‘They will inevitably learn and teach the wrong things’

‘They will inevitably learn and teach the wrong things’ October 11, 2018

I posted this more than 10 years ago. It’s about time to post it again.

The following is from E.F. Schumacher’s essay “The Problem of Unemployment in India,” in his quixotic classic, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered.

If there are millions of people who want to better themselves but do not know how to do it, who is going to show them? Consider the size of the problem in India. We are not talking about a few thousands or a few millions, but rather about a few hundred millions of people. The size of the problem puts it beyond any kind of little amelioration, any little reform, improvement or inducement, and makes it a matter of basic political philosophy.

The whole matter can be summed up in the question: What is education for? …

These questions lead us to the parting of the ways: Is education to be a “passport to privilege” or is it a monastic vow, a sacred obligation to serve the people?

The first road takes the educated young person into a fashionable district of Bombay, where a lot of other highly educated people have already gone and where he can join a mutual admiration society, a “trade union of the privileged,” to see to it that his privileges are not eroded by the great masses of his contemporaries who have not been educated. This is one way.

The other way would be embarked upon in a different spirit and would lead to a different destination. It would take him back to the people …

So this is the first question I suggest we have to face. Can we establish an ideology, or whatever you like to call it, which insists that the educated have taken upon themselves an obligation and have not simply acquired a “passport to privilege”? This ideology is of course well supported by all the higher teachings of mankind. As a Christian, I may be permitted to quote from St. Luke: “Much will be asked of them because they were entrusted with more.” It is, you might well say, an elementary matter of justice.

If this ideology does not prevail, if it is taken for granted that education is a passport to privilege, then the content of education will not primarily be something to serve the people, but something to serve ourselves, the educated. The privileged minority will wish to be educated in a manner that sets them apart and will inevitably learn and teach the wrong things, that is to say, things that do set them apart. …

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