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Friday, August 2, 2013
School consolidation/renovation/threatened closure makes the news a lot around Lexington.
Construction chaos around one school makes it seem this is a much larger city than it is. I don’t have children but was fortunate to work around kids and experience how most of us benefit from disciplines of school and eventual work life.
To occupy that assigned seat, desk or work station can create a shared relationship to time and place, encouraging learning, production, sometimes friendship and connection to something larger than limitations of self. I once worked in a sheet metal plant where the cabinets got produced only if each person on the line did his part and fed products on to the next set of hands.
There’s a certain beauty, bonding, sometimes magic in the process of mass production and specialization that provides so much material wealth and relief from suffering. But as a critic of corresponding consumerism, encouraging use and using up lots of really good throw-away stuff, I wonder what placing so much value on efficiency, consumption, goods and gear does to what some of us think of as the human soul learning to become more conscious, cooperative and empathetic, not just rational, productive and affluent.
Homo economicus, or economic human, is a concept of humans as rational and narrowly self-interested actors who have the ability to make judgments toward their defined ends.
What’s less obvious than the need for education is how far to go to be free of all physical labor, become highly specialized, connected to the great machinery of modernity churning out what’s sometimes called turbo capitalism and hyper-individualism. That is, making and marketing anything that can be sold for profit and celebrating individual desires above needs of community, tribe or ecosystem.
Critics of broad liberal arts education suggest a well-rounded education does not necessarily lead to good-paying jobs in this modern, specialized, high-tech, interconnected world. A nephew did well financially by opting for tech school classes rather than a liberal arts degree. He may not know the difference between a Bhagavad Gita and a Quran, but he knows a field of electronics and is rewarded enough to buy a really fast motorcycle. If the purpose of life is getting from point A to destination B as quickly as possible, he may be winning.
It’s been argued public education is often still modeled on industrial models of efficiency and mass production.
Some of us no doubt do well in straight, neat row classroom settings where giving right answers and repeating factual information is valued.
Some of us also are motivated by competition and the popularity contest to look or act according to social norms. Personally, I was never very motivated by competition, as in sports, but found in later life a love of being part of a team, crew or group, being physical and outdoors, like on construction crews or kayak trips.
I also wonder if it isn’t odd we still have an education system with children segregated by age as if the efficiency model, placing all same-size things, or people, together still produces the best output. One of the things I enjoyed about working in a children’s camp was the blurred line of age segregation. Children mixed together, often taking on roles of trying to care for, or at least understand, others.
So as construction and debates about school consolidation, who pays for what, continue, I hope we don’t lose sight of other intangibles. Slick new buildings don’t always make for better education, just as rising square footage inhabited and filled with really good stuff doesn’t often make a better home, happier individuals or a supportive family. I think it’s often the opposite.
We spend less time with each other, teach and learn less because we’re out making money to pay for that extra square footage and really nice on-sale consumer stuff. I’ve worked around construction a lot and know how we humans like to create and work together, but newer, bigger, more high-tech buildings don’t necessarily make for better education, happier individuals or beings in harmony with their environment.
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