A Critical Look at Modern Education

The Abolition of Man - C.S. Lewis

This may be a small book but don't let that fool you - it is pretty intense. In fact it is one of those books that can take a lot of energy out of you while reading it. Fortunately this is the third time I have read it so it was nowhere near as bad as it was the first time. However despite its size, C.S. Lewis does manage to pack an awful lot of very important ideas into this text.

The term Abolition of Man refers to his essay (which is actually a collection of three lectures) about the descent of man from the pinnacle of creation to becoming little more than, in his words, trousered apes. The reason Lewis writes this is because of the direction that the British eduction system is heading, and he specifically points to a particular English text book that was released (at the time of writing) as evidence. While he owes the writers no ill will, it is the contents of the text-book that he finds appalling.

First he refers to a reference to a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge which describes two people observing a waterfall. One of them describes the waterfall as sublime and the other says that it is pretty. The writers of the book argue from a post-modern, relativistic point of view saying that the person who says that the waterfall is sublime is saying it because he believes that it is sublime. Lewis does not think so, and believes that what Coleridge is suggesting is that one of the speakers is using the more appropriate term, and to Lewis, the one who uses the word pretty, while not incorrect, clearly has a much limited vocabulary.

The second thing that Lewis points out in the book is an advertisement for a Caribbean Cruise. The writers use this advertisement to demonstrate metaphor. Lewis is appalled, particularly since this book is written for people in the upper levels of high school. Lewis believes that there are much better forms of literature, and much better writers, to demonstrate metaphor and by using a common advertisement in this regard undermines the student's ability to appreciate English literature. I totally agree. Little has changed since that time, and in fact the education system is probably getting a lot worse.

What Lewis is bemoaning is that he sees the education system drifting away from the ideas that were brought forward in the Enlightenment to the point where people have stopped thinking (not that the majority of the population ever did) and humans no longer consider themselves humans, but rather a byproduct of millions of years of evolution. It is not that Lewis discredits evolution, it is just that he sees more with regards to humans than simply a hairless ape.

This is a similar idea of what I see here in Bangkok as I wonder around the streets at night. In effect it is the commodification of humanity. People cease to be people and become a commodity. This is something that Marx bemoaned about in the Estrangement of Labour. Humans cease to be unique and begin to be based upon how productive they are, and the mechanisation of production means that what we produce ceases to be a part of us (as it was in the cottage industry, and also to an extent what you still see in the stalls that litter the streets of Bangkok). Instead our identity ceases to be the unique aspect that makes us who we are and instead we become a set of numbers and ratings, based upon our productivity level. We are measured by our key performance indicators, and our worth is measured by a series of numbers. We cease to be thinking machines, and instead become production machines. In fact, those of us who do think, and who do question, and who do step out to speak up are considered dangerous and, at this stage, mocked and ridiculed.

Another commentator of this book on Goodreads describes this as the rise of the technocracy, though this has been occurring for sometime. The Reformation brought about our understanding of our unique relationship with God, which gave us power over the church. The Enlightenment gave us the ability to be able to think, to reason, and the question, which gave us power over the state. Marx made us realise that together, as a collective, we could stand up against the rich, and indeed, overthrow them. That gave us power over the bosses. However, alongside these advancements come other, technological advancements, that took us out of the fields and into the factories. Now, as technology advances further, it takes us out of the factories (by replacing us with robots) and puts us into the service industry, where we must smile, and bow, while we are being abused by unsatisfied customers, yet must accept that abuse, despite the fact that we can do nothing about it.

While one may try to remind people that they are still humans, sometimes the situation that they have fallen into is so deep and so entangled that there is no way for them to escape. This is probably why there was a cry from a person at a church that I went to once that Thailand needs many more workers. Humanity has become a commodity, and this, in my experience, is seen best and clearly in Thailand. Here we have woman, some of them quite young, being sent into the city to sell themselves to whoever will pay them. Some even have sex change operations so that they may also join the queue of the commodities that the sleazy Westerners all come to partake. Here we see the destruction of the human will, and of human uniqueness, to be replaced with an object that is design simply to give a person a moments gratification before they toss that one aside and move onto the next one.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/560175285