Monthly Archives: February 2013

The illiteracy of our age

Some time ago I was participating in a thread on an online forum with a political theme. At some point I made my views known, that, “ultimately, I would prefer a system where the government has zero involvement in the education system; meaning that it would not fund schools as it does now, rather a more ideal system would be one where schools are private and thus encouraging competition, etc”. Someone responded to me by saying “I would have to look far and wide for a worldview as disgusting as yours.”

This person made their support for greater government involvement in all fields of human life very clear. Their response assumes that because I am against “free” education, then I must be against education per se, since I am for privatising it, and thus their fallacy is that not everyone will have the opportunity to be educated in an actual school.

Similarly in another forum, after expressing my condemnation of the education system in my state, another user said to me “You obviously know how to read and write well for all your criticism of the education system that you grew up in”. The comment made me realise that it simply is not about whether you can ‘read and write’ because you can teach anyone to do that, but what it ultimately comes down to is whether you’re taught to¬†think independently, to understand concepts, to critically analyse something, to question, to discover the truth. Simply reading something in a mechanical manner, or writing an essay based on the left-wing views of your teacher in a school funded by the government is nothing to boast about. Many in this state (and other states I suspect), graduate from high school having learned next to nothing; sure they can read and write, thus adding to the high ‘literacy’ percentage of this country, but they’re as educated as a flock of sheep are.

What brought this post on was a quote I just came across by an Alvin Toffler “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” This is quite true, where in the past it was the majority of the population that was illiterate when it came to reading and writing, but today it is the majority that is illiterate in terms of independent thought, of concepts, of reason.

The horrifying thing about being educated in a system that has a bias towards an ideology that does not encourage independent thought, is that children from a young age are conditioned to think in only the set terms that are taught to them. Most will hold these ideas as irrefutable truths well into their adult life and they will be incapable of thinking otherwise, even considering the possibility of something else is so disturbing that they’ll attack such ideas with anger and force.

When I graduated from high school, I can confidently say that the majority of students in my year level were, for lack of a better word, dumb. Many could read and write, yet that was it. Just as a computer program could sound out words and letters to you, so could they. Many of them didn’t even understand a lot of the topics that we were taught in English (and Drama), yet what they still got away from it were the ‘bare essentials’, that is the flimsy ideas you encounter on a daily basis such as “women are inferior because of men”, “the rich are evil”, “capitalism is bad” etc. If I were to assess the reading and writing skills of many of those students today, I would honestly expect to find that they are worse off than when they graduated.

I only know of one other high school that was close to mine, where the curriculum was rather similar, however having had contact with many other people from my generation, and younger ones who have graduated, I still see the same problem everywhere; that is, a lack of independent thinking.

I don’t know what it’s like in other Western nations, nor in other Australian states (though I would wager to say that it is rather similar), nor what it is like in private schools here (though from the many experiences I have had with people who went to a private school, I’d say that it might be marginally better), but I think this problem of illiterate thinking isn’t exclusive to Australia.

For the record, my English skills have always (since primary school) been rather poor, but especially when it came to writing coherent sentences (I attribute this to my non-English speaking background), and to this day I would not be able to explain to you proper English grammar. At the end of the day, it wasn’t the education system of my state that ended up teaching me how to write properly, it was myself since I put it upon my mind to improve my writing skills, my teachers helped me where necessary, but the motivation and effort had to come from me alone.