German Public Library, Leipzig; Photo by Achim Hatzius

While the notion that learning takes many shapes and forms is commonly accepted, the meaning of education is frequently hard to pin down, yet one can perceive it as an engaging social process. John Dewey appropriately called it ‘a process of living and not a preparation for future living’. (1) Education’s purpose relays on expanding potential, at its core, the deliberate cultivation of learning is an invitation to truth and possibility, through the development of understanding and judgement, we can enable action.

That said, an evident misappropriation of the term has been recurrent in our times, contributing to the hardship that’s properly defining it. The most recognisable example is schooling, the instrument of fact-based knowledge absorption rooted in information transmission that can be stored, and later on, used by students to attain qualifications, the practice preferred by our education systems. This concept is a far cry from the actual learning process, where critical thinking and eagerness to explore take the central stage.

How come these disparate definitions can be held onto the same word? They utterly cannot, and for that reason, I’ll solely use education when referring to the latter.

Looking into nowadays society, particularly its youth, a lack of enthusiasm or apathy towards subjects, ranging from sociopolitical or cultural ongoing issues to arts and literature, consequently, the increasing number of uncultured or uneducated young people is a general tendency. These are seemingly highbrow topics and considered superfluous, being quickly surpassed by mundane concerns, which don’t require any judgement or intellectual effort.

What’s more, whereas something doesn’t affect oneself personally, it’s not worth of contemplation. And when it does, an open-minded approach becomes impossible. Since ignoring anything that doesn’t lay within their comfort zone is entrenched in their background, a one-sided perspective is the sole response.

Although, this poses a plethora of problems, as these cultural interests, even if not directly connected, are essential tools for the developing of one’s personality, neglecting them can only lead to an uninformed population that acts without reasoning, based on personal or emotional biases.

One can argue, western education systems might play a vital role in breeding these issues, along with technology, social media and general political interest. Albeit, these are rarely associated with such concern, understandable since they pledge to aim at the exact opposite.

Education Systems

Generally speaking, every democratic nation has built among its main structures, a system that envisions to educate their youth. May these differ from each other, most preach more or less the same vague principles. Firstly, assuring equal opportunities for all, freedom of thought and speech, besides respect for difference, followed by stating that the long-term goal is raising citizens capable of critical or creative reasoning, well-adjusted to our transforming humanity.

Nonetheless, these hardly match the reality students sense throughout academia. To begin with, as previously mentioned, education, only bearing its name is replaced by schooling, a method which Paulo Freire famously coined as banking, since content transmission is made in deposits. The comparison is crystal-clear.

Banking education only focuses on topics detached from reality and disconnected from the existential experience of the students, while sweeping under the carpet anything that might hold a sociopolitical meaning, completely alienating them in the process. This degenerates in an economy of knowledge that transforms students into objects, mere recipients of facts, subject to memorise and store teachers depositing, these shielded in an ivory tower authority. Thus, it’s a dehumanising approach, by refusing inquiry or resisting dialogue, people are indeed stripped of their human condition.

Such aim to ‘negate education and knowledge as processes of inquiry’ (2) is grounded in every ideology of oppression. Hence, its scope in academia mirrors our restraining societies, which profit from the inhibition or anaesthetising of creative power and encouraging of credulity.

By doing so, banking efforts are to minimise the development of critical consciousness among young people, mainly because passive and malleable selves tend to better conform or adapt to the redacted perspective of reality imposed on them.

Disciplined students are an essential part of this economy, as numbing individuals’ consciousness allows for compliance with the created authority. It’s not novel that discipline underlays the architecture of our civilisation, regardless, it’s coercive or exploitative roots are often left out of the conversation. In Foucault’s words: ‘How can one capitalize the time of individuals, accumulate it in each of them, in their bodies, in their forces or in their abilities, in a way that is susceptible of use and control?’ (3) this accurately summarises the ethos of the ruling political class and the benefits of submissive beings on maintaining the establishment.

Thereby, western schooling systems fabricate technically skilled citizens, hence that are useful to elevate competitiveness and productivity at a global scale, both leading factors to a country’s prosperity, which makes this know-how taught at schools, simultaneously indispensable and a symbol of national pride.

Anyhow, such expertise is still a byproduct of a constraining mindset that forms masses easy to control, both in terms of being ‘docile bodies’ (4) or non-demanding populations.

The alleged humanitarianism, characteristic of our modern times, surrounds all fields of life, but when it comes to education, mostly assuming the shape of democratising measures, has revealed itself more strategical than well-intentioned, being no less than the scapegoat that perfectly allows politicians to profit from this course of action.

Curriculum and human interactions alike, serve these means, from the methods of evaluating proficiency to the teaching in itself, obviating thinking it’s at the core. We are left with a system, or perhaps more accurately, political machinery, that debases education of its real meaning, according to Freire, ‘which achieves neither true knowledge nor true culture’. (5)

The entirety of schooling modus operandi seems to be built around this paradigm, centred in reinforcing the structure of oppression. Crudely, ignorance causes less trouble for politicians than a critically conscious and educated population.

Moreover, social inequity is present in every western civilisation. There aren’t equal opportunities for all, in practice, the gaps are impossible to deny, despite legislation or policies saying so. This configures another case when politics act on “results” – read numbers – to boost statistics instead of focusing on actual humans.

From the cost of higher education, which per se, makes it unattainable for many, to the lesser mentioned students’ environment, that so often compromises success, though is never taken into account. Let alone institutional and, on a personal level, tutors’ discriminative biases, with their openly low expectations for some learners, particularly those who already have it harder, dooming them to fail.

When most must sacrifice to keep on track on their academic path, students’ realisation of the present inequality and injustice among these organisations, generates a feeling of pointless struggling.

Hopeless Youth Rejects Education

Ultimately, these practices result in an alienated youth. A hotbed for the emergence of angst, along with hatred towards the institution, not blaming schools but the entity they believe to be above them. Such feelings might unfold into deep convictions that those who supposedly praise education, allied to the ones inside power structures are a group of privileged few, by default seen as elitist and enemies of the masses.

However, people can’t afford to reject the system altogether. They know themselves dependant on it to survive. In a world where humans’ worth is quantified by diplomas, one promptly understands how their life will be conditioned by these. It’s then up for debate, whether dependence is somewhat a consequence or, more likely, a planned policy.

Hopelessness rules, as this framework reinforces fatalistic perceptions, consequently, youths carried by a desire to escape such “education”, so far, a word with an already tainted connotation, are compelled to reject any forms of it, in the fields they can control. Be it general culture or self-consumed knowledge, ditching these is portrayed as a rebellious act.

A scenario, where those desiring to learn are almost complicit with an establishment and elite universally corrupt, considered traitors to themselves or their peers.

Manifestly, this involuntary approach fails to distinguish the differences between schooling (i.e. what we’ve experienced in our schools) and, the broader, yet truthful notion of education, where ‘the object and reward of learning is continued capacity for growth’. (6) One that even amongst all the inconveniences could flourish indefinitely, considering it comes from the individual’s inner consciousness.

Make no mistake, if conditioned populations can’t dissociate the meaning of education, from the systems rightfully considered rotten, resulting in a backlash that, at last, leads us to an uncultured society, the onus is on those in power, self-interestingly perpetuating an underlying oppressive status quo.


(1; 6) Dewey, J. (1916), Democracy and Education. An introduction to the philosophy of education (1966 edn.). New York: Free Press;

(2; 5) Freire, P. (1972), Pedagogy of the Oppressed. (1993 edn.) New York: Continuum Books [ Retrieved: 03/03/2020];

(3; 4) Foucault, M. (1975), Discipline and Punish. The Birth of the Prison. (1995 edn.). New York: Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc.

Further Bibliography

Smith, M. K. (2015), What is education? A definition and discussion. The encyclopaedia of informal education. [ education-a-definition-and-discussion/. Retrieved: 03/03/2020].

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Carolina Grancho


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