By: Jennifer Nelson October 21, 2019
It can be argued that one of the biggest factors facing education is students having an equal opportunity to get an education. The thought is that equal access will reduce income inequality. This is important because education should have a positive impact on people’s lives.
“By focusing on equal opportunities for students to achieve strong academic outcomes, countries can provide a pathway for more students to continue on to higher levels of education and eventually secure good jobs – two outcomes that are likely to lessen income inequality in the future” (OECD, 2012).
You need money in order to survive and thrive. You need a good job in order to make money. Education is the key to getting a good job, and therefore making sure everyone has access to it is one of the biggest factors facing education. Thus, we should make sure that everyone has access. That makes perfect sense to me.
However, I also believe that conclusion is based on making a lot of assumptions, and it is oversimplifying the issue.
High Test Scores Will Not Eliminate Poverty
The first assumption that is being made is that Earth can continue to function as is, while at the same time improving economic opportunities for everyone. It’s assuming that we can do the same things and end up with a completely different result. The assertion is standing on the foundation of educating people on how to best fit into structures that don’t have a foundation that leads to prosperity for all.
For example, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment scores, “Singapore has come top in science, maths and reading” (Ward, 2016). That’s very nice to have all this knowledge. My question is, what are you doing with it that leads to a better quality of life for the people who live there?
The Borgen Project states, “Wealth is disproportionately spread among wealthy foreigners while native Singaporeans live in poverty and often have lower-paying jobs” (de Silva, 2018). It is also noted that, “5 percent of young Singaporeans under 30 are unemployed. Many others cannot find jobs with sufficient wages because of the lack of minimum wage laws in the country” (de Silva, 2018).
We can improve the access to education as much as we want, but it still doesn’t address the structural issues. This is not unique to Singapore, this is worldwide.
What Kind of Education Are Students Receiving?
Why aren’t students being educated on how to create jobs as opposed to solely being educated on the concept of getting a job? But an even better question is, why aren’t students being educated on how to move from a consumptive modeling system, to something that is more beneficial for all?
Consumerism and Consumptive Modeling
“Consumption concept is also defined as the ideology of today’s world and is criticized both negatively and positively like all ideologies. The ideology is based on a wealthier life as a consequence of more production and more consumption, and it is considered a factor that restricts people’s freedom, makes people dependent on others, and alienates them” (Firat, Kutucuoglu, Saltik, & Tuncel, 2013, p.184).
Furthermore, we have an entire industry dedicated to how to get people to consume as much as possible. This is called advertising and marketing.
In many cases, getting a job in advertising and marketing would be seen as a “good job”. Therefore, if someone was in poverty, but they got an education which led to a “good job” in this industry (or an industry that allowed them to buy many things peddled by this industry) then everyone would count that as a success.
But is it? I guess it depends on how one defines success.
Freedom or Not?
An article from 1955 stated:
Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns … We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing pace (El-Idrissi, 2017).
This is what students are being educated to fit into. This harms the environment. This leads to debt. It leads to stress. It leads to people spinning wheels to keep up with a system that they don’t actually enjoy living in.
Yet, it is very important for everyone to have a proper education. However, there will come a point in time where we have to redefine what education actually entails. Otherwise the only educational outcome that will be achieved is a bunch of people being educated on how to enforce their own slavery.
To be clear, no one is free until everyone is free.
“According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), there are 21 million people around the world trapped in some form of forced labour, the term it uses to describe all forms of modern slavery, including trafficking, debt bondage and child labour. In the UK an estimated 13,000 people are working as slaves in agriculture, hospitality, fishing, private homes, brothels, nail bars and cannabis farms” (Kelly, 2015).
I would argue that most of this forced labor is used to support the consumptive modeling system that the current educational system trains students to support and enforce.
Perhaps we should focus less on test scores as a marker of success, and more on if people have been educated on how to live peacefully and in harmony with Earth and with all who inhabit it.
Is This Utopian Rhetoric?
There was concern that my views were a bit utopian and dismissive of the reality that it would be difficult to live in a society without consumption.
I didn’t say that the world could exist without consumption. There is a difference between living in a world where people buy and sell the things that they need, and a world that is based upon excessive consumption.
There is also a difference between educating children to become productive members of society by bringing out their innate gifts and talents; and educating them to enforce unhealthy systems.
Living in a society where people think they can buy their way to happiness with toys, trinkets, and social prestige is quite unhealthy.
“Kasser describes his and others’ research showing that when people organize their lives around extrinsic goals such as product acquisition, they report greater unhappiness in relationships, poorer moods and more psychological problems” (DeAngelis, 2004).
To be clear, when I use consumption, I’m not just talking about purchases. I am also talking about consuming the resources of others in order to gain some sort of advantage (this is called building leverage), and seeing others as resources to be consumed, (hello “human resources” department).
One negative impact of this line of thinking is that it encourages psychopathic behavior in order to get ahead. Brown writes, “psychopathic personality traits are often seen as desirable in the corporate environment, but research suggests they can do more harm than good” (Brown, 2017).
The article goes on to say that, “there are some professions which, at times, require higher levels of psychopathic traits than we might be comfortable with in everyday life” (Brown, 2017).
This is what children are being educated to cater to when the main focus is memorizing facts in order to “get a good job”. Where is the education on how to be a “good human” who looks at the big picture?
From my point of view, trying to solve problems without actually addressing the problems is not productive.
Is it utopian to believe that people can exist on earth without causing harm to others? Is it utopian to believe that societies can function without corporate psychopathy? I don’t know. Is it humane to believe otherwise?
Brown, J. (2 November 2017). Do psychopaths really make better leaders? Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20171102-do-psychopaths-really-make-better-leaders
DeAngelis, T. (2004 June). Consumerism and its discontents. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/jun04/discontents
Desilva, L. (6 May 2018). Top 10 Facts About Poverty in Singapore. Retrieved from https://borgenproject.org/top-10-facts-about-poverty-in-singapore/
El-Edrissi, A. (18 October 2017). Our Consumption Model Is Broken. Here’s How To Build A New One. Retrieved from https://shift.newco.co/2017/10/18/our-consumption-model-is-broken-heres-how-to-build-a-new-one/
Firat, A., Kutucuoglu, K., Saltik, A., & Tuncel, O. (2013). Consumption, consumer culture and consumer society. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320929948_Consumption_consumer_culture_and_consumer_society
Kelly, A. (2015 December 14). The UK’s new slavery laws explained: what do they mean for business? Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/dec/14/modern-slavery-act-explained-business-responsibility-supply-chain
OECD. (2012, April 01). How Pronounced Is Income Inequality Around the World – And How Can Education Help Reduce It? Retrieved March 26, 2018, from http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/how-pronounced-is-income-inequality-around-the-world-and-how-can-education-help-reduce-it_5k97krntvqtf-en;jsessionid=1rbua1q59ulq3.x-oecd-live-03
Ward, H. (2016, December 06). Pisa: At-a-glance global education rankings in science, maths and reading. Retrieved March 6, 2018, from https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/pisa-a-glance-global-education-rankings-science-maths-and-reading