“ II do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit, touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound.” (The Importance of Being Earnest)
Far-sighted Lady Bracknell had wisely identified the virus which would have endangered her world made of privileges one day: education. Masses could not constitute a problem so long they were kept ignorant, hence, untouched by schooling which was spreading in the 19th century. Just like any other virus, Lady Bracknell thought it needed to be circumscribed otherwise:
“… it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.” (The Importance of Being Earnest)
Hence, if education were effective in England as elsewhere, it would threaten the established order, Lady Bracknell feared. And the grand lady was right to be worried, because this is exactly what happened in the following decades of the early twentieth century. Education actually tampered worldwide ignorance making no distinction amongst gender, social class and colour of the skin, thus providing access to that “social elevator” thanks to which anybody could be allowed to reach a station different from where he was placed at birth. Till something changed. Lady Bracknell, as conscience of the advanced “Western civilization”, made her voice be heard again: “ Are you really sure that increasing to such extent the number of educated people would result into an improvement of mankind? Can’t you see the dangers of giving anybody the tools to fully understand the schemes on which societies are founded? You mean to fight ignorance, and this is commendable, but then, in such world of cultivated people, who would accept to stay at the bottom of the social ladder– unless you admit immigrants in your “advanced countries”, who, on the other hand, once part of the democratic educating system you planned, would also expect to advance socially eventually? “
When these kind of doubts started to surface towards the end of the twentieth century, it was too late to go back. The right to education for anybody could not be discussed or circumscribed again to station, gender etc. , hence, other ways should have been found to satisfy that conscience with its ominous speculations. Eventually, three strategies were detected : a) re-defining the objectives of education and educators; b) proving that education was not the only “social elevator”; c) lowering learning standards.
If the sacred fire of teaching placed you in a school, because you romantically thought to educate, forge personalities or simply to give the basis for future opportunities, I am sure you have grown a bit disappointed, like myself, as today a teacher is mostly required to be an entertainer. The quality of courses is measured on how lively and fun these are perceived . That is why we are kindly suggested to get a degree at the Barnum Circus Academy , which we eagerly do and you know why? For fear of being labelled with scarlet letter “B” of boring. If you demand neatness, correctness, insight you are BO-RING. And what about the knowledge of dates and rules? SACRILEGE!!!! Knowledge has no longer reference points such as time or space, it ..floats in the air. After all, is it really important to know when the French Revolution took place? Isn’t all the effort to memorize dates a waste of time ? It seems it is, underestimating the fact that, for example, while memorizing you could notice that the date in question is a sequence of 789 (1789), thus stimulating the neurons which rule associations and being able even to create nets of knowledge. In fact, I could also venture to say that 100 years before another important revolution had taken place: the Glorious Revolution and compare the two. With one effort, two dates and two revolutions. But it seems I am obsolete in having such expectations and this why the majority of our students roams in “meaninglessland”, as they have grown unable in time to give the necessary time and space frame to what they apprehend. Those dots of knowledge, if not connected, end up inevitably engulfed by the abyss of ignorance.
Of course, any measure of learning, such as tests or more, must take into consideration the sensibility of the student, who must never perceive that measurement as too oppressive or frustrating . Homework is mostly seen unnecessary and pointless and should never conflict with the truly useful time our students spend in their many activities. When I try to make my point asking if Usain Bolt would have been such a champion anyhow without training , they are all aware that talent is not enough to reach such goal. “Well, learning is the same”, I reply . “What did you say?” Ah, BO-RING.
Maybe they are right. I am boring. After all, our society has opened to a myriads of “working” opportunities which are not strictly connected with schooling. The new “professions” such as youtuber, influencer, footballer, tiktoker etc. provide this generation with what they believe to require : money and visibility. Here in Italy, for example, being a “tronista” has been one the most craved “positions” amongst the youngsters these last 20 years. A “tronista” is a young man or a woman who sits on a throne for weeks till she/he decides to pick one among the many suitors who are, episode after episode, eliminated. If this is what they have in mind, how many chances do I have to make them be interested in what and epiphany is, for example? Epiphy…..what?
That is why, we teachers have given up in time. We have given up tilting at windmills preaching effort and dedication and accepted to do what we are demanded : lowering learning standards and we did it, no need to say, with the approval and great satisfaction of parents or at least the majority of them. Those parents believe that the aim of education is just getting the diploma, what we call here contemptuously “a piece of paper”. That diploma is nothing but a toolbox ,and what makes the difference is the number of the tools you have collected during the school years, rather than the box itself. If the toolbox you are given is just an empty box, unless the student in question is a youtuber, influencer, footballer, tiktoker, “tronista” or any other excellence of this “social” era , he’ll need money and time to obtain those tools, in short, those who have means and connections can anyhow manage their way in the world , while all the others will be left behind to follow their dreams of effortless success. So, after more than one hundred years it is reasonable to say that Lady Bracknell’s fears have been crushed: the privileges of the upper classes are secured today more than ever. The wise lady can look at the future with great confidence.