Monday, 10 December 2012


Sometimes we meet someone and think "you're a bright young thing! Always quick witted, able to make some incisive comment that makes everyone sit up and think (and often laugh)." and then we might think "How did they get to be like that?" (secretly wishing "I wish I was like that"). The word we use for this is "intelligence". The behaviours we associate with intelligence include the ability to remember large amounts of information and to weave quotations and anecdotes into their conversations. The aspect of 'recall' that lies behind this behaviour gives us some confidence that the labours of education are indeed effective, and that the more one labours to learn, remember, regurgitate, etc the more one might be capable of performing in this way.

But notwithstanding the fact that no doubt some degree of labour in remembering and learning can indeed give a person greater agility in social encounters (which in turn can make them powerful), there is an uninspected backwater to this kind of behaviour. This I think lies in the emotional bedrock upon which both the confident performances of an "intelligent person" and the will to drive through tedious exercises of learning as a means to gaining greater agility are situated. "Intelligence" in performance misleads an audience into misconceiving where it came from. "Practise" is all we can say, and so the education system rewards "practise". But it fails to identify the necessary conditions within which "practise" can take place.

There is plenty of evidence that the psychological conditions within which this kind of practise, and the will to battle through learning journeys are founded in social structures. Those from good homes, with books, with emotional support for their educational endeavours will succeed at least in the business of working through learning. Often they succeed only in remembering and regurgitating without thinking, and produce an aped performance of 'intelligence' which merely shows "cleverness" rather than intelligence: arguments might be won with clever quotations and put-downs, but the big questions are glossed over and nobody is any the better for it. The confidence that education can breed can be dangerous in such cases.

But what of those who have the capacity to be deeply intelligent (which I think is all of us) but who are not lucky enough to grow up in an environment which gives them the sufficient emotional management to be able to handle the hard work of learning? What they take from their home environments is anxiety and stress, they avoid the risks of saying it "how it is", assuming that the 'clever people' know better than them, and trusting the clever people to tell them how to be clever too - by sitting exams, doing what they are told, etc. The greatest crime is that they are told by the clever people in the education system that they are less clever than them, and that they can only become as clever if they do what they are told. Education creates stupidity in so many ways - and it does so in its own interests.

What if education didn't do this? Could we have an education system which didn't need to create failure? There's an interesting thought...

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