School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is.
— Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society
It goes without saying that education is crucial to our wellbeing and happiness. But what type of education is best? Before we can answer that question we have to first consider and define what exactly we are educating ourselves for. If it is for a life in the wage economy and the repetitive conveyor belts of industrialisation, administration and consumerism, then our current education system has a lot of merit, considering its unparalleled success in factory farming the human bodies and minds required to keep the Good Ship Economic Growth afloat. Its prowess in simultaneously stamping out our ability to question the cultural stories that form the hull of this ship shouldn’t go unrecognised either. In contrast, if education’s aim is to give us the best opportunity to live happy, deeply connected, sustainable, creative, free, holistic, compassionate and adventurous lives, what form would it take and how would it look?
If we believe that there is more to life than packing plastic or coming up with some technical innovation that makes cleaning the carpet easier, then we may want to rethink how we view education. Learning is something we couldn’t avoid even if we wanted to. Every moment of life is an opportunity to learn something, even if we are only doing it on a subconscious level. Therefore is it something we must necessarily do in a classroom, formally teaching children the skills they’d realistically need to get jobs in the global economy as it functions now? Or would we be wiser to educate ourselves for life through actual living, integrating our education into the fabric of daily life in the context of a community whose primary focus is to create a habitat for happy, healthy and creative people?
The next generation of humans undoubtedly going to inherit a world is very different to the one you or I grew up in, like it or not, considering the converging challenges we’re faced with. It is on that basis that I would argue that we must rethink how we do education. If our children’s future concerns revolve around how they are going to eat, or produce the panoply of other things that make up their basic survival needs, then is teaching them the advantages and disadvantages of Just-in-time inventory systems, or the Ten Key Rules of Retail Marketing, really the wisest way forward?
I’m not for a moment suggesting that all of the current educational system is wrong. Given the stories we’ve convinced ourselves of, it is probably the best we could have, and compared to many other countries we’re very lucky to have it. But there is an opportunity cost to this current system, one which I believe is too high a price to pay. We’re learning skills for an economy based on specialised division of labour in a high technology society, without any thought for the very basic needs of human life.
I was 22 before I planted my first seed. Bar the occasional blackberry, I had never been wild food foraging either. I didn’t know one tree from the next, let alone have any clue about which ones would be good for making chairs and which for making houses. I’d no idea how to communicate my feelings to girlfriends without it inevitably blowing up into an argument. I knew there were some ‘environmental’ problems in the world, but I had no understanding of how utterly important microbes, fungi, algae, earthworms and death were to the health of the entire biosphere and all that lived within it. I could produce profit and loss accounts for businesses with consummate ease, but I hadn’t the faintest idea of how to love someone unconditionally. In Last Child in the Woods,239 Richard Louv talks about ‘nature-deficit disorder’, which he claims has led to epidemic obesity, depression and attention-deficit disorder, amongst other things. Growing up in semi-rural Ireland, my symptoms weren’t quite as extreme as that, yet I am still only beginning to feel a full respect for the rest of life, such was the deep impact of my separation from Nature.
As I mentioned in chapter four, the reality of educating their kids is one of the most commonly cited reasons why parents tell me they couldn’t live moneylessly. And it is impossible to disagree with them, for all sorts of obvious reasons, within the context of how we live today. Yet if we changed the rationale behind education and learning, and consequently the ways in which we share skills and information with one another, whilst co-creating new designs for living that reflect this new perspective and which integrate learning into everyday life, then I see no good reason why it wouldn’t be possible.
Can you imagine a world where a child, instead of going to a suburban school, grows up in a community of people who want to educate their children for a life of creativity, connection, freedom and – heaven forbid – fun? Where one day little Benny goes out picking ramsons with his mother in the morning, before helping his father cook them up for lunch. A world which offers him the freedom to then go off and play with his friends in the afternoon, before coming back to read with his big sister in the evening. A way of life where the next day he is outside helping his neighbour Jim make a chair out of the coppiced willow that his uncle planted three years earlier. An educational system where Benny can come or go whenever he pleases, but almost always comes, whether it be to help his mum make plum jam from the fruits of their forest garden as she teaches him maths, to help his father plant some seeds, or to chase the ducks and chickens around the pond after collecting a basket full of eggs. Such a system chimes with the Nigerian Igbo’s saying, Ora na azu nwa, meaning: it takes a village to raise a child. If you can imagine anything resembling this, then keep reading, and resolve to do everything you can to educate your child in a way that rings true for you.
EDUCATION FOR A NON-MONETARY ECONOMY
In this chapter I am not going to ramble on about the types of learning systems we could dream up and put into action. There’s no need. People are already out there making them happen. Some of these are options which are already being done without any money, taxpayers’ or otherwise. Others, whilst currently functioning with the use of cash (and sometimes lots of it), have been included because a) they could quite easily function on a moneyless basis if we constructed gift economies for them to operate within and b) they are already actively encouraging their students and teachers alike to question the way we live today, and to dramatically change the spirit in which we do so. Therefore I include them all to highlight the range of transitional teaching methods we already have available to us, from which the educational forms of the future may spring.