Lies, Damned Lies and Formal Education – Part 1

Young people get a wholly undeserved bad press, as they have for as long as I’m capable of remembering. I can only think that it makes some of one generation feel better about itself, helps to distance them from their own inadequacies by pouring scorn upon those who have followed them. Whether this chain of torment will ever be broken is dependant entirely on a shift in attitudes and I wouldn’t hold out too much hope of that actually happening.

There’s a paradox at work here. On the one hand, there’s a curious wish for ‘kids to remain kids’ for as long as possible, perhaps only discovering that alcohol, tobacco and other drugs exist, while sex and sexuality is not just about making babies, at somewhere around the age of twenty five. Meanwhile, something ambiguous called ‘growing up’ is a notion that parents and teachers alike throw all over teenagers in their formative years like a cheap suit.

I concluded some time ago that what is actually being alluded to here is a process that is referred to on occasion as ‘making peace with authority’. My immediate reaction to such a concept, predictable enough given a natural and predisposed suspicion towards whoever has put themselves in charge, is, “why the fuck would anyone with a half-functioning brain want to do that?”. I’m aware of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer, which for anyone unfamiliar with it goes like this:-

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

Very nice, but this neglects the fact that all through your life you’ll be told that there are things you just have to accept as they are, by people who are happy to render you dopey, obedient, subservient and make their own lives easier as a result. Nearly all of the advice people get in life is complete bollocks, much of it either lacking some sort of evidential basis, following an agenda set by the person giving the advice, or both. Precious little is offered truthfully, selflessly, and with only the genuine interests of the recipient in mind.

An inquisitive temperament is a familiar and almost natural characteristic of youth. The process of slowly breaking down the spirit and tendency of the young to ask awkward questions is something of a slow-burner, so you often find that they approach things in a way that is more rational, evidence-based, open-minded. I dunno about you, but there’s a common denominator linking the most petty, small-minded and, er, childish people I have met. They all happened to be adults.

Looking back, I’ve done whatever the reverse of ‘growing up’ is. A dopey, pathetic weasel of a kid, voluntarily incapable of thinking for himself and full of shit inherited from fools, I used to look back on that period of my life with great regret. Now I’m starting to ask myself if it was fate, providence, a test of character or merely (the atheist perspective) an unbelievable stroke of good luck. It took some strange circumstances in my early twenties to re-awaken the youthful intuition I had once surrendered so meekly, and almost lost forever.

Young enough not to look entirely ridiculous, but old enough to understand why authority figures had been so desparate to snatch it from me in the first place, there have been and will be many more painful mis-steps, but the older I get the more precious I realise it is and the less any notion of ‘growing up’ holds appeal beyond that of occasionally wanting an easy life. That’s the thing about young people, they’re smart, open-minded, capable of isolating the truth from shit and background noise. I’d like to remain one of them for as long as I can.

Part two of this to follow at some point over the weekend – take it easy.

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2 thoughts on “Lies, Damned Lies and Formal Education – Part 1

  1. Like you, I don’t hold out any hope that humans will change, but the world is changing radically as a consequence of the technological achievements of humans and I think there may be some hope for the future arising from that.

    As an example I would point to the internet making available vast amounts of information to everybody which was never previously accessible. It is as if we all own every encyclopedia that ever existed and we have constant updates. At the same time we are provided with every imaginable piece of bullshit, lies and propaganda. What I find encouraging is that, as you say, the young tend to be enquiring and rational so a super abundance of information can only be a good thing.

    Formal education is provided by the old and the powerful so it is inevitably rigid, distorted and lacking in appeal to those it is meant to educate. Now we have MOOCs, Massive Online Open Courses. To me this is the beginning of a genuine revolution in learning. Anybody with access to a computer can take free courses on a huge range of topics. The courses will vary in quality and the lecturers will have all the failings that exist in schools, colleges and universities, but the open forums attached to the courses and the self assembled learning groups which meet up where and whenever they want are not constrained in any way. In this way it is possible for every individual to tailor their learning in any way they choose.

  2. Pingback: Lies, Damned Lies and Formal Education – Part 2 | Liberal Instinct

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