From time to time, the implementation of a new school curriculum gives rise to controversies in which we can find all kind of arguments and positions: the current school curriculum is obsolete because it was created to satisfy the demands of the Industrial Revolution and now we have a different productive system; creativity rather than memorization should be encouraged; we should teach to learn and attach less value to the specific content; etc. However, regardless of the different systems pointed out as ideal by different people, there never seems to be doubts about the need for a school curriculum. Those who promote a less conventional system as the means to overcome an education that, according to them, has as its main goal the creation of compliant subjects, even them are proposing an educative system. Most people, regardless of their ideology or political orientation, believe in its necessity. And they also believe that the system they propose is going to solve all the problems.
However, Why do we need an educative system? Why has the education to be regulated and centralized? Who should establish the content of education? Why has everybody to study the same?
One of the arguments that justify its existence states that, without an educative system, it would be impossible to eliminate the gap between the rich and the poor. Thus, only the rich would have access to an education and therefore they would be the only ones qualified for government jobs from which they would legislate in their favor. On the other hand, the poor, being unable to acquire an education, would be destined to low paid jobs, which would perpetuate the status quo. The educative system is believed to be conducive to the eradication of inequality and to the creation of equal opportunities.
However, such equality is impossible to achieve since we are not all equally capable, intelligent, agile, strong or good-looking and, therefore, we cannot have the same opportunities (for instance, a good looking person has a greater chance of becoming a model than an ugly one). Besides, we have to consider the influence of the environment: there will not exist the same opportunities to be a professional cyclist for a person born in Spain and for a person born in Siberia. If I like drawing and I want to make it my profession, it will be easier if I live on a street with a comic book store whose owner is willing to teach me and give me advice than if I live on a street with no store. I will have better opportunities to learn if I am lucky enough to find a good teacher. To achieve equal opportunities, every person, and every place should be equal, which is clearly impossible.
We should not consider the ineradicable inequality of life as something negative. We should try to achieve our objectives while accepting the specific conditions in which we were born (instead of complaining about being ugly, for instance). We can achieve our goals in life with our own effort and work. What is not legitimate is to ask the government to take other’s people money to help us reach our own goals. In this case, we would be profiting at their expense.
Perhaps the equal opportunities supposedly established by the educative system refers to the fact that everyone starts off on the same footing with regard to knowledge.If this is the case, we should ask ourselves in what consists this knowledge and why do we all have to start off from it.
Regarding the first question, I think that compulsory education tends to transmit little knowledge since the classes are oriented to the single objective of passing the tests. For that purpose, it resorts to the memorization of specific data that usually is soon forgotten. However, the memorization of information does not necessarily constitute knowledge. For instance, the memorization of a love poem in English by someone with no proficiency in the language and without having been in love would amount only to the acquisition of data but not to the constitution of knowledge. It would be like learning the phone book. For the most part, that is exactly what we do in school: the learning of data without knowing where does it come from or how can it be useful.
However, if we look carefully we can observe that almost everyone learns very well a specific group of ideas: the necessity of the existence of the State, the benevolence of democracy, etc. Official speeches apart, that is the real goal of the educative system. I cannot see the benefit we obtain from the acquisition of this knowledge.
Regarding the second question, even if the school curriculum were not implemented by the government but by a group of selfless people, How would they be able to establish the appropriate content if they do not know the specific ends that every person wants to achieve? What use has algebra for someone who wants to be a potter or a fashion designer? Obviously, one would benefit from the knowledge of algebra, but one would also benefit from the knowledge of botany, dance, literature, cinema, welding, origami, etc. The list of possible knowledge is going to be completely arbitrary if we do not pay attention to the ends that a person wants to accomplish. It may be objected that, in the case of basic education, kids have not yet established a set of goals. The answer is that their parents have and they would want their children to be instructed in certain matters in accordance with those goals.
Knowing how to read and write, and some arithmetic, will always be useful. However, are really necessary eight years in school to accomplish such an end? Could not we learn that knowledge in our home or with a teacher paid by those who consider it necessary? This would constitute a voluntary action that would enable kids to learn what their parents consider appropriate.
It is also a commonplace to praise the socialization role played by the educative system. I suppose then that people were not socialized before the advent of compulsory education and that greeting customs were developed by the academics of education. Actually, children learn social coexistence at home, with their parents, neighbors, and friends. And these relationships are usually supervised by adults, unlike many of the social interactions of kids at school.
I do not think that the educative system is useful for the purposes publicly stated by its supporters. What it really achieves is the transmission of a series of ideas that justify and facilitate the existence and actions of the State: that is the true goal of compulsory education. In fact, we could say that the educative system is really working well since it works for its true purpose. That explains the efforts made by States to implement a compulsory homogeneous education in their territory. This facilitates the control of the population. If everyone has the same knowledge and the same outlook on life, controlling all the people will require the same effort than controlling just one person.