost of it due to varying amounts of legislation, red-tape, and bureaucracy has turned it into a rigid behemoth, that serves only those well adapted to the dominant paradigm.  We favor rote learning and knowledge over critical thinking and being able to apply that knowledge, it allows ignorance to flourish, because no amount of quantifiable facts and statistics can truly indicate an individuals ability to think and apply that knowledge.  Knowledge that is never applied, might as well not be taught at all, facts, figures, names, and dates do not a truly educated person make, we have confused these notions with being able to think critically, wisdom, and the not so common “common sense”.

Compartmentalized learning is the backbone of the current education system, an obsession with certain skill sets linked to specific subject matter, and for many this is a perfectly decent way to learn, but many of us, those who naturally favor logical thinking over “observant” or as I call it, empirical thinking, do not learn well this way at all.  Rote learning lacks context, it does not allow for an immediate value assessment for us, because many of us need to see it applied, see the interaction of different subjects to better grasp it, rote learning stands alone from a complex intertwined system, and some of us learn best by trying to understand the entire system, not just bits and pieces kept distinct.  I have said before, and will say it again, though I am bad at math as we currently teach it, I have a very naturally mathematical mind, my lack of visualization and thus ability to manipulate numbers in my mind, does not mean I do not do math constantly, that I don’t assess angles and degrees, subtract, multiply, add or divide constantly.  Yet there is no system or test in place where I can show competency, because we have a rigid idea of what it means to understand such things.

There are so many different ways people think and learn, we approach basic questions from so many different points, and those of us who think differently are often demeaned for it, we then fail to thrive because the way we are taught does not make sense.  And this is not just an autism spectrum issue, the school to prison pipeline exists because of a failure to teach to difference, that the logical mindset found in so many cultures and genotypes is disdained in our society, it reminds us of the indolence of the old European aristocracy for example.  But the failures of the European Aristocracy is not how they thought and what they valued, it is the same issue as we see today, in that they failed to understand, utilize, and value other ways of thinking and interacting with the world.  So in old Europe, the empirical, grounded in the here and now, was demeaned, it was the “peasant” mindset, considered short sighted and intellectually inferior, while it was never any of these things, it was simply difference.

Yet, through our one size fits all approach, many of us fail to thrive within the academic system, and somehow that becomes our fault, either being “disabled” like many of us on the spectrum are listed, and we do have some differences that make us maladaptive to the current paradigm, but that is not disability, it is the failure to expand the system and teach to the difference (once again, there are severe forms of autism that are lifelong disability, but we create a great deal of that artificially). We continue to allow the mentality of “kids will be kids” as an excuse to let us be demeaned and bullied, and yes kids will be kids, but that is not an excuse to ignore a teachable moment, to expand their understanding about different ways of thinking, and the value of that, when kids act this way, it is our duty in a democratic society especially, to teach them better than that.  When cultures clashed historically there are ideas exchanged, these ideas foster innovation, but this is also found on the individual level as well, difference pushes us forward, and to demean one inherent way of thinking over another is not just morally reprehensible, it is self defeating in the long term, it leads to trauma, mental illness, caste systems and social classes. Sure, there is mobility within the US economically, but that mobility is based upon certain careers and endeavors, and not everyone can do those things and thrive, it is a pleasant lie we tell ourselves, because many people do not value those things, and we should not be forced to suffer because of an inherent way of being we had no choice in.   When I think about the school to prison pipeline, I see logical thinkers greatly affected, be them autism spectrum or populations of African descent, see, logical thinking is very common throughout the world, it is very beneficial for survival, it is flexible and reads the patterns of the natural world easily, and thus many genetic populations favor that way of thinking.  In the US and many areas of Europe, there are so many Empirical thinkers, this lends itself well to changing the environment, constructing and building things, taming instead of adapting and moving with the natural world.  Both of these ways of thinking have their benefits and their limitations, these are different gifts and we must make room for that to flourish.  “Being White” as discussed by many educators as a plague amongst many school populations, most often associated with African Americans, is more than just flouting the dominant paradigm out of spite and an effort to maintain their own cultural identity, it identifies and demeans those who think close to the dominant paradigm and value rote book learning over wisdom and life experience.  It identifies a difference, and that difference is demeaned because it is not consciously understood and applies to the dominant paradigm that has in turn consistently demeaned them.  It is a cycle, and cycles can be broken, and our education system is the tool that is used to break so many of us, to make us feel unworthy and under valued, that our failure to learn in a way that is contrary to how we build up our understanding of the world somehow makes us faulty.

Life today is very rigid, we say we are free, but few people understand what liberty really means, the ability to say what you want without consequence is not freedom, it is A freedom, a singular example, but that alone does not make us free.  One might argue that we are able to go into a host of careers, we just have to buckle down and get our education. But when that very education does not teach to how we learn best, then we have already started passing a subtle moral judgment on what types of thinking are valuable, and what are undesirable.  The cards are stacked against us based on so many differences that no child has ever had a say in, not just inherent thinking, but privilege based on race, sex, and social class, often found in the very poor funding found in some schools, with leaky roofs and old, outdated text books, vs cutting edge technology.  And this is tied to enclaved communities, communities so fearful of difference than a black or latino family moving in can cause home values to drop, based of ignorance and fear, instead of giving those who are culturally and racially different a chance to flourish on their own merits.  Ignorance and fear are great movers and shakers in our economy, and as a result, based on how we fund ours schools currently, that leads to enclaves that demean and keep out difference, that label children, before they have even had a chance to establish a healthy sense of self identity as doomed to fail, as defective, as trouble makers who cannot just listen and do what they are told.

Well, some of us are experiential learners and skeptics, we will not take you at your word, we need to come to our understanding of things in a different way, this is not defective, it is simply different.  I remember keenly more than a few times where I was told by an educator, an authority who is supposed to nurture my knowledge and understanding, that I was going to amount to nothing, simply because I did not thrive or relate to the education system, because I questioned it, questioned my teachers, questioned their credentials, and always tried to see things from multiple points of view.  Coupled with facing a scary and overwhelming future, tied down to repetitive work force tasks, soul numbing and devoid of value to me.  I avoided studying many topics, because I was constantly told I would starve if I did so, but for the few who regularly read my works, there is little doubt I have a philosopher’s mind, coupled with a love of empirical data and science, both forms of thought inform me so much more than just one way of thinking ever could.

When you cannot learn the way you learn best, then you suffer. When you are told that you are less worthy, because you think and approach things differently, self-defeatism creeps in, mental illness, lethargy, anger, and a host of other traits that further alienate us from the dominant paradigm.  We end up being “degenerates”, “hoodlums”, “future criminals”, and a host of other labels, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, it hijacks out self-identity and sense of self worth, and thus we make those who do not fit in the “other” and based on faulty context and false dichotomies, this status makes us undesirable in society, and this society closes doors of opportunity to us, and we deviate from the dominant model.  In many ways, this is a sizable chunk of criminality, self employment in a fashion that does not force one into a boring and pedantic 9 to 5 job, it has more excitement, it allows for more self-determination, and for many that makes it worth the risks.  We created a system that is so rigid, that is literally becomes almost prophetic in it’s ability to predict the course in life for certain ways of thinking. Add in further bias, in the form of racial profiling and cultural demeaning, then the deck becomes further stacked against certain groups, we see it now in the constant struggles of black men in our society.  And when people do stray, when they make mistakes, commit a crime, or a host of other things as a result, it becomes a label for life, even though we never gave them a chance to thrive in the first place.  We are not a nation that forgives, we are a nation that judges, and believe that heinous acts are the work of someone evil, heartless, or cruel and never allow them to find a better path, they become the label and the record of that label haunts and follows them for life, it is a human tragedy of epic proportions.

If we want to reduce mental illness and criminality, then we must look at our education system and our culture of demeaning difference.  If we embrace teaching to the difference, allowing rote learners to keep learning the way they do best, but allowing logical and experiential learners to do the same, we will have more well adapted people who will endeavor and contribute to society, since feeling that one is valued and belongs is such an important part of self-identity and mental health.  So what if they cannot tell you the exact date something was written, a ballpark figure is just fine, all they need for history for example is an understanding of chronology, the fine details are just knowledge not likely to be ever applied, that does not mean the learner did not learn the important aspects of history for example.  “Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it”, well folks, no culture or society has yet to properly do this, we keep assuming we have, but the cycle of demeaning, violence, and trauma is still alive and well, and we are working our way up to another cycle of it right now.  It is not names, dates, and specific locations that inform us of the lessons of history, it can all be paraphrased and understood in the terms of the intersection of human difference, individual and cultural.  Sometimes I wonder (seriously, this is a correlation, an interesting idea, not something I believe to be scientific fact, I am a pattern thinker after all) if the volume of empirical thinking we see in Europe and the Middle east is not tied to the amount of Neanderthal DNA in a population, that within our human genome there are two very different fundamental ways of learning.  I will use the China example again, after all trace amounts of the Neaderthal genome exist in Asiatic and Indigenous North American populations, that they developed a system of testing to identify empirical thinkers to help run the bureaucracy, An interesting thought to think that two races shared DNA and that as a result two ways of thinking exist within the human genome in regards to how we learn our schema and build up understanding. Regardless of origin, fun idea that it is, it benefits us all, the thinkers, the do’ers, nurturers, teachers, and so many other different ways of thinking once you begin to factor in inherent chaos in the wiring of the brain. So much difference….and yet we continue to assume that a one size fits all approach is desirable and beneficial to society, and that a child is to blame for that difference.  How short sighted we have been, even when science continues to indicate that there is a tremendous amount of diversity in how a brain can function.  But even those scientists often work within the dominant paradigm, and thus they too are biased, their subjective cultural lens applying judgments based on difference and it’s failure to flourish in what they consider to be an enlightened society, we are so very far away from being enlightened, we are still at war with our selves and each other, and we still fail to learn the lessons of history, and thus still hostages to the choices of our ancestors.

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