Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Monoculture By F.S. Michaels, Education, and Living Parallel to Culture

Personal views on education have gradually changed for our family over the years. While we value autonomy, freedom and learning we have come to understand that these values are not synonymous with the educational systems we have today. The ethics of education have changed. The economic cost of secondary education has created appalling debt. We have a culture of "learned" students without options. 

For our personal family, choices regarding freedom, autonomy and learning, involved many books and philosophical thought patterns which brought us to the choices that we make today. But one of the books that propelled us towards change a bit quicker was 'Monoculture' by F.S. Michaels. The book is short, concise, well researched, and worth the read. The book is based on the economic story that is overarching many disciplines and thus affecting our decisions within our culture collectively and our individual lives. For a quick book review CLICK here or amazon HERE. "F.S. Michaels' Monoculture...Winning the George Orwell award, being asked to speak at Alain de Boton's London School of Life, NPR, Brainpicker and now TEDs. It's definitely an idea worth spreading." (Quote taken from the Ted Talks' link HERE.)

The book does not have solutions to living parallel to cultural (which is a concept suggested) but instead show how economics shape our lives. F.S. postulates that the values of the past which included beauty, truth, justice, and freedom have been replaced by economic values such as capitalization, competitiveness, efficiency, and growth. The last few chapters encourage living parallel to cultural. Parallel is important because it's not reactionary. If we simply live contrary to culture we are just creating a similar problem in reverse. Plus, a reactionary response usually stems out of anger, and while this may be a legitimate stage in a journey, it should not be the end game. 

Most of us have enough autonomy to BE our own stories. At least where I live, there is the privilege of choice in many areas of life. With this freedom we can revolutionize our mind by changing our perspectives.

My personal beliefs on education transitioned from a large believer in secondary education, to student in a secondary college, to an online student, to drop out, to enrolling my own kids in school, taking my kids out to homeschool, and finally finding a way to incorporate unschooling methods (see side labels.) My way is not the only way nor the "right way," but it was the path that enabled me to live the F.S. Michaels concept of living "parallel to culture." Our family choices today are contemplated versions of parallel living. An important point of living parallel to culture is that it can not be mass produced or it simply becomes another culture. Instead with thought and respect we each get to actively think and choose how we live our own story. Thus, your children may be in school. You may be a supporter of secondary education. The reasoning behind WHY you choose what you choose and contemplating the history and cultural belief surrounding your choice is what's important.

"Education was thought of as a service to humanity, as a cornerstone of democracy. Through education, you came to an enlightened understanding of the world, became someone who could think critically, someone who knew how to participate effectively in society and how to hold democratic leaders accountable. Education was a public good, a social investment in our life together as a society. We believed that education improved us collectively whether we were personally the ones being educated or not. We used education to redistribute opportunity. Education would narrow the gap between the haves and have nots by making access to a better life more equal. If you started out at a disadvantage, through education you have a chance to improve your life."- F.S. Michaels.

F.S. Michaels continues to write upon the original process behind our institutionalized learning. While the story of education started out fantastic and honourable, the story of education and science changed. The economic story isn't simply just about money but it is about what is considered rational instead of what is the good of all. Entrepreneurs and marketing make education something to buy and sell at the educational institutionalized core. Education is now a service and ethical simplicity is no longer in the equation. "In the economic story, education is ushered into the world of markets and becomes a commodity. Students become buyers. Schools become sellers, service providers competing for business in the education services industry. The economic story says that education is a private good, not a public one. Education is something that helps you get ahead in life as an individual. Education matters, not because it will help you become a fully formed and informed citizen capable of participating effectively in society, but because it will help you get a better job, make more money, and improve your quality of life."- F.S. Michaels 

What is more alarming is the inequality in a time period that we mistakenly believe is full of equality and autonomy. Hundreds of students are giving up autonomy to owe debt to large companies and systems. Families are working to pay off debt in low end jobs while dreaming of the work they thought they would do with their degree. Education is supposed to be a free leavening agent for the peoples of the world, for each to have opportunity, freedom and choice. Instead higher education (debt free) is given to the few chosen who are privileged. Money is an important factor to freedom. Instead of learning how to manage it properly with blogs such as Mr. Money Moustache,(CLICK) we believe we will make money by paying to go to school to land that job we think we deserve instead of focusing on quality and responsibility.

"Those leery about taking on that kind of debt have fewer options than they once did. Scholarships and grants- money that doesn't have to be paid back- are now based more on merit than financial need, and the criteria used to measure merit are highly correlated with socio-economic status. In other words, students who are more affluent to begin with have higher merit scores, which makes them more likely to be awarded financial aide that doesn't have to be paid back. Education scholars observe that in the 21st century, more economic and racial inequality now exists in access to higher education than in the 1960's."- F.S. Michaels 

The decision to homeschool our kids came with many factors and none of them hinged on the future possibility for secondary education. If our children decide to attend higher education, so be it. Where there is a will, there is most often a way, and we are not too worried about it. They are learning quite a bit of "higher education" now, including a complete university level liberal arts education in podcast form (CLICK) . We want them to learn for the sake of learning and critical thinking. We want them to find jobs that get them out of debt or optimally to not get into debt to begin with. Their personal autonomy, responsibility, ethics, and outside the box thinking matters. Overall, we don't want them to be another cog in the wheel of conformity and competition. We don't wish them to base their value on competing or achievements which we felt was an overarching theme in traditional schooling. 

 "The economic story says you should choose which school to attend based not on the quality of the teaching but on the recognition and cachet of the school and it's degrees; a better brand represents a better return in your investment. In your classes, you compete against others to get ahead. You're ranked against your classmates and your ranking is largely based on how you preform as an individual. If you're independent, flexible, adaptive, fast, self governing, and entrepreneurial, you're someone to watch. High preforming, valued students are those who can help the school achieve its benchmarks in its own competition with other schools...because in the economic story your school educates you to give the country a competitive advantage in the global knowledge community...and to train workers for the workforce."- F.S. Michaels

"After science lost its moral high ground by creating the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in the second world war, science slowly became industrialized... Scientists now find ways to create knowledge, then find an application for it. Outside funding is a common theme. Winning contracts and grants outside becomes huge. What was once for the intellectual commons is now intellectual private property. Colleagues become competitors. Scholars are advised not to share findings....After all, research can generate major income. In 2000, licensing revenues for research results like the hepatitis B vaccine, the cancer drug Taxol, the sports drink gatorade, and vitamin D technologies topped 1.7 billion; revenues are typically split in thirds between the researcher, his or her department, and the university... Programs like Humanities become less valuable because they attract less outside money."- F.S. Michaels

Education is one segment of the themes of life that are shaped by the main economic story. F.S. Michaels also includes this main theme in creativity, religion, health care, nature, and relationships. These disciplines and their cultural mentalities are important to consider.

So, if most of us are living monoculturally, and are aware of it, what are we to do? What is an informed, truth seeking, citizen determined to have choice and freedom, for the greater good of humanity, to do in this economic educational story?  

The first time I read F.S. Michaels book, I felt slightly overwhelmed by HOW to live alongside monoculture. I remember wishing she would give real life, diverse examples of people who chose different paths at the end of her revelations. Not for a prescription of mass production but for a stepping off point or a spark for those who wish to implement change but don't even know where to begin. When we see the courage of difference in others, it's easier to find it in ourselves. When we witness people OWNING their stories, we in turn want to find the discipline and inspiration to own ours. It shouldn't look exactly the same, but someone else's story may encourage our OWN. Change is not easy and it's not one size fits all. 

For my family, it took years to get where we are today. We currently live and own our form of dignity. We have found a way to birth our life into something independent yet still reliant on community in healthy doses (and contributing to). Our life is based on simply LIVING our story and encouraging others to live theirs thoughtfully even if it differs vastly from ours. If, after pursuing the deeper meanings behind the cultural story, large picture and beliefs, one chooses to still be in facets of varied parts of culture, that is still a valid way of living. But if you are unhappy...if you find yourself resonating with the fact that economics are at the helm of your story, then find a way to change your story. This depends on what you think and who you become within your thoughts. As Gandhi challenges, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." I would highly recommend starting in your own world first. Who do you want to be and who are you now?  BE. Honour this moment and this story you are the main character in. Actively CHOOSE.

 I feel that living parallel to the current culture is a revelation to many. Healthy self and healthy community starts by having a thoughtful choice instead of being swept away by "one economic story that is shaping our Education, Creativity, Religion, Health care, Nature/Environment, Relationships ect. "- F.S. Michaels. 

Your personal story, WHOM you are, what motivates you, your thoughts and challenging yourself within these thoughts, matter. The quality of life depends on choice, which in turn is influenced by gut**(Click here for more thoughts on the gut and how it shapes your decisions) and thought. Beliefs are meant to be questioned. The reasons why we do things are just as important as implementing choice.

You ARE your story. Not the monoculture. Not the economic story you may happen to find yourself in. Perhaps that is your setting but it does not have to be the place where your ending is. Our stories involve what we tell ourselves everyday. Change the narration. Find a way that honours your personal beauty, freedom, justice and wisdom. 

Song Choice: Brick in the wall- Pink Floyd 
*All quoted material written by F.S. Michaels chapter on Education in Monoculture.

** check out the book Gut by Gulia Enders

American Idiot- Green Day


S said...

Very informative post, Kmarie. I watched both the videos, they are informative too. Thanks for sharing.
About monoculture and its parallel, I agree with the views of the writer. For me, it has been a life long struggle because I was educated in that system ( particularly in my Higher education where there was a pressure on conformity and not that much in my secondary education )yet revolted in many ways. It is frustrating sometimes when you have to convince the world about your own unique ideas that are regarded as weird. When we are having a family dinner or any group discussion, our alternative views disturb the people who are following the dominant culture. Earlier there used to be these big arguments when we were in a group setting and I started telling my (individual) stories. Some people are not ready to accept my story or my unique experiences ( regarding education, economy,money, society, alternative lifestyle, etc.etc. ). Even if these happened to be my own life story...they simply say that I am in a "weird" path. I agree that everything is valued on "economic" terms nowadays, everything is about profit and gain in terms of currency notes, everybody is learning the language of "economics" and "big corporates", spending money seems to be a sign of success and efficiency , even a person's value is dependent on his class/economic position nowadays. Yet, in old times, ( I come from a small town where money was not the standard of measurement of human value ) life was different. We went to schools which did not charge anything at all, our education was literally free and there was almost no pressure on us to become efficient.But times have changed. Adult human beings are fast becoming a robot who copies the movement of another robot or his master, rather than a becoming a being who has a "choice" or a "free will" or "unique intelligence". Come think of it, even babies have a mind of their own :))

Kmarie A. said...

Hey Sangha! You are welcome for the videos...I love passing on good info! it is frustrating! You would enjoy the book with the other chapters as well...I guess awareness is the first step. It's always a pleasure reading your comments.