Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Education and alternatives ?

I have grown up in a regular educational system, with only saving grace being my parents' limitations in either being available or being able to give inputs. But beyond questioning the variations in the quality of 'regular' education, I never thought of alternatives to mainstream educational system. Only till I met a few people... first a friend who had worked with Krishnamurti Foundation (a pathbreaking philosopher, almost literally) as a teacher. And then met my informal mentor, who had established a school for alternative training of teachers, based on Sri Aurobindo & Mother's philosophy. There might have been a few other influences, but the later was the strongest.

This exposure had an interesting effect on me, initially I became quite defensive. I responded, 'well, I have turned out ok-enough, even though from a regular education'. I hated the idea that I missed out something so crucial, while I was growing up. Learning being a passion, it was one of the the most important aspect of my life. Thus, emotionally this was deeply disturbing and to avoid cognitive dissonance I tried to justify the business-as-usual education system.

Slowly I came to terms with the idea of alternative education, as I started understanding the repercussions of the current mainstream education system. It also happened along with changes in my studentship status. Now I understand, sooner or later it is not what degrees you have, but the person you are, which will matter most. More and more people around the world are realizing this and taking different paths & finding newer balances, from trusting alternative schools, to open schooling to completely un-schooling their kids.

Currently my main issue with the mainstream education is same as that with the mainstream psychology, (or possibly most other social/human sciences, and may be beyond). These fields have a basic flaw in translation from theory to application. Theories are limited in nature and have multiple external influences and biases. Further, all studies are limited, and when these limited observations in time and location are applied, they lead to flawed situations. However, by the time these theories change, a generation might have grown up under constraints of faulty methods/ situations.
For example, psychology theories for long have been dominated by ideas of instincts conditioning etc, which discount the better aspects of human nature. Such predominantly negative framework might go on to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Such ideas lead to an education and economic system where competition and greed is built within.
While in recent years there is lot more research suggesting an in-built altruistic nature in humans, which actually might get dampened with external reward for doing the right thing. Now what happens to the institutions of the world? They stay same (or might change very slowly, erring on the optimistic side), even though the underlying theories have changed much earlier. There are lot of nice concepts like this, such as flow, intrinsic rewards, psychological needs etc, but not really applied in a run-of-the-mill organization/ institution.

This makes me more cynical when it comes to environment- we take it for granted. We do not pay for environmental services/ products, and thus the most polluting and unsustainable practices go on to make cheapest economic sense, while these in fact are the costliest in long term/ environmentally. Anything worth having, personally or on a societal level, doesn't have economic viability. On the other hand, the no-cost means to well-being and health are not encouraged, because there is no vested interest behind and it doesn't pay!

Coming back to education, those thinking within the system-box believe, education leads to employment and thus brings people out of poverty. This model works when there is huge variation in education, however with universal education, it flops (in US, 21 percent of homes headed by a college graduate lack economic security) because it doesn't look at wealth distribution. As they have started acknowledging, "In the past, threats to economic security were supposedly clear -- dropping out of high school, being a single parent or having a large family. In today's economy, we cannot assume we know who lacks security".

I guess, this is the right time to not only question the basic assumptions we hold about how the world works or should work, but also the time to find successful, sustainable, alternative models to be implemented as the mainstream model... anyone out there with similar thinking ?
I hallucinate some other voices ... even if delusional- may our tribe increase! :)

(PS: ok ok... there are few leaps of logic here, but I'm too sleepy to explain every step ... so good night! :)

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