(During a Presidential election year in America, this piece, first published: 4/14/2011, seems worth re-airing)
The United States, according to Chris Hedges, is destroying its system of education. A nation that destroys its systems of education, he writes, degrades its public information, guts its public libraries and turns its airwaves into vehicles for cheap, mindless amusement becomes deaf, dumb and blind. ..."
Hedges is surely right. But it seems equally certain that the process of destroying the American system of education is being undertaken without malice, intent or even awareness. System failure, whether in education, public transportation, healthcare or any other complex social arrangement is the inevitable result of evolutionary societal change.
In the beginning, education is rare and hard to come by. Those who get it are mostly people of exceptional talent and capacity for hard work. They are selected for their peculiar aptitude and schooled by a tiny group of committed scholars. They achieve brilliantly in a world of near universal ignorance.
Then every ambitious person wants their child to get an education. Taxes are raised, schools are built, thousands of teachers are hired. Some of the teachers are mediocre at best. Many of the students are not bright, some have no interest in learning. So this generation is mainly fit only for jobs in the public sector. Public demand (demand for public sector jobs, that is, not public sector services) results in a huge expansion of the bureaucracy, including the educational establishment.
Then comes the era of mass education. Everyone must have a university degree and a white collar job. Most school teachers are now incompetent. Most of them never teach: they become part of the management team. Someone invents the "bubble test", which can be marked by machine without the intervention of human intelligence at any point. Many university professors are ignorant and lazy. The students are mostly at uni only to socialize. The brightest are disgusted by their experience of "education" and shun an academic career.
Eventually everyone has a university degree and no one knows anything at all. Even the President of the United States.
In time, the economy collapses under the weight of an ever expanding burden of useless bureaucratic activity. Educational institutions decay for lack of funding. Furniture is removed for fuel wood, books for toilet paper. Buildings fall into decay and gradually disappear. Learning is despised and eventually forgotten. A new dark age ensues.
After a thousand years or so, some clever monk or hermit stumbles on a copy of Newton's "Principia," or a book of Napierian logs. They figure it out and tell other people. Some of the brightest students of this ancient wisdom form colleges where they train a few especially clever pupils. One of the newly educated elite unifies quantum theory and relativity. Practical men apply the new knowledge, making possible, among many wonders, faster than light travel, the generation of electricity from thunderstorms, and the renutrification of shit.
Then every ambitious person wants their child to get an education. Taxes are raised, schools are built, thousands of teachers are hired. Some of the teachers are mediocre ...