WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
author: Vladimir Unkovski-Korica
"We don't need no thought control!" (Pink Floyd)
Thus, what we must do, what we have been forced to do, is to challenge the main facets of our educational and other systems as we have seen them so far, nationally and internationally, and to suggest some ideas that common sense dictates shall better our world and set up a system by which we shall enhance our society. What follows is what can be called our preliminary suggestions, a description of some of the ways in which education can be changed and improved. They are in no way meant to be final, all-embracing or detailed. We are not all-knowing and omnipotent; we are a generation that has seen many of the wrongs of the world and we point to a way forward, that shall always have to be persisted in, changed, enhanced, adapted, planned, democratically controlled... We do not pose the solution to all our problems; but we offer ideas and propose methods by which solutions shall be reached, or newer and better methods to reach them attained. We must, in Yugoslavia, take our lives into our own hands.
Our Preliminary Suggestions
We have seen that, for each stage of development of human society, a set type of education accompanied a set type of social and economic relations. This is to an extent natural; laws of any kind of development are dictated by the given material conditions. It is our belief, however, that the role of education was often one that helped reproduce the status quo that benefited the ruling economic and political caste or class, as we had mentioned in our previous articles. In fact, to phrase it more precisely, schooling was subordinated to the interests of this class, and could be defined as one of the instruments and ways used to maintain the type of economic production and political model that the ruling class desired. It became a source of misery in itself, both for the enslaved children and growing adults. Rousseau put it well: 'The neglected education of my fellow-creatures is the grand source of the misery I deplore.'
So, schooling was meant to control, influence or direct the way people thought, felt and behaved. The way, in other words, in which people lived and worked. It is necessary to emphasise that we, and an increasing number of people globally, believe that the combination of ways that society and education have been and are organised are morally deplorable and the cause of many of the crises we see in the world today. They need, therefore to be changed: from a system based on profits and the maintenance of a sickening status quo, to a system based on human need, equality, freedom and comradeship. It is only when these priorities are understood and accepted that we can work towards a more humane world:
'The main hope of a nation lies in the proper education of its youth.'
Indeed, if we change the word 'a nation' to 'the world', this would be the essence of any new system we wanted to build, here in Yugoslavia, as an example, and the world as a whole. So, what are the main characteristics of the system we propose?
STATE FINANCE AND REGULATION - which we have already stated to be superior to and more beneficial than private education. Schools must stay in state hands for the foreseeable future! Having already gone into the problems posed by privatisation in education, and having mentioned some of the benefits of leaving schools with the state, we must now be more specific about some of these advantages. (Naturally, we presume this type of state is not the same type as the "socialist" state of the Cold War, nor the one we see in the West. Our presumption is based on a new system, on the potential of the state as an abstract notion and its potentially benign character. Needless to say, how that state would come about is a separate, but not entirely unconnected, topic.) The main benefits of keeping education in state hands would be:
I. Profiteering in its capitalist form would disappear, since education and schools would be seen as an investment for the future, a place where children are reared, a new generation born. A place like that is not to be used for the extraction of profits, but for the creation of a new generation. Large investments would be placed in education instead of into such spheres as the State bureaucracy (police vans, police equipment for pursuing petty criminals and oppressing a class, instead of rooting out large-scale criminals and the like), the army, etc. Imagine the benefits to the country and the world, if the US did not invest the hundreds of billions for its defence budget, but spent it on education. Imagine the effects if everyone did this!
II. Class (regional and other) differences would begin to be minimised, and perhaps even seen to be unnecessary to society; they would not be crucial to a person's education; since education would be open to all, not just the rich. n other words, all would be forced to attend state schools, and background would lose importance. If schools were considered the extension, and inseparable part, of the home (that is, family relations were encouraged in the schools themselves), the extreme differences in the society, which would hopefully be questioned as a result of the new type of education, would, thus, not count for as much as they do. More resources and opportunities for research would be available at school than at home, so the rich would not have a monopoly on information. Racism and similar problems could also be tackled in this way; these problems are most often based on prejudices fostered at home or the local community. Spending more time in school with a more brotherly and cosmopolitan environment would help resolve differences in a revolutionary and progressive, rather than reactionary and regressive, way.
III. It can facilitate the integration of schooling into a planned, yet libertarian society. It must plan and direct, in the sense that our society is in too much chaos for us to hope that this can be sorted out without planning. Simultaneously, planning is necessary to bring about the changes named above. The planning would be for human need. Its character would be libertarian in the sense that the planning, state and education system would be democratic, not imposed by a disconnected bureaucracy or a ruling class.
IV. It could help oversee standards better and raise standards (and standardise where need be). We have already mentioned huge investments, at the expense of huge profits, the state bureaucracy, the army, and other useless or cruel characteristics of most societies today. These investments could be used for better equipment, more and much better paid teachers and other staff, the establishment of a more friendly and resourceful environment for teachers, students and staff, such as fewer students per class. There would be more money, too, for other new and special programmes that shall be mentioned later.
DEMOCRACY AND STUDENT CONTROL - would prevent the State and school system from becoming as they were in "socialism" and as they are in the Western world. The call for democracy and freedom is a moral and practical one. We hold the belief that freedom is one of the goals of any new system because it takes the moral axiom that all men are equal and have the right and obligation to run society. So, to democratise schooling is not just moral in itself, because it allows the students to run their own lives as a community, but it is also practical because it prepares the students to live in just such a free society and it helps stop various malpractices and problems characteristic of non-libertarian schooling.
This democracy we have mentioned and its character need much description, analysis and explanation for which we do not have time. Some basics, though, need to be mentioned and briefly discussed.
Like the State, schooling would have to be almost entirely or entirely democratised. What does this mean? Firstly:
1. All officials would have to be elected by a direct vote.
2. They would be subject to recall at any time.
3. They could hold no extraordinary privileges, such as high wages or exemptions from the law.
Naturally, this cannot mean, in the case of schools, for the foreseeable future, that teachers would be elected from the student body. It would mean, however, that de jure and de facto, the students would have an extremely extended role in the running of their schools. This implies quite a lot but we shall attempt to summarise it (student control) for the benefit of all and for lack of time during this crisis.
Schools exist in the world that have followed in the footsteps of, and have made strides forward in comparison with, Summerhill School in England. Perhaps one such example should be named: Shaker Mountain School, in the U.S., founded in 1968 (links to some of these shall be provided). Some of the major positive characteristics of this and similar schools include:
1. Students not having to attend lessons they do not desire to attend (perhaps this should be taken further, to students taking an active part in the setting of the curricula).
2. Students having the right and obligation of self-management. This includes the making of major financial, organisational and other decisions.
3. All students and staff participating in the control of the school, through meetings, elected assemblies and commissions, and much besides.
4. Rules made and enforced by and for the students and staff themselves.
What are the major effects and benefits of such a system? There are many.
Firstly, people would finally be taught the art of democracy from their youth, and if we want to create a democratic society, this would be the first one truly on course to being democratic.
Secondly, pupils would finally have their freedom and would have taken control of their lives out of others' hands and into their own. This in itself would be a most moral act. As Neill, the founder of Summerhill, put it, 'New generations must be given the chance to grow in freedom. The bestowal of freedom is the bestowal of love. And only love can save the world.' Even if this formulation is a little naive, democracy would teach empathy [a feeling of solidarity for others in their emotions]. People would be more listened to, more observed, their emotions more visible, noticed and more taken into account (especially if and when decisions are taken on consensus rather than by simple majorities). What would that mean? To quote Daniel Goleman, formerly a lecturer in the field of psychology at Harvard, from his book Emotional Intelligence: 'studies in Germany and the United States found that the more empathic people were, the more they favour the moral principle that resources should be allocated according to people's needs'. That is something we want to achieve, for what is more human than attempting to give everyone what they require? Not only this, and the formation of a more moral society, would be the effect. These would also include: a more rational social behaviour/sense among the students; a raised sense of freedom but also responsibility; more efficient democratic governance; more moral ways of running society...and much else. People would become more enthusiastic about everything they do because they would see that they hold some real power in their hands and that their wishes, needs and decisions do matter.
Thirdly, malpractices at school level (as at state-level) would be drastically minimised trough democratisation. Funds would be better allocated (more rationally and fairly), discipline would be more general and less cruel (or not too lax) and both teachers and students would have to take more care of standards, behaviour, expression and much else besides. The state could not get away with inefficiency or malpractice, and vice versa, since the state would have representatives among the staff (that is, the state would retain representatives in schools to monitor progress and evaluate success, the formula for which is not something we can realistically go into).
Fourthly, groundless hierarchies, privileges and rigidities would begin to disappear. Social relations would become freer and more moral as a direct result. Hopefully, class awareness would prompt people to seek the best ways to solve all the problems that arise from class struggle. Racism would have to be dealt with directly (since democratisation would put everything in the open), and would thus also be dealt with more efficiently. Living together with one's fellows at school, and spending less time at home, would partially help to solve this problem, since it would show differences in race to be simply differences, not qualities or inferiorities.
Fifth: the ability of people to influence the running of a more democratic society would be enhanced, and the chances of Enron and similar cases occurring would be minimised.
NEW METHODS OF TEACHING TO PROMOTE EMOTIONAL COMPETENCE AND MORE ABLE THOUGHT - would have to be found in order to overcome many of the problems we have mentioned previously. These problems would include:
1. Education taken to be the artificial pumping of information into people's minds, with no regard for thought or feeling, and the periodic testing of whether they can reproduce the formal knowledge or not. This necessarily destroys happiness, efficiency and motivation.
2. Over-specialisation, rendering people disconnected from their surroundings, their work, and other people and workers; leaving them over-dependent on the market.
Descartes had stated, 'cogito ergo sum.' Indeed, the process of education that assists and encourages students to develop the abilities of rational thought, the control of emotions, and effective communication with peers and others, is far more important and ethical than simply teaching people how to pass examinations. Why so? Well, is the ability to recite hundreds of poems the same as the ability to write one oneself? Is cramming the abstract lessons of physics the same as knowing how to apply the knowledge in practice? Is the ability of a person to answer standardised mathematical questions, reproduce definitions and recapitulate theorems the same as that person's knowledge and understanding of Mathematics as a whole? No, it cannot be. For many can learn a formula and apply it; not everyone can understand where the formula came from and why it is applied. In other words, people need to be taught in such a way that they arrive at conclusions through questions and thought, that is empiricism and dialectics, rather than through dogmatically set methods. They need to know how to apply that knowledge. They need to know how to know. The reasons for this are simple: people cannot be free, happy and effective unless they know how to think rationally and how to learn. Society cannot be prosperous and fair unless its individuals possess these skills, and are critical, creative, socially capable, practically skilful, and open. Moreover, the democracy we mentioned cannot exist unless people as we have just described them. Society itself cannot exist unless people have knowledge, that is, information that they know how to use. And so, if it does not exist, individual human persons would cease to exist too.
How is it that, when people finish University here, many complain that they are not competent to do their job? This is probably because they have had no working experience, or have information that they cannot connect with the practical aspect of their work, and so on. Yet, would it not be relatively simple for experts to re-arrange the educational system for people to be able to learn and connect, think and explore, instead of simply read and learn, read and learn? Would it not be of more use and more moral to keep people at school an extra few hours to play chess, debate, construct various projects, participate in sports, and so on, than to go home and do homework they do not see the point of, and, consequently, end up ignoring in favour of outings to suspect bars and cafes, if not worse, for lack of alternatives?
Schools must, contrary to their current practice, develop the human individual to his or her fullest extent. That must include the physical to a rational extent. Activities like individual and group sports, martial arts and other similar activities (like Yoga?) must be given space in all institutions. The reasons for this are numerous. Mens sana in corpore sano. That is, since physical activity is important for the physical health of students, which must always be a priority in itself, and physical health is connected to academic and emotional ability, sports and similar activities must become available and must be encouraged. They may, furthermore, enhance students' abilities in such areas as co-operation and teamwork, if their competitive aspect were dealt with in the proper manner. These prerequisites are essential to the bringing up of a healthy and better generation than the previous one. Naturally, that would have an impact on the development of society as well. Some may even find that the most apt career for them is in such fields a sport. So, everyone must be offered the opportunity to spend a portion of their time on sports fields, in sports halls, and so on.
To develop the balanced and creative individual, a special emphasis must be placed on the arts. These are special in themselves, since they touch on a very important human need and talent: the ability to imagine and produce, think up and construct. As W. B. Yeats put it, 'education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire'. Any human society is primarily based on this special capability (of 'lighting a fire'), so enhancing it is of utmost significance. The high point in education is when people are able to explore their own talents. Often, these would include sculpture, painting, music, poetry, film, photography, and other similar disciplines. Consequently, the material and professional conditions for this must be met. The high point for any society is that point when its members do not view their material survival as a luxury and preoccupation, and can pursue what most interests and fulfils them. Surely, that is where we must be headed?
It is also equally important that educationalists in Yugoslavia and worldwide finally understand that the relationship between IQ and amount of learnt information is not always the most apt indicator of success. What is most often ignored is the skill and aptitude of students in social and emotional terms. Many psychological experts, like the above-named Goleman, argue that people's ability to cope with their emotions is often as important or more important than people's examination results. People's happiness, determination, and emotional and social skills and well-being should be an end in themselves (but they are also a means: a happy worker is a more productive one). No one can deny, furthermore, that chronic anxiety, aggressiveness and depression can drive people in undesired directions, and can pose serious individual (or personal) and social problems. The fact that these are on the increase is undeniable and extremely worrying. Often, too, it is in schools that a significant number of people can be saved from (or, if badly treated, as is often the case, can be pushed into) major psychological problems.
Many test programmes have been developed which have so far (a few years) had considerable success in helping a large number of pupils overcome potential emotional and psychological problems and illnesses. There have mostly occurred in the United States, and examples include Seattle Social Development Project, Resolving Conflict Creatively Program, and The Improving Social Awareness-Social Problem Solving Project. These mostly attempt to teach people how to recognise and label emotions, understand them, learn to express and control them more effectively, and fit into society better. So, incorporating what is being learnt in psychology into schooling, whether in the form of group psychology lessons, individual therapy at school, or the increased psychological training of teachers themselves, prompting a change in teaching methods, would also be a significant step forward in education. Changes to society and children's material conditions would also be of significance in the prevention of psychological and educational problems, and the increased creativity and happiness of pupils in a more effective educational system. To do this, on a wide scale and in a planned manner, implies, too, the presence of the state.
The above-described proposals would be of great importance in any transitional phase to a more ideal schooling system and society, since our schooling system and society are undeniably mired in psychological problems after more than a decade of catastrophic rule. In better preparing people intellectually and emotionally for life, we also set the foundations for a better society in the future, with many related problems (which are increasingly reaching epidemic proportions worldwide), like apathy, ignorance, crime, alcoholism, drugs, sexually transmitted diseases, corruption and so on, the direct the results of our material environment, being tackled. These changes in schooling, in other words, are a noteworthy change to our environment, and to society as a whole. As a result, people would understand things differently, and the need for each of these features and problems would begin to disappear. People who think and are empathic cannot be used, know how to use democracy better, connect better to other people, cope with changes, enjoy challenges and work, prevent over-specialisation and superficiality, and so on. Changing man changes society.
FLEXIBILITY OF CURRICULA AND THEIR CONNECTION TO REAL WORK - It should also become clear that education is not just about developing the intellectual or emotional capabilities of students. Although these are important, it has often been forgotten around the world that there are those for whom an academic career is not appealing, whether because their talents lie elsewhere or they find other activities more of a challenge. Thus, there is a need, firstly, to recognise the needs and desires of such a section of the population, who are by no means inferior to anyone else by virtue of the fact that their line of interests, talents and, ultimately, work, is different. Secondly, then, there is the need to plan schooling for their needs also. This should mean that a wide range of vocational subjects should be available at school and that apprenticeships in various professions should be organised as part of people's education. Examples may include carpentry, more detailed computing, agriculture or needlework. Perhaps we, in Yugoslavia, have always been more progressive than most in this area, but the system should be liberalised to the extent that people could have a more flexible choice and more experience (all should have this, not just those inclined towards physical work) at the workplace than has ever been the case. In this way, we would bring people's education directly into contact with the world of work, and people would more easily see the relevance of their work, or more easily be able to choose the line of work they want to enter. They would be, in all, better prepared for life.
The role of specialisation is also one that needs to be considered. It would undoubtedly be ridiculous to have a total disregard for what society needs in terms of the necessary division of labour within it. Specialisation should definitely not be as extreme as it is in, for example, the British system. The need for a broad and libertarian curriculum, with new ways of assessment, continuous, practical and exam-based, would be most apt for the foreseeable future. A more specialised curriculum towards the end of secondary school and at university, with a wider choice of subjects and activities, would also, in connection with newer methods and more direct contact with practical work for all, be of great use to individuals and to society as a whole.
The proposals set forth on these pages offer some ways in which to fundamentally improve schooling in Yugoslavia and worldwide. They are general and meant to be discussed. More importantly, however, they may sound like a dream or a utopia. That, indeed, is what they are. For no fundamental change of educational system can occur that is fundamentally set against the material (and other) relations in a given society. We note, for example, that to introduce a Summerhill-inspired educational system in capitalist Yugoslavia would be unreal; were there not attempts to close Summerhill itself in capitalist Britain? Another problem would be giving complete freedom to a generation which does not know how to use freedom responsibly. The freedom would clearly have to come in stages.
In conclusion, a transitional period has to exist to bring any sort of meaningful and effective change to our system, but, simultaneously, we have to agree, to move towards a libertarian form of education, we necessarily have to change society in that direction as well. We take it as axiomatic that the person who is in principle agreement with our general proposals sees the need for a democratic society, oriented to the needs and wants of the individual in society.
The bankruptcy of the previous "socialist" and current Western educational systems is obvious after our analysis. Many would now surrender to the dominant system and hope to carry on with a "normal" life. We see, though, that "normal" life is almost everywhere impossible given the orientation of the social and educational systems worldwide. There is, then, need for dramatic change. We have mapped out in a very general fashion where we want to go. It is, under given circumstances, a viable alternative. Now, we have to map out how to get there and how to create these circumstances.
As it is clear that change will not come of itself, we as students have to force change.
It is fruitless to attempt to do so through regular channels, that is, the various unions, the proposed parliament and other student bodies. Their futility is illustrated by their state in the West, and by the extent of degradation to which our system has slipped. The very nature itself of these typically Western mediums for struggle and modes of organisation is rotten to the core. This is easily demonstrated. When people are elected for a longer period without opportunity for recall, they naturally ignore the desires of their constituents or those who choose them, and, as a consequence of the individualistic society and its education, they use the position for their own benefit. In the previous article we mentioned Spain as an example of where parliamentary democracy ignores the will of the people. Even though the government got a mandate to rule, it ignored the will of the people as expressed on that given issue. The government and parliament, therefore, had pursued the interests of big business, which wanted to plunder schooling through privatisation, and became, more or less, synonymous with them. Already in Yugoslavia too, members of parliament are also overseeing or directing the work business firms (clanovi su radnih odbora u mnogim preduzecima), while other dignitaries hold other economically important posts that, perhaps, suggest their impossibility to perform well in the functions they hold, or their lack of impartiality. Perhaps an example is that a certain minister is the head of a particular trade union bureaucracy...
It cannot, then, be surprising that such laws as those on university fees are passed by parliament, creating a situation in which only the rich can educate their youth. Or that those on work can be passed, in which workers can be laid off almost at will. We need not go into details and names. We need only comment that no one opposed fundamental changes with regard to these laws. The only difference between the governing coalition and the "opposition" was the extent to which they wanted the current laws to be liberalised, the extent to which to take people's lives out of their hands; that is, whether to subject them to the mercy of international or of local Capital and bureaucracies. We propose a different path, fundamentally different to those pursued by our political elite, or the political elite of any nation. We propose a path different to the one officially recommended and instituted. We propose the path of students' democracy, self-organisation and action.
When no one is listening to us, we must organise ourselves into popular councils. In each school and university across the nation, the youth, the students and the teachers and experts must form popular councils, based on the democratic principles already mentioned. They must strive, as much as possible under given circumstances, to:
1. Influence the course of the reforms. To make the government realise for whom education exists; how it should best be organised, reflecting the will of the students; how to minimise corruption; and so on.
2. Get people to reflect upon, analyse and better understand current society, what it should look like, and how to create it. Crucially, this means a crystallisation of the people's interests, and the taking of democracy from powerful interest groups into the hands of the self-organised people.
3. Set in motion a process that will achieve the goals set out above, that will embrace permanent change, and that will work towards a society based on human need, desire and happiness. The fulfilment of individuals within a new society.
4. Serve as an example for other groups in the country, the Balkans and internationally on how to organise themselves and act when their vital interests are at stake.
5. Use any means, including recommendations, demonstrations, and other, including self-management, in order to force changes in society, whether physically or by example. Assume power by and for the people!
We call on all to begin implementing these measures as soon as possible. From discussion groups to councils in schools, from samizdat pockets to massive popular actions. We call on students, teachers, professors, school staff, those who should be at school and cannot be for some reason, young workers and all who sympathise with our ideals to join in and help us all construct a new system for the new millennium!
If anyone needs any kind of help at all, or desires to help us in our task to raise social awareness and form a new society (through, for example, helping us organise the student councils), or seeks a fresh perspective on events unfolding in our society, visit our site: crveni.tripod.com, or write to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org!