Education for Uncivillisation

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Education for Uncivillisation It has frequently been asserted that to be educated is, in essence, to become civilised. Children, according to this view, begin their lives outside the walls of the citadel. They are the barbarians behind the gates, in need of our careful but authoritative hand to take theirs and initiate them into everything that is good and beautiful and advantageous about civilisation. The aim of education, it is further argued, is to guide us towards becoming fully human. This
  Education for Uncivillisation It hasfrequently been assertedthat to be educated is, in essence,to becomecivilised. Children, according to this view, begin their lives outside the walls of the citadel. They are the barbarians behind the gates, in needofour careful butauthoritative hand to take theirs and initiatethem into everything that is goodand beautiful and advantageous about civilisation. The aim of education, it isfurther argued, is to guide us towards becomingfully human. This startlinglyanthropocentric understanding of what education is runs deep. But given theage of collapse which we now stare in the face, it seems a good time to ask thefundamental question: Is being a barbarianreally all thatbad? Would it hurt usto take a long walk outside of the gates, amble amidst the uncultivated, and feelour bare feet upon the earth? The heady aims of education detailed above have become somewhat dilutedinour times. Education, like so much of our civilisation, is now running on emptyand a gaping sense of meaningless and aimlessnesspermeates mosteducational talk. The ideal of education as the cultivation of humanness haslargely given way to a number of subsidiary aims such as ‘education forresponsible citizenship’ or ‘education for sustainable development’. Anemphasis on performance, skills and the meeting of targets still dominates.Education is, once again, a central electoral issue in the UK. Yet, no matter which party you turn to, education is valued primarily in so far as it cancontribute to economicprosperity. That is, so far as it can continue to initiatechildren into the ways of seeing, doing and thinking that predominate.Let us take the widely toutedidea of‘education for sustainable development’, anaim that is now firmlyembedded within the National Curriculum. Talk aboutsustainable development carries with it the assumption that we can,bar a fewlifestyle changes,keep calm and carry on as normal in the face of impendingecological devastation. Furthermore, it implicitly conveys the notion that weought to, and indeed would be insane not to want to  , carry on in this manner. Thanks to science and innovative thinking, we are told, we can fix our way outof this mess. This is the culture of ‘solutions’ and it is as presentin school asanywhere else. You can almost hear the flailing, dying gasp of civilisationbehind such talk.If the time has come for new stories, then they are neededabove all, in the school.Sustainable development is but the latest in a long line of stories that we keeptelling ourselves, to reassure us that we can make ourselves fully at home inthe world. But what kind of home-maker perpetuates the kind of wholesale  destruction of that very home to which recent centuries have borne witness? Tobe a barbarian is to be a stranger, a foreigner, and we must come to realise that we are alltruly barbarians in this sense. For despite all our attempts to classifyand order and account for the world, there is always an excessfrom which weare estranged  and that remains partlyconcealed and hidden from our gaze.Poets, storytellers andother artists have traditionally been the ones who havegesturedtowards the ineffable and drawn it out of the darkness. But not in a way that delivers it to us for consumption orexploitation. Rather, poets andstorytellers sing the earth in a way which allows us only to catch a glimmer, amesmerizingflicker,of this hidden beauty and truth.What would an education for uncivillisation look like? It would not, Iimagine,be judgedin terms of its efficiency, output and contribution to economicprosperity or good citizenship. Rather, it would have to speak to the barbarianin us. It would decentre us; help us reconsider what it means to be human, andto look outwards beyond the citywalls. No, it would have to do more than makeus merely look. We would have to scale those walls and tread on the bare earth;cast away the urbane illusion of being safely at home, and to sing the wildplaces. Upon this earth we area bitlike strangers sojourning at an inn, yet wehave come to treat it as unscrupulous landlords. An uncivilised education would disclose the world to us in a way that fostered responsiveness andappreciation towards what is other.At this time in which once seemingly permanent edifices are breaking downbefore our eyes, we need new stories in schools, not ‘functional skills’. A myriadof well meaning but clumsy and disjointed government initiatives only manageto cloud the elemental underlyingquestion. This is nothing more or less thanthe question of how we should henceforth dwell on this Earth. Are we going toinsist onsending our children along the crumbling precipice of progress, tocling onto the shattering walls of the citadel for dear life? Or are we going toencouragethem to look down? It may be well for storytelling to be at the heartof education;storytelling that has srcins in place, in the day to day geographyof the child. This does not preclude global learning. But what I would say isthis: how can we understand the story of another until we have come tounderstand our own? There must also always remain a degree of ineffability in what we teach andlearn. We can no longer labour under the vain illusion that we can mastereverything. A less conceited kind of education is needed, one in which we aredaring enough to go beyond the gates and be prepared to stand still in awe andincomprehensibility at what we meet and then to keep that sense of awe alive inlanguage. This is an education in and of place. It is an education rooted instorytelling. It is an education for uncivilisation.
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