Freedom of Belief and Beliefs in Education

Warren Kinston 29. June 2012 18:00

The problem with freedom of belief is that scientists now think they have the answer. Theories are now given the status of truth. So subjugation by the church has been replaced by subjugation by science and ideology.  

One superstition is replaced by another. As a result, the battle to promote beliefs in education is intense.

But the flag I want to wave is emblazoned with freedom. So let's see where that takes us in regard to education.

My starting point is that the emerging 21st Century enlightenment must help us all move away from superstitious dependence on ideologies and theories. (Of course, they must not be rejected because of their misuse by many, anymore than the Church should be rejected because of its misuse by many.)

I look to an era of freedom of thought and, at a personal level, I suspect that this cannot be separated from freedom of belief. We think and think and think, and then we come to believe. Strangely,  freedom of belief includes the freedom to accept and hold ideas, ideologies and theories as tools.  It does not entail enslavement. Once you are enslaved by a belief, then you are no longer free. As evidence, you become inclined to enslave others so they can be like you! So much for your freedom.

I realize that means taking on society’s two mammoth authoritarian structures: the scientific establishment and the political establishment. And as the topic is "beliefs in education", then I may be taking on the educational establishment too.

So be it.

The problem in belief is not about action.  What people do needs to be judged in terms of the situation.  Belief becomes an issue when it comes to education in the form of indoctrination.  What will we force children to believe?  In the left corner wearing the red and black boxer shorts we have scientists wanting children to be taught evolution.  And in the right corner wearing the white cowl, we have religionists wanting children to be taught creationism.

Or can we avoid a fight by having them taught both in a balanced way? 

To answer that question you have to ask what education is for.  For me, it is not about indoctrination.  It is about freeing individuals to determine their own values, choose their own belief systems, and pursue their own goals.  It is far closer to Freedom than to Understanding.

So I would say teach children neither evolution nor creationism, because the question these theories answer ("how we got here") is a philosophical issue.  It used to be handled by mythology.  (It still is but we disguise that fact.)

In my view, education is about freeing up individuals to think for themselves, and to gain knowledge that will be relevant to their future life and the needs of their society and indeed of humanity.  To get in the right frame of mind, imagine how useful it would be to teach children about the endless striving for power and control.  I certainly wish someone had taught me about that.  We could also teach about the corrupting influence of money.  I heard nothing about money when I went to school.  We should certainly teach about when to respect authority and how to recognize that fateful desire to submit so as to avoid thinking and personal responsibility.

Although abhorring control and domination of any sort, I believe that education should be compulsory as a pragmatic protective measure.  Fortunately, a general awareness of the importance of education now permeates all societies and cultures. 

Education should first focus on methods.  Literacy, numeracy and reasoning are primary.  We don’t have to teach intuition and common sense because that is everyone’s default position.  However, opportunities for creative play should be provided because those may be absent at home.  When a child is fearful and defended through rigidity of parent thinking, or (God forbid) neglect or abuse, education can provide an opportunity for freedom and growth.

There is certainly substantive knowledge that should be communicated, but I would keep that to absolute fundamentals: enough so that a person can pursue learning further on their own initiative.  This should certainly include the basics of geography, biology, and social life because people need to know something about their world, their body, and how societies function.

I think children should be given the current story (called «history» but it is just a story) of society.  Why?  Because some socialization is required so growing children know where fate has placed them.  However, at the same time education should be reflective, so at adolescence (and possibly earlier) children should be taught that the story of their society is being continually re-written.  They must realize that shameful episodes are hidden, that the powerful in society will unduly influence the selection of facts and the perspectives, and that animal-like impulses for domination and superiority are difficult to manage.

But when it comes to the deeper aspects of science, then I believe it should be a personal choice.  Chemistry, physics, geology, physiology and other topics get taught according to the prevailing state of knowledge.  In this context, it is unlikely that creationist views will provide much help if you want to become a biologist.  By contrast, it could be useful if your goal is to be a pastor serving a fundamentalist religious community.

What about teaching of ideologies?  I have no trouble with this in the plural.  However, we have to recognize that any teacher will naturally value his/her own ideologies and teach with that bias.  Anything else is impossible.  The only solution is a public awareness of this and exposure of children to teachers who represent differing ideologies.

Could this mean that just as we have church schools e.g. schools that indoctrinate Catholicism, so should we have political schools e.g. schools that indoctrinate socialism?  (That happens, but it is just not stated so bluntly.)  Teachers largely depend for their salaries on a redistribution of the earnings of others.  I wonder how many countries select their teachers from the entrepreneurial market-centred sub-class?  Unless they do, how can children be taught the value of enterprise with passion and enthusiasm?

I believe we do and we should have ideology-centred schools, but I would prefer them to be reserved for consenting adults.  You want to be an entrepreneur?  Then you really need to know the values and beliefs that make markets and competition operative.  You want to be a pastor for a community?  Then you need a value system that enables you to help people deal with the suffering that is man’s lot.  You want to be an academic biologist?  You need to embrace philosophies of inquiry and modes of thinking that lead to productive scientific research.

With this approach, beliefs suitable for education are none other than the beliefs needed to enable a preferred constructive contribution to society. 




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Warren Kinston is the creator of the THEE-Online website as an open forum for the further discovery and development of THEE. He writes this blog as an escape valve for the excitement and frustrations of the work. More info here.

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