Education for liberation

October 18, 2008

A student at a Hobart High School was suspended two weeks ago for dying his hair a bright colour.

On October 10, 100 angry students held a mass hair dye event to protest their schools' hair dye ban.

Students argued that having different hair colour should not affect their schooling, and that they should be allowed to express themselves however they want.

Many schools have strict rules about uniforms, hair and jewellery. The restrictions seem pointless, but they serve the purpose of training students to follow rules and obey authority. This ensures that later, when the students enter the work force, they will be less likely to defy employers and advocate for better pay or working conditions, for example.

Many students do not remember much course content when they leave school, but the habits of passivity and obedience are ingrained.

Young people have always been at the forefront of social change. Their energies have not yet been absorbed by the grind of daily life for working people, and they still believe in the "impossible" and are not yet cynical.

Young people can look at the state of the world without prejudice, see the flaws in the system and be willing to tackle injustices.

In early capitalist society, education was reserved for the ruling class, with workers left in a state of minimal knowledge. However, with the rapid development from the industrial revolution, workers had to know more just how to operate the machinery in their workplace.

The extension of basic education to the children of workers ensured a more productive work force for capitalists.

However, educating the masses is risky for the owners of production: it is a delicate balance between teaching people about (and fuelling the ideals of) liberty, independence and equality, and ensuring that educated workers do not question their assigned roles as the unthinking machines in capitalism.

The modern education system suppresses (not necessarily consciously) individual creativity and inquiry to prepare people for their "proper place" in society. And anything that doesn't fit the mould is excluded — the achievements of women in history courses, or the existence of same-sex relationships in sex education, for example.

At a certain point in this "education" process, the very idea that most people's lives could be lived differently becomes almost incomprehensible.

A socialist system of education would be very different. It would work with people for the betterment of society, not against people for the profit of the few.

Students would participate democratically in the decisions of their school and would be encouraged to think critically because this would train them to live and work in a society that values these skills.

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