'We need grades for kindness, honesty and integrity'

What kind of people does our education system want to produce? It's time to focus on pupils' humanity, says James Glasse

James Glasse

Coronavirus: In the current crisis, with fierce debate about reopening schools, kindness matters more than ever, writes Leora Cruddas

We are being routinely and casually dehumanised on a daily basis. 

As our mainstream and other media have become weaponised by computer science, we are told in a thousand subliminal messages to “Be afraid or buy our stuff”, with the result that millions of us have frozen like proverbial rabbits in the headlights. 

Meanwhile, our elections are gamed and our liberal and democratic institutions are challenged like never before. Perhaps that’s exactly how some demagogues would have it. Is it perhaps because a cynical minority have realised that citizens in a state of permanent fight, flight or freeze are that much more malleable? 

Even before our societies were tweaked by algorithms, George Orwell prophetically put it: “In our age there is no such thing as 'keeping out of politics.' All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.”

Because I am lucky enough to teach the great works of William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Orwell (among very many others), I often ask myself what such great minds would have thought of the times in which we now live. 

Education is a weapon against fake news

In a global society that is increasingly dominated by fake news, the truth starts where social conditioning ends. Yet the irony is that, the rarer that truth becomes, the more valuable it turns out to be.

And education has to be the solution. More than ever, we need to be bringing up the next generation of free, independent thinkers. Rather than our education system reflecting society, perhaps the reverse needs to be true. If we have an education system worth its salt and based on fundamental human truths, maybe we could start to cure the sickness around us. 

After all, where are the grades for kindness, honesty and goodness? Who won the prize for integrity? The cup for courage? The book token for humility? Is loyalty even a word any more?

What kind of people does our education system want to produce? Or are we just in the business of social conditioning to produce the next generation of malleable worker drones? Slaves to the next cohort of billionaires or trillionaires, for whom more can never be enough as we continue to rape and pillage our planet? 

In an era when disruptors are held up as role models, why should we be surprised that so many of our leaders display sociopathic, narcissistic and even psychopathic tendencies? Why are we amazed that we are routinely cheated, lied to and stolen from? The system we are in is bound to produce more of the same.

Animal instincts

Except that it doesn’t have to be like this. In his celebrated novel Lord of the Flies, William Golding conveys the message that human beings must have rules, authority and government in order to maintain a safe environment. Freed from discipline, rules and governmental regulations, the novel’s characters return to animal instincts.

Orwell’s message was that totalitarian governments – whether left-wing or right-wing – spell disaster, and we have the 20th-century examples of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia as brutal reminders of that fact. 

When Orwell wrote 1984, he was concerned that governments were moving towards totalitarianism. He worried that these governments might start taking away more and more of people's rights and freedoms. Sound familiar

Yet humans are much more altruistic than we are given credit for. This is not who we are, nor is it our nature. I am regularly astonished and nourished by the wisdom of children. No child was ever born racist. 

We need to walk away from the lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. Our great writers were never afraid of talking truth to power and exposing charlatans. 

Shakespeare created Macbeth to show us the devastating impact that unchecked ambition without moral constraints can have. He never shied from reminding us that greed and ambition unchecked can destroy us all: “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.” 

We need to remember who we really are. We need to rehumanise, and fast. The future of our planet is at stake. 

James Glasse is a writer, tutor and education consultant 

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