“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” - Nelson Mandela
I see this quote and I always wonder how Mandela meant it to be understood. Most people assume that he means that education is powerful and can do amazing things to improve
the world. I can’t help but see it in a slightly different light.
He calls education a weapon.
He doesn’t call it a tool or an instrument. He says it is a powerful weapon. I think he may have done this on purpose.
My view is that education is good up to a point. Changing the world is difficult if you don’t know how to read. It’s hard to start a software company if you don’t know how to do simple math. You’ll be hard pressed to end oppressive laws if you don’t know the history behind them. In this way education is very powerful and useful.
Where education gets it wrong is not in the direct messages that are taught but in the subconscious messages that are expressed. For their entire childhoods, children are shown that they have little to offer and must simply accept knowledge from some all-seeing all-knowing teacher. Though this is probably necessary when teaching facts about science and history, I think it can have a negative effect on students who do little else outside of the classroom. Subconsciously, it teaches students that they have nothing to add and that the way to do well is to sit still and be quiet.
Paulo Freire, a famous South American educator and author, discussed this in his essay ‘The Banking Concept of Education.” He went into detail about how our school systems are centered around the idea that teachers must make constant deposits of knowledge into the minds of students and that the student, other than by being present, brings nothing to the situation. He says that education today ‘transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads women and men to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power.’ He even went so far as to describe this form of education as necrophilic because of how it creates walking corpses out of initially vibrant individuals. The Brazilian government exiled him from their country because of his outspoken opinions on the education system there.
Though I don’t quite think education turns us into walking corpses, I do believe that it can have some seriously negative effects on students; especially young students. Sit a kid down in a desk in nice rows for his entire childhood and this is what he will know how to do. Teach a kid to memorize facts all his life and he’ll never learn to create and express his own opinions. Teach a child that he will be laughed at for asking questions and he’ll learn to sit quietly and do his work. Complacency and lack of confidence are two of the largest negative effects of spending the first 20 plus years of your life in a classroom listening to lectures.
School isn’t evil, but school isn’t everything. There are lots of benefits of attending school. You may be able to use the knowledge in the future, and if you haven’t decided what you want to do with your life it’s a great place to start. At least you learn basic time management skills and are able to be social.
If you really want to break out of the norm and do something great, however, school can’t be everything that you do. Do something different. Even something abnormal is better than the status quo. Perhaps pick up a side hustle. Create something of real value or think about what you want out of life.