A hard look at the history of education

While reading Langer’s article on mindful learning, I realized that the whole structure of schooling and education in the present sociocultural context might be a result of mindlessness.

The past causes the present and the present leads to future. Thus to understand the present structure of education, I believe it is imperative that we also analyze and spend some thoughts about the history of education. From the beginning of human history for ages and ages, children have been educating themselves through self-exploration. The only concrete and documented form of imparting knowledge from one generation to another was through the means of stories, fables and fairytales.

But as humankind began to develop and form civilizations, children were put to work as labors alongside adults, in agriculture and industry. They began to master the necessary skills of livelihood. And thus came about the definition of “good children”: the hardest workers, the most disciplined and dutiful ones, the ones that grew out of their curious and unruly childhood all too soon. And while the practice of schooling as a structure of education for children grew and spread all around the world, the societal norms of what was considered “good” were already deeply instilled by then. Schooling replaced labor jobs as “work” for children. There remained no scope for playful learning, no place for willfulness of children. Education became restricted to schools, delivered in form of lessons from teachers to students thus establishing the hierarchy of greater knowledge. Everything outside of school, even reading storybooks became “extracurricular”. The concept of school was designed in the minds of children as some morbid place that is not meant to be fun at all.

And this concept lives up to this day! We have all hated the strict boundaries and rules of school life at some point, we have all dreaded the exams and the penalties of getting low scores on a test. With the advancement in science and technology, and the standard of human lives, schools are predominantly focussed now on the colossal amounts of information they have to disperse to students. Stories, which were the most prevalent form of learning in the past, is not even recognized as an important tool for learning anymore.

While reading about the history of education in Wikipedia, I found the most profound statement: it talks about the Hindu scripture Upanishads dated back to 500 BC as “an exploratory learning process where teachers and students were co-travellers in a search for truth. The teaching methods used reasoning and questioning. Nothing was labeled as the final answer.” This states three very important pillars of what learning should be about and what the current culture of education have mindlessly ignored! Education should be curiosity-driven; there doesn’t always have to a binary right/wrong; peer-learning rather than mainstream teacher-student hierarchy.

Thus, I want to end the article on the note that instead of just brainstorming ideas of revolutionizing education to come up with “new and fun alternatives”, may be we take a look way back in the ancient human history to gain a better understanding of learning; may be we realize that learning is nothing but fun and play and stories and fables!