No, it isn’t a typo. There’s a subtle but world-changing difference, you see, in the vowel.
Education comes from the Latin educare – to bring up or train.
Educetion (which I’ve just invented, of course) is derived from the Latin educere – to lead out, to draw from.
See the difference? In the first, we have malleable individuals who can be trained in whatever way those in authority prefer. In the second we have innately wise people who, with a sufficiently nurturing environment, can develop and hone their own skills, perhaps in entirely new ways.
Let me give an example of educetion from my own childhood.
Long, long ago, I sat in in a grammar school classroom ready for the first art class of the year with Mr Sutcliffe. Our group was studying art as a ‘relaxation subject’, timetabled in as a break from the many hours working towards academic A-levels.
My classmates and I had, for the past couple of months, been vicariously enjoying the Summer of Love, via our transistor radios and magazines. The times, as Dylan had foretold a few years before, were a-changin’. We were sixth formers now. We felt ourselves to be groovy and trendy and hip – yet Mr Sutcliffe was about to do something so shocking, so daring, so different, that we would walk out of that room as changed people.
No paints. No pencils or pastels even. Just Mr S at the front of the class, holding up a magazine advert for washing powder.
“Persil Washes Whiter!” he boomed.
We stared in confused silence.
“Than WHAT?” he demanded.
He seemed to require a response. We glanced at one another.
“Than – other brands, sir?” one boy suggested, nervously.
“Does it say that?” Sutcliffe snapped back. “Is there proof?”
“No,” we mumbled.
“No,” he agreed, his voice returning to its usual friendly, comfortable tone.
“No.” He sighed sadly. “And yet – just because of things like THIS,” (shaking the magazine page accusingly) “millions of people spend their money on this product rather than another.”
We sat, mesmerised, while Mr Sutcliffe went on to demonstrate, clearly and convincingly, how we – the unsuspecting public – were constantly duped by advertisers, politicians, the media and anyone else with a vested interest in manipulating our minds. He showed us how colour, design and typefaces created a desired attitude. He showed us how empty words and clever phrases would place ideas in our minds. He entreated us to stop and think and avoid being led blindly into behaving as They wanted us to.
“You are wise, intelligent young people,” he said, his voice almost cracking with emotion. “You have the wit and the ability to make your own choices, to decide whether or not you believe what you are being told. Be critical. Be wary. Be sceptical. No one has the right – or the ability – to tell YOU what to think!”
Mr Sutcliffe had put his job on the line – even back in those liberal, relatively unmonitored times. He had not given us an art lesson. He’d given us educetion. He’d shown us that we were not empty vessels to be filled with facts and instructions, but autonomous people with the ability to make our own choices. Such behaviour was unheard of in those days. We were being trained to be obedient little consumers; that was how capitalism worked. We were being trained to believe those in authority; that was how politics worked.
Today, of course, things are very different. Advertising is (somewhat) regulated. Conspiracy theories and debunking explode from the internet in every direction. Students in schools are taught critical thinking skills and encouraged to form their own opinions… aren’t they?
Call me sceptical and cynical and so forth if you like, but I was taught by Mr Sutcliffe. I’ve learned to smell a rat.
The tide is turning. Times are a-changin’ again. Our leaders – fearful that their authority, and even their purpose, are being eroded – are fighting back. They are being very clever about it, too.
The British education system is being overwhelmed by Junk Learning. It is imposed by the government. It isn’t in the National Curriculum – that would be too obvious. It’s in the tests they are imposing on our children. If schools want to survive, they need good test scores. To get good test scores, the teachers must teach what will be tested. It’s no accident that there has been a sudden leap in the amount of difficult, obscure and downright pointless material primary school children – as young as six – are required to learn and regurgitate on cue.
A recent study found – unsurprisingly – that a group of university academics, even when they were allowed to confer, were unable to complete the tests being given to 10 and 11-year-olds this year. Needless to say, the stress caused to teachers, parents and children is utterly unacceptable. Thousands of English parents are planning to ‘strike’ and keep their 6 and 7-year-olds out of school next Tuesday to show their displeasure at the test system.
So why is it there? Well, I venture to suggest, there are a finite number of hours in the school day. The more of those hours that are devoted to the rote learning of pointless grammar and complex arithmetic, the less are available for educetion. Children who are not given the chance to develop their innate talents and creativity, not encouraged to consider alternative viewpoints, not allowed to have any choice in what they study or how they study it will grow up believing themselves to be successes or failures, based on their ability (at the age of eleven) to identify a prepositional phrase or a modal verb or to multiply a fraction by another fraction.
How much easier will it be to manipulate such citizens, broken by a harsh, unreasonable and destructive system, than those who have been empowered to think and reason for themselves?