Here’s an oft quoted quip, attributed to the legendary Mark Twain: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” It should probably be credited to novelist and essayist Grant Allen. But no matter who said it, there’s truth in the statement. Here’s why…
How Our Schooling Failed Us
In my observation and experience, our formal schooling tends to disconnect us from ourselves and from our intrinsic humanness. Instead of developing the faculty of critical thinking in our students, we teach them to become highly competent knowledge gatherers. By and large, we teach children what to think, instead of how to think. We stifle their free minds when we punish mistakes and reward only the right answers. We don’t measure true understanding; we only measure how well the students do against a set benchmark. In the name of standardization, we discourage creativity and promote mediocrity.
Little wonder then that when they grow up, most have no real values of their own. Their values are borrowed, their morals second-hand, their beliefs handed-down. Their conscience is “learned” and selective because it is not something born out of the consciousness of their shared humanity.
Look around at the hatred, the violence, the greed and the craving for success at all costs. Look at the apathy that pervades all around us. Doesn’t it bother you?
It might not, especially if you are comfortable in your conditioning, or if the violent and divisive narratives suit your personal life situation and goals.
I wouldn’t blame you if you do—society benefits from conformists; after all, democracy as a system itself encourages majoritarianism. And our education is designed to produce conformists who are discouraged to ask uncomfortable questions.
But if you are reading this, it is a good bet that you do feel concerned about the state of the world. You don’t want your children to inherit a violent, apathetic, self-centered, hate-filled world, and worse, to perpetuate it. You don’t want your children to become mindlessly consuming automatons who are incapable of thinking freely.
So what can we do about it?
Related » What Is Meant By True Success
Why You Should Never Let Schooling Interfere With Your Education
The schooling system we follow has hardly evolved in over a century. Originally, schools were meant to groom children to become efficient workers for the industry. As business, political and religious agendas started to blend, schooling started becoming an easy instrument to further propaganda that benefited these institutions. No wonder schools end up curbing our children’s natural curiosity as well as their ability to think freely — their critical thinking faculty. The result is that we have “literate” masses who behave like herds — it’s by design.
In most traditional educational systems around the world, there is excessive emphasis on procuring high grades in standardized tests that rarely measure a student’s real understanding of the subject. Instead, it promotes rote memorization and the repetition and regurgitation of facts among students rather than critical thinking and creative problem solving. Compounding the problem are the teachers who due to their own lack of training, are ill-equipped to inspire free thinking in their students. Most parents, too, are sailing in the same boat as teachers and end up perpetuating what schools began.
In my view, whether by design or otherwise, our schooling trains us to seek personal success. We are taught to compete with our own friends and classmates; greed is given the name of ambition and is promoted overtly; we are brainwashed into believing that participating in the rat-race is inevitable and, in fact, good for us.
Slowly, gradually, our humanness starts withering. By the time our schooling (formal education) is over, we are well-trained in chasing wealth but at the cost of our health and happiness. By now we have learnt to worship success so blindly that we begin to twist even spirituality to attain material goals. We consume, consume and consume even more… mindlessly. As a result, we are beneficial to the economy but at the tremendous cost to our humanity.
Recognizing Your Conditioning
If you’re honest then perhaps in your quiet moments you probably reflected: have I been hoodwinked by this society? You wonder whether all this mad rush for “more” is just propaganda by those who profit from it. You see the everyday violence, hatred and divisiveness all around you and want to no longer participate in it—directly or indirectly. You even begin to question the fundamentals of economics, which measures only wealth and not wellbeing.
At such contemplative moments, you have a choice: dismiss these uneasy thoughts when they cross your mind because you are too afraid of standing alone. Or wake up fully and begin reconnecting with your real self, your raw humanness.
I think if you wish to live freely and fully, truly live, you can only do so when you recognize your conditioning as conditioning. And it is impossible to lift the veil of conditioning unless you start questioning.
No one is entirely free from biases and bigotry — we all have our pet peeves and prejudices. There’s no shame in accepting this fact. In fact, it is freeing! On the other hand, by denying it, you remain in bondage.
Awakening From the Stupor
It’s only when you start questioning that you begin to free yourself from the hold of a manipulative, divisive society — a society that, by exploiting your vulnerability as a child, brainwashed you not only into conforming but also succeeded in making you part of their team so that the exploitation and subjugation continues.
Please understand that I am not promoting cynicism. I am suggesting that you wake up and reconnect with your own intrinsic humanness and check for hidden biases… in the self and in others.
When you awaken from the stupor, you stop accepting any information without passing it through your own critical filter of humanity. You become mindful of your thoughts and reactions whenever you feel strongly about anything so that you can notice that more often the real trigger is your own hidden bigotry or chauvinism. Recognizing this is a big leap in consciousness. As you do this, you will feel as if you are coming alive after a very long hiatus.
How to Cultivate Critical Thinking to Free Yourself
If the above perspective resonates with you and you realize that it is absolutely vital to live freely, here’s what you can do to break free: start questioning. And encourage your kids and other youngsters to do the same.
- Question everything you read or see or hear
- Question your elders. Question your teachers
- Question the media, the politicians, the patriots, the philosophers
- Don’t forget to question your spiritual masters and your religious leaders. They are as responsible for the state of affairs as everyone else
- Most importantly, question your own thoughts and motivations. Do consider that most of your thoughts and beliefs are not your own…but they pretend to be, thanks to years of brainwashing through propaganda, misinformation etc. Be open to contrary viewpoints.
And by questioning, I don’t mean seeking answers from others. In fact, I would urge you to question any answers that come forth, too!
I have included a framework for constructive questioning in this article » How Questioning Your Beliefs Sets You Free. I encourage you to read the same.
As for answers, seek them from your own awareness and experience as a human being. Start practicing mindfulness to become really aware of your automatic thoughts and feelings. You might be in for a shock!
It’s time to grow up and out of the shadows of your schooling — your formal education systems — and start question your basic assumptions about yourself and your world. Deliberately cultivate your critical thinking faculty. Don’t settle for quick, easy answers. Challenge your own darling thoughts and beliefs even more — this is most important and also most difficult to achieve. Strive to come alive by looking at life from a fresh perspective, sans any biases.
I assure you that as you drop your old beliefs and clean up your heart and mind of biases and prejudices, you will feel lighter, think clearer, and live happier and healthier. And, in turn, you will contribute to a happier, more peaceful world.
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