Mindfulness and the Education Factory
The word education comes from the Latin educare – to lead out, and the best education systems lead us out of ourselves. Sadly, very few of us experience the best education systems. Schools and universities around the world often more closely resemble factories for churning out economically productive units than institutions for leading people out of themselves.
The educationalist Sir Ken Robinson has done a great deal to highlight the damage done to creativity in factory-model education systems around the world. He describes the experiences of many successful creative people who did badly at school and only found their ‘element’ when they had left and ‘recovered from their education’.
The idea that talented people need to recover from their education before they can flourish is a damning indictment of our education systems. Ken Robinson’s criticisms focus on the effect of the current education system on those students who don’t fit the traditional academic mould and whose talents aren’t recognised. But the system can also damage students who are not labelled academic failures. Indeed, many highly successful students are left equally scarred by their educational experiences.
This hidden damage is done because of the central role which fear plays in the educational factory model. An unstated assumption which underpins much of our education system is that without fear students will lack the motivation to learn. The problem with this model is that there is no empirical evidence to demonstrate that fear is an essential or even useful ingredient in the learning process, whereas there is considerable evidence to show the damage it can cause to students individually and collectively.
Unless and until our model of education changes radically, many students will need to develop tools which can help them to manage fear and anxiety so that they do not undermine their capacity to learn and to flourish. The practice of mindfulness does not offer a ‘quick fix’ for the structural problems of our education system but it can provide students with new and more skilful ways of approaching their anxieties. Our next blog post explores the relationship between fear and learning in a little more detail.