Education: How We Learn to Not Question

school classroom; wiki commonsAlthough I come from a privileged background and went to a “good school”, what I really learned by entering college is how to un-learn my past teachings.  Even the myth of meritocracy that provides a foundation for our mandatory history classes in the primary and secondary curriculum is a form of mis-education.  The mis-education of all people feeds into the existing system of white supremacy because it does not provide the skills or critical thinking lens that is needed for individuals to view the world from a perspective outside of system they currently exist in. Essentially, mis-education is forcing individuals to remain complacent while simultaneously using that forced complacency to perpetuate the current hierarchical system we all reside in.

The myth of meritocracy (which is just one of endless examples of mis-education) shows seemingly countless cases of people “pulling themselves up by their booth straps.” Our “education” system falls to point out that the protagonists in all of these success stories are white, cys, straight, nondisabled, Christian men who, although undoubtedly facing some adversity, have the proverbial knapsack full of privileges enabling their success. For people who share many of these same privileged identities this notion of meritocracy makes sense and they can often see it through the progress of their families throughout generations. For people who belong to oppressed and marginalized groups, however, I can imagine that this concept holds different implications. If everyone is given equal opportunity to thrive then their must be something wrong with the family that has been unable to break the cycle of poverty and is constantly facing incarceration, has never graduated from high school, is disenfranchised, and the list goes on.

In order to alleviate any need for critically analyzing our system and the institutions that support it, the importance of person responsibility and individualism are preached. This places even more value on those who are successful and further castigates those who are already suffering. Even those who are very actively fighting to change the system, because they are only provided the white, Euro-centric lens to view the world through, are left to simply function within it. The ways of the current system appear to be unavoidable and to be based in some sort of perverse truth so individuals are left to settle for living in existing system, not changing it.

Mis-education is the systematic continuation of oppression via the guise of opportunity and social mobility. I am not outside of the system of
course, no one is. I do think it is all of our jobs to see mis-education for what it is, even if we are not yet able to see through it. I can’t help but wonder: what will happen in the future if we don’t learn to question?

3 thoughts on “Education: How We Learn to Not Question”

  1. So I understand the myth of meritocracy and how it is instilled through the education system but I wonder: why can’t we teach both the overcoming of adversity as it pertains to the textbook “white, cys, straight, nondisabled, Christian men” IN ADDITION TO marginalized groups of people overcoming adversity surrounding racism, sexism, heterosexism, and other forms of discrimination? And when we do talk about marginalized identities overcoming adversity, why do we have to frame it in the same way we frame the former example? Bravery, empowerment, confidence, etc. are all traits that should be admired in anyone and highlighted in an education system but I think that some people face different obstacles in trying to acquire those traits and their path needs to be explained for ALL of the bumps and curves in the path. Privileged people may not have the same bumps or curves.

  2. In America we so greatly value teaching children self-empowerment and this goes beyond education in schools. Children’s TV shows and movies also teach lessons of empowerment starting at a young age. Lessons of empowerment aren’t altogether a bad thing, but these media representations operate using a colorblind ideology and therefore are harmful, as you said Becky. I think that these teachings that start at such a young age operate in America as the foundation of the white person’s belief in a just-world, which further perpetuates the system as we know it.

  3. I was just thinking about this! We don’t learn to question or think critically until we get to college, and the percentage of people who go to college is actually very low. So the people who are benefiting the most from capitalism are the ones learning to question. Additionally, I was thinking about how “good schools” and “bad schools” differ in their pedagogical approaches. In another class, we were just discussing that students in “good schools” are taught more critical thinking, while students in “bad schools” are taught to obey the rules and obey the system. How can we change education policies so that all schools can learn to question from a young age if the people in charge of these policies are the ones benefiting the most from the current system?

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