Are young people being educated not to think?

Education Axed title of a Student Magazine article
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A close up of Richard Branson smiling, looking at the camera
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Published on 24 September 2015

In my editorial from the first Student magazine, I highlighted the need for real debate about outdated education models. “The fierce debates on education, surely involving the student more than anyone, are almost never thrown open to him. We plan to be a vehicle for intelligent comment and protest.”

Richard Branson's editorial in an issue of Student Magazine
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Student magazine fulfilled this aim, with lots of articles and discussion around education issues throughout its lifespan. We ran a humorous account of Alias Lamego’s experiences of education called ‘College Loaf’. More seriously, we ran an article called ‘Education Axed’ by Gavin Maxwell, the acclaimed author of Ring of Bright Water, who was a big influence on my own development.

“Man is a rational animal, whose opinions and ideas can be arrived at by rational processes of thought…” it began. “I contend that this claim could not be upheld, and that all civilised races of making are so thoroughly indoctrinated by their education as to render their intellects functionless. Each individual has to a greater or lesser degree, been brain-washed, although we prefer to use the word ‘educated’, and so have all nations at all times.”

A cartoon from Student Magazine
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Gavin went on to question how teachers are often tasked with showing pupils how to learn facts, rather than truly use their brains and come up with new ideas. “The strictly scholastic side of a child’s education…consist in the main, of the ingesting of a vast mass of largely useless and uninteresting facts for dyspeptic regurgitation in subsequent exams.” He also ponders, back in 1967, how technology could already be holding back real education. “So, here is our educated man, living in an essentially technological world which actually contributes to the submissive, non-thinking condition upon which his whole education has been based. The higher the technology, the further the regression into the nursery world of toys and dreams of power.”

A student magazine cartoon
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While I think that technology has a huge role to play in improving education and engaging young people in learning, Gavin’s points about the education system’s obsession with stats and exams ring true. There should be far more focus on practical education and the development of skills to use used in everyday activities and business. Life doesn’t happen in exam rooms.

Gavin Maxwell concludes: “The older generation is guilty – then and now – of educating its children not to think.”

The future of education graphic
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