Sunday, May 06, 2012

A Healthy Society - Chapter 6 Discussion

Chapter 6 of Ryan Meili's A Healthy Society addresses education. But in addition to discussing familiar themes about funding and access to existing educational systems, Meili also makes some important points about what we should include as part of a basic education if we want our students to be able to fully participate in a healthy society:
Education is about more than simply obtaining the skills to succeed financially and live comfortably. There are facts to learn, of course, key concepts and information to digest and understand. More important, however, is learning literacy, the ability to apply critical thinking and skills in knowledge acquisition to adapt to a changing world. This requires literacy in household management, personal development, environmental stewardship, and in how to find and create employment.

It also applies directly to making choices in personal health. An important element of making wise choices is health literacy, the ability to access, understand, and act on information for health. This ranges from simple things like understanding immunizations or medications to making wise decisions in diet, exercise, and addictions, and being able to manage psychologically difficult periods of life, turning the anxiety and depression of tumultuous times into opportunities for personal growth.

People who have higher levels of education are more likely, on average, to get stable, well-paying jobs or to be successful in business. More and more jobs require higher levels of education. These facts cause confusion, as people conflate the results with the underlying purpose. People start to think that, because education leads to employment and material success, that’s what education is for. As human beings, we are far more than our jobs and our bank accounts, and the goals of our learning must reflect a deeper sense of purpose.

Perhaps the greatest goal of education is not a set of skills, but the development of values. Our democracy is only as healthy as the next generation of youth and their ability to engage creatively with the world around them. Civic literacy means teaching youth not to be future subjects, observers of the news, but actors in the lives of their communities.
What's interesting about the above is that it partially echoes the language of one of the Cons' favourite alternatives to direct citizen protection. When it comes time to discuss the glaring disconnect between the interests of the financial sector and the general public, financial literacy is all too often presented as a substitute for regulation and transparency. And as a result, a selective type of economic education is normally considered the lone general subject which right-wing parties want to see added into the educational mix (which they otherwise want to push as much as possible toward both the standardized-testing model later criticized by Meili, and narrow training for a particular trade or job).

But then, a combination of improved financial education and the type of critical thinking skills emphasized by Meili might well be exactly the preconditions we need to start questioning the degree to which our economy can be controlled by a few self-interested actors. And it's well worth taking a closer look at whether our school curricula - which on their face do include some training in the areas mentioned by Meili - are actually equipping students with both the base of knowledge and the set of values they need to become productive citizens.

[Edit: added labels.]

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