How much has education really advanced us?
How much has education really advanced us?
Education did not begin with mass public education in the nineteenth century or with the ancient academies of Athens and Rome; all societies have something akin to education.
Education in its most general form is simply those institutions and practices all societies put in place to pass on to the next generation the values and beliefs of the adult ruling generation. In actuality education is everywhere: in the values inculcated in the home or in the playground with peers, and particularly in our own media saturated society it is all around us in the messages propounded by the mass media. We believe that education has advanced us, made us more ‘civilized’, but has it?
Consider some headhunting societies of a century or so ago in lowland New Guinea, engaging in practices we consider barbaric and definitely ‘uncivilized’. These societies definitely had forms of education to train young men to be successful headhunters: ideologies that devalued neighbouring groups and made them worthy of being victims, violent initiation rituals to inure young men to pain and to condition them to violent acts themselves, initiation grades that required the taking of heads, a requirement for heads to build parts of the men’s cult house, marriage rules that prescribed the taking of heads to enter into advantageous unions, ecstatic dances combined with intensive chewing of the nut from the betel palm which releases a mild hallucinogen that left the men in a trance-like enraged state before a headhunting raid. All of these are clearly instituted educational practices with a single goal in mind – to produce a successful headhunter, the most highly valued male role in these societies. We are horrified at this ideal, this coarsening of human sensibilities, but before we condemn so quickly, let us look a little deeper.
Around the time of the Iraq war, one of the authors saw on television an interview with an American army sergeant of long service in training new recruits. He was commenting on a change he had noticed in them, and frankly he was worried. He said that in the past it took a good deal of training and desensitization to get recruits to shoot to kill a target in the shape of a human being. From his experience he felt that there was a natural resistance to shooting to kill other human beings, even if only in outline form. But what was concerning him was that with the recruits he was now training this no longer seemed to be the case; they shot at the targets with no reticence and seemed already well acquainted with shooting and comfortable in doing so.
He put this desensitisation down to the many hours of practice in shooting these young men already had in the virtual world of computer games, Xbox and Playstation.
These young men had been educated in and desensitized to shooting to kill by our society’s pervasive institutions of computer games and other virtual media, just as capably as the young men of lowland New Guinea had been to headhunting. This was chillingly brought home a few days later on the television news with shock and awe as American bombs lit up the night sky destroying towers and buildings, while American soldiers cheered; there were men, women, children immolated in those towers. Education through the media had done its job well: these people were less than us; the technology our education had given us made us superior, and we could use it to assert our superiority just as surely as the pre-raid cult rituals of New Guinea headhunters.
This process of desensitization through video games starts early and it seems to be getting worse. Children as young as five are playing video games in which the character who is driving a car picks up prostitutes, asks for oral sex and to be masturbated, and the children watch these pornographic acts being carried out in full. Following this, the driver has the options to run over the prostitute, throw a grenade at her, shoot her and inflict many other violent acts. As a result of playing such games, kids are becoming more violent and verbally abusive in school, with six year boys replying to teachers with insults such as ‘suck my c**k’ and nine and ten year olds regularly make comments that amount to sexual assault. Nor are girls immune to this; they are being sexualized at an increasingly young age as a result.
Education starts in the home, and video games have become a major educating force for our children.
What is happening in our schools and our society is a reflection of this perverting type of education. Let’s not delude ourselves and say that such media is not education. It is an increasingly powerful form in the moulding of our children and the setting of the foundations of the society to be, and, as witnessed by the example of the American soldiers, the society that we have already become.
So has education really advanced us beyond New Guinean headhunters?
It seems not.
We kill at a distance, with bombs, seemingly bloodlessly, or at least we don’t see what happens in those towers, or when we kill hundreds in drone strikes. Our system of education has given us weapons to kill on an unimaginable scale: nuclear weapons, which can kill millions and hundreds of millions.
Education has advanced us materially. Of that, there is no doubt – we live more comfortably physically.
But true civilization is not material advancement. It is advancement in awareness, sensitivity and tenderness. On that score, education is failing us. We pride ourselves in being more civilized than New Guinean headhunters, but our education systems are now producing young people of just as great a coarsening of human care and sensitivity as them. We are on the wrong track, and that track is on a downward slope. We need to turn all of our education systems around, to one built on equality and love.
Only then will we truly advance beyond arrogance and violence and become civilized.