Against The Grain: 'There are schools that preach violence'

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The Independent Online

Clive Harber is professor of education at the University of Birmingham. He argues that education is not always a good thing

When you listen to academics and politicians, there's an assumption that education does good, for individuals and for society as a whole. Obviously, there's a lot of truth in that, but there are other truths that are not talked about so much. Some individuals do benefit from formal education, but the appearance of social mobility is often a smoke screen.

Formal education can simply reproduce things as they are. In the UK those that come from well to do backgrounds do well at school, go to better universities, and get better jobs. Not only that, but education can actively harm individuals and societies by perpetrating violence. Corporal punishment is still widely used in up to half the countries in the world, whether banned or not, and the World Health Organisation has shown how this harms individuals and societies.

There's also widespread evidence in many countries, and particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa of schools not protecting female students from sexual harassment and violence, not only from other pupils but from teachers as well. In 1998 in South Africa the Medical Research Council found that, among victims of rape, 37 per cent named their perpetrator as a teacher or a school principal. There are schools that preach violence against some other group. You just have to look at textbooks that have been used in Israel and Palestine, in Cyprus, and in the former Yugoslavia.

And in India some teachers will not touch Dalit, or Untouchable, pupils. They beat them, verbally abuse them, and will not touch their work. And we see the damage done by massive over testing, not necessarily for the diagnostic purposes of the pupil but for the state. Britain is particularly culpable of this.

Over-testing can result in physiological and psychological damage being done to students. In societies like Japan and Korea it can result in suicide among some children. Finally we see schools teaching children how to kill. There are plenty of examples where the curriculum has been militarised to include weapons training as a core part of the curriculum, recently in Poland and in Russia.

Why does all this happen in an institution that is supposed to be for the good of society? Historically mass schooling's purpose was not necessarily to raise consciousness or educate as we understand it, but to control populations, to stop resistance or revolution. This helps to explain why the dominant model of formal education is authoritarian, denying young people a say in what is learned at school and how, and opening up the possibility of violence and abuse.