Education in our Postmodern Times
For those of us who have gone to university, which some might consider our society’s highest center of learning, something unorthodox may have occurred. A kind of un-education from everything you’ve learned until that point.
This is a paradox of our postmodern times; education, when taken far enough, reveals itself to be one big joke.
Let me explain.
The spirit of this academic mental breakdown is expressed most clearly in the relatively progressive and honest philosophical movement called Postmodernism. Postmodern academics and philosophers of the last century, taking a good look at human society and the nature of knowledge, realized a crucial and damning truth; namely, that there is no such thing as truth. All we have, as intellectuals, or as scientists, or as priests, as people, is words. Our reality, our truth, is textual; it is written, it is spoken, it is read, it is shouted over megaphones and spread through slick televised lies.
In other words, everything we have ever learned is bullshit. It’s crock. It’s fantasy. And philosophy is a mental masturbation, a continuous playing with words to redefine what we tell ourselves is ‘the truth.’
Most of us don’t know any postmodernists. But some of us know them as a group of self-absorbed culture critics and iconoclasts; because postmodernists, who might not actually go by that name, have basically spent the last 50 years destroying the established truths of our entire way of life. Fifty years of what they call deconstructing; taking apart and analyzing and throwing out the window what the last 5000 years of civilization have achieved.
Similar things have happened across the board. In anthropology, for example, man observes his fellow humans ways of living – he studies the ‘other,’ and finds that his own truths are not only challenged all over the world, but found to be equally arbitrary. Made up, to fit the society and environment it shapes.
The same happens in psychology, where each individual mind is found to be an arbitrary society unto itself, with its own neuroses and bullshit.
Even in the sciences – such as physics – truth, objectivity, and fact have been taken down a notch. Niels Bohr, one of the greatest, said that “physics does not concern nature directly; it concerns what we can say about nature.” Again, it comes down to what we can say, the words we use that shape our truth.
However, before you get to this advanced point of learning, which is really unlearning, you need to be among the privileged top percent in terms of social and intellectual wealth. The academic elite. What this means is that a fraction of humanity is learning that what everyone else is learning, is bullshit. No, better than that; that people are being fed a modern mythology, full of heroes and heroines proclaiming knowledge and truth where in fact there is none.
If they are wise or smug enough, these fortunate few initiates of the postmodern paradox may realize that ‘society’ is a big farce; a game, a play, a chessboard where the most educated pull the strings of the masses – the ones doing the basic learning in school, like everyone else. Perhaps you, or everyone you know and love.
So, what am I on about here? Social inequality, power defined by knowledge, the twisted nature of the educational system? Yeah, I’m talking about all of that.
The way I see it, right now – and you’re of course free to come up with your own conclusion – is that postmodernism should be somehow integrated into all levels of education.
Don’t hide the truth from people anymore. And stop lying to our kids. Tell them how it is; that while the things they learn may be utterly useful, and true enough for most life situations, they are at the same time made up. Uncertain. Plainly speaking, bullshit.
I’m not saying teach kids postmodernism. I’m saying be honest: tell them the truth about truth.
I debated this point with a senior professor once, one who was fully aware of the postmodern agenda but chose to stick to a rigid formalism instead. He chose to ignore all the implications for his own work and livelihood that the vaporizing of truth would have. He was of the opinion that we should “break it to them” (“it” meaning postmodernism) around adolescence; break it, as in break down everything kids have just spent their naïve youth learning. And this at one of the most difficult times in a teen’s life. The teenager, suddenly pulled in all directions by his or her hormones, unsure of whom to trust, is to be deprived of even more of their certainties.
Okay. Fine, I say, that sounds crazy and irresponsible. But until it’s been tried you just can’t know how it’ll work out. Until that moment, however, the main flaw of this argument seems to be that there is no backup plan in the postmodern agenda; there is only criticism, breakdown, deconstruction. Nothing truly creative comes out of a mind hell-bent on destruction. So would we be doing teens in general a favor?
So I’m stuck with my side of the argument. Kids are smarter than we think; and honesty towards our kids would entail a greater honesty with ourselves. We, as adults, can cut the crap, and stop tossing bullshit at each other and our children all the time.
I think that kids are intuitive enough to understand that what they’re being taught is good enough; and to be better able and prepared to see that when it is not, that their own private fantasies may easily outshine those which we impose on them from birth.
These are lessons which shouldn’t be kept secret by the elite. They are lessons which could unleash a flood of creativity and brotherhood in our youth. These points are worth considering, and it is even more important that we think of ways to make it happen.