THE MASS CONSCIOUSNESS AND SCHOOLS
Richard Branson was considered stupid and lazy. Steve Harvey was told he could never be on TV. Albert Einstein was labeled as mentally handicapped, slow and anti-social. Thomas Edison was told he was “too stupid to learn anything.”
Jet Li, the Chinese martial arts actor, was noticed for his talent for wushu (martial arts) and given extra training. Srinivasa Ramanujan, Indian mathematician and autodidact, was supported in his mastery of trigonometry by age 13 while discovering advanced theorems of his own. Yuna Zarai, the singer-songwriter from Malaysia, was given support for her musical talent. Chen Jingrun, the celebrated Chinese mathematician, was applauded for quickly solving a mathematical riddle.
And…the common thread is?
These labels and events all occurred during these achievers’ formative years - at school. Told to them by teachers.
Steve Harvey was in the sixth grade. His teacher asked her class to write down what they wanted to be when they grew up. He wrote, “Be on TV.” She ridiculed him in front of the class for having this dream. He even had to come up with a more ‘realistic’ aspiration so he wrote ‘Policeman’ instead. But his dad told him to hold onto that first paper and keep it close to him and believe that “One day you will be on TV.” Today when you turn on your TV, Steve Harvey is on seven days a week.
Srinivasa Ramanujan received so many merit certificates and academic awards by age 14 that he was invited to aid the school in assigning its 1200 students (each with differing needs) to its 34+ teachers.
And…the difference is?
STEVE HARVEY GREW UP IN CLEVELAND, OHIO. USA.
SRINIVASA RAMANUJAN WAS RAISED IN KUMBAKONAM, INDIA. S-E-ASIA. THE EAST.
Simply put, kids are considered smart in the East. There’s no room for any other theory. Having spent 7 years in Asia, I saw a common thread. The general consensus is that children can be challenged academically because they can handle it. USA Today reported that The New Press traveled to Asia and said this about the typical Asian student (after interviewing schools, universities, college officials, principals and parents): “[they are] committed, diligent, competitive, passionate, focused and ambitious.” This is because for them, education is the path to success. A fifth-grader in Hong Kong said, “Learning is very important, and it can change my whole life.”
THIS STUDENT BELIEVES THIS. HIS PARENTS BELIEVE THIS. HIS TEACHERS BELIEVE THIS. HIS PRINCIPAL BELIEVES THIS. THE EDUCATION BOARD BELIEVES THIS. THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION BELIEVES THIS. THE ENTIRE NATION BELIEVES THIS.
This is called…
Mass consciousness. Collective consciousness. The “shared beliefs, ideas and moral attitudes which operate as a unifying force within society.” It tips the scale. The French sociologist, E’mile Durkheim, introduced this term in his work, ‘Division of Labour in Society’ in 1893.
If everybody in Asia believes that education is the path to success they all rally around this idea. Singapore is considered the producer of the world’s smartest kids. In an article published on CNN a principal who was interviewed said, “I think for us as preschool educators, we are the foundation years. …the first years of a child’s life is very important. So when you have a very confident child, that child’s confidence will carry him or her through primary school as well.”
In Asia, all these people, institutions, bureaucracies believe that children are smart. And they give them all the tools to excel. This mass consciousness tips the balance. Students believe it too. So conversely they perform at the accepted level of brilliance. My kids were in Hong Kong 7 years. I’ve seen this first hand.
WHAT ABOUT STUDENTS IN THE WEST, LIKE LITTLE STEVE HARVEY IN THE SIXTH GRADE?
His is a different story…
Elizabeth Weil in her New Republic article entitled, "American Schools Are Failing Nonconformist Kids. Here's How" says it best: "...[A child like little Steve Harvey] is part of an education system that has scant tolerance for independence of mind." Then she quotes Robert Whitaker, author of Mad in America, "We're saying to the kid, 'You're broken. You're defective. In some ways, these things become self-fulfilling prophesies."
In the current climate of American education, school in not designed to foster original thinkers. This is partly due to how student performance on standardized tests has been attached to teacher's salaries and their job security. Diane Ravitch, who wrote, The Death and Life of the Great American School System said,
"What we're teaching today is obedience, conformity, following orders. We're certainly not teaching kids to think outside the box. "
The West has long been associated with free, independent thinking. This is what has brought about tremendous innovation in many sectors. This thinking has often revolutionized the way we do things. The current system is not fostering this independent thinking in schools. Parents feel the pressure to make their children conform. In her article, Elizabeth Weil speaks of kids being sent home with a note suggesting a child be tested for "learning difference." One particular parent conformed and paid about two thousand dollars for testing. After much protesting from her son, she and her husband abandoned the private tutoring. She then found out that:
EVERY ONE OF THE BOYS IN HER SON'S CLASS HAD BEEN REFERRED OUT FOR TESTING.
Take a breath! I need one. This should give us all a "WHAT!!" moment. SO, especially today, Albert Einstein would be labeled as "mentally handicapped, slow and anti-social." He certainly was non-conformist.
What’s at the root of this? I'm guessing if you look at public (what they call private) education in the UK for instance, some of these same trends exist. So, what are the “shared beliefs, ideas and moral attitudes which operate as a unifying force within [American] society?” The mass consciousness affecting learning and education within our school system?
The Fordham Institute found that American's views on education are incoherent. "If Americans' views on education seem incoherent or contradictory, perhaps it's because they aren't paying attention. Take the Common Core. Despite having been adopted more than four years ago in nearly every state and covered by thousands of news articles per month for well over a year, vast swaths of the American public report not knowing about the standards." Their study reached 3 conclusions:
1) AMERICANS' VIEWS ON EDUCATION ARE INCOHERENT
2) AMERICANS DON'T PAY ATTENTION TO EDUCATION OR GET INVOLVED
3) MUCH OF WHAT AMERICANS THINK THEY KNOW ABOUT EDUCATION POLICY IS SIMPLY WRONG
The study said "voters appear to have little interest in education at the local level - even though 56 percent support greater local control." I have to say it - you'd never find this indifference in Asia.
This is quite a stunning discovery! If Americans have varied views or even a lack of interest in education, they open the field wide to those that do. Besides creating a huge market for those who administer standardized tests, they've also opened the door to the pharmaceutical industry.
I go back to Elizabeth Weil's article. If the mom in her article found that EVERY ONE OF THE BOYS IN HER SON'S CLASS HAD BEEN REFERRED OUT FOR TESTING then someone is benefiting from this.
The graphic below says it all:
Vigilance. Understanding. Interest. These are some of the qualities that will enable us to tip the balance in the way that will benefit our children. There's a mental compliance with the status quo that is infesting the learning and capability of children in the US. The choice not to sheepishly go along with the agendas set forth for our children is paramount. I go back to Elizabeth Weil's article. Another family that was told to test their child for "learning difference" did something different (pun intended!). They paid for an outside therapist to provide professional testimony that their child did not have a mental health disorder. The mother said this: "We wanted them to hear from the therapist directly: He's fine."
If only Richard Branson's parents had done so. Or Thomas Edison's. I bet you they didn't need to because they knew their sons' capabilities and continued to support them. In fact, Nancy Edison, Thomas's mother and former teacher, started teaching him at home after he decided he didn't like school.
One mass consciousness believes that education is the path to success. Another mass consciousness may believe this but without the clarity and conviction to back that statement with action, children are being mislabeled.
But as can be seen from Richard Branson, Steve Harvey, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison - they went on to have stellar careers. Their parents clearly saw their genius and encouraged them. And they had self-belief and resilience, despite all the labels hurled at them. Many children are not so fortunate.
The West has to wake up to this and not passively entrust the shaping of our children to schools. As parents we must take an active role. We must remain alert, informed and involved. As more of us do this, it changes the balance.
Through our collective consciousness our children can be allowed to be non-conformist and change our world. We just have to accept this paradigm.
It can tip the scale.