Freedom is to learn…
If fear is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10, almost), then perhaps wisdom should now be very fearful…
Generalities never tell each individual story, but statistics do have their own kind of reality. In this way, the divisions exposed by patterns of voting in the Referendum are deep, painful and dangerous. Young against old; powerful against powerless; affluent against poor; privileged against underprivileged; cultured against voiceless; advantaged against disadvantaged; superior against inferior. Each speaks to our own subjectivity with greater or lesser power. But the one coupling that embraces them all, here and across the world, is that of masters and slaves.
For those whose lives are deeply involved in and committed to education, perhaps the most compelling division in the Referendum is the one being described as between educated and uneducated
According to figures, around 75% of 18 to 24-year-olds voted Remain, compared to around 40% of over 65s.
A recent analysis of the patterns of voting in the Referendum, show that 64% of those young people who were registered did vote, rising to 65% among 25-to-39-year-olds and 66% among those aged between 40 and 54. It increased to 74% among the 55-to-64 age group and 90% for those aged 65 and over. It is thought that more than 70% of young voters chose to remain in the EU.
There is a dominant form of education that perpetuates social divisions. This model of education is how one moves from slave to master, leaving some behind while others advance. For those left behind, or priced out of higher education, Brexit looked like an immediate opportunity to unleash an earthquake under the relatively comfortable intellectual class. At its root, this is a failure of education to spread its values and its benefits widely enough. But also at root, it is a political failure to support educational values in the caves which the philosopher-kings have left well behind.
Education, fear, and Brexit.
A different kind of education dominated the Referendum. Education as fear was employed by both sides. One sought to win its arguments negatively—we will all be worse off—one sought to win its arguments positively—we will be able to get our country back. As such, it never rose from being an astoundingly ill-informed, largely ignorant, impoverished debate where lies fuelled fear. Only now, after the Referendum, are people getting the kind of information about the EU that was needed before the Referendum. Education as fear is not a legitimate means to conduct a Referendum. Education as fear is not the legitimate basis of a democratic vote. In educational terms this Referendum lacks any credibility.
But it is the fear that was told it could be alleviated by ‘sending them home’ that has now changed the landscape. For months, editors exercised their power over those who felt ignored and forgotten. Newspapers turned the volume control of the fear and anger of their readers up or down, as required. Scapegoats were provided at whom to aim the anger that accompanies fear. Where there are scapegoats, what passes for education takes one of its most dangerous forms—immediately satisfying, and without accountability to self-critique. And when the tomorrow which was promised by some—as if it belonged to them—proves not to be as it was advertised on the label, greater and greater fear will require ever more scapegoats, requiring even less self-critique… until education as fear simply feeds upon itself. It brooks no education that opposes it. Perhaps no books have been burned yet, (or Mosques, or Polish shops, or Synagogues) but the forces to do so have been emboldened, and lie ready should the volume control of fear need to be raised in the future.
Education and power
The project of community in Europe will likely fracture, and the United Kingdom may cease to be United. Even having to think about defending friends, colleagues, students from becoming outsiders is already a victory of education as fear. ‘They’ have to be defended… They were not ‘they’ a week ago.
It is a sad truth that politics knows political education only as a logic of mastery. The Referendum was fought out purely in terms of just such a logic of mastery: stronger in, or stronger out. Eton wins either way. This education for mastery corrupts itself. The educated masters, the philosopher kings, local, national and European, never return to the cave, fuelling anger against educated elites, perceived to be eating at high tables while watching the hunger games play out beneath them.
Education used as the power of mastery does not yield a sustainable freedom, a green freedom. No political party it seems yet has a language, a vocabulary, that can express the fear of the other as a fear that is the beginning of wisdom.
Education and Modern Liberal Arts
Our tradition is European. Our resource is education. Our theory and practice is learning. We know Liberal Arts is traditionally the education of the masters for the masters. But from within its integrated vision of education, we are trying to retrieve an educational truth based not on a logic of mastery, but on a logic of learning. Here the Western mind examines itself. It interrogates its complicity with mastery. It learns to laugh and cry at its follies and its profundities; it learns to understand its imperialisms and vulnerabilities; and it learns to transform mastery into educative self-critique.
This logic of learning is not an immediate solution to society’s ills. It is not a quick fix. It does not satisfy the impatient. But whatever challenges face us, in the end education is all we have. It is part of the logic of education that it send its practitioners into the world with a deep faith in the educative power of difficult questions. It sends out educational workers bearing the struggles for educational truths in whatever jobs or roles they might have. For these educational workers education is not power and mastery, it is the way in which educational truths of universal significance are lived out in individual lives.