According to the Dictionary: Schooling or Education

Although I have many times mentioned it as part of other discussions, I would once more like to come back to the role of the school with regard raising children and educating them, because this remains a topic of confusion.

I recently came across two articles in which upset or criticism was expressed about what schools tell children. One of those discussions was about “sexual education” and specifically the idea that the school allowed guest speaker to inform children that there was a good chance they might be homosexual. A second discussion was about dress codes and whether religious head wear should be banned to avoid inequality. The objection was that the child with the religious head wear was given special privileges if head wear for non-religious reasons was not allowed.

The point of both discussions was that the parents did not agree with what the school was telling the children about the topic. In the first case, the parents didn’t actually have anything against homosexuality, but they didn’t want their child told that certain superficial behaviour (such as playing with dolls) indicated that they might be – quite right. The second was about cultural diversity versus diversity of opinion.

These objections are equivalent to objections and discussions about schools making children stand up and salute a flag, schools teaching evolution theory (which religious parents don’t accept) and schools telling war stories with the message that soldiers are heroes (which pacifist parents disagree with), as well as those issues I have mentioned before, such as when schools tell children they have mental disorders if they can’t behave like their peers, or when schools criticize what children eat or tell them what their parents are supposed to feed them.

In short, the (public) school is instilling messages into the children’s minds, which some parents object to. And although I understand the sentiment of the writers of those articles, I believe they may have overlooked the difference between schooling and education.

Today, terminology such as “education” and “life-long learning” are considered positives. The vast majority of parents, teachers and politicians will tell you that they think children should go to school, because they need an education. The UN has made a moral law that ‘guarantees’ children “the right to an education”, which is made compulsory and equated with going to school. (see my article on this topic: Education and Human Rights). Thus, we talk about “the education system” when we mean schools.

Using these two words interchangeably results from  adults internalizing what they are told as children and then never questioning it again. I call this “The Santa Claus effect”. If you raise children with the belief that Santa Claus exists, they will not question it unless somebody starts hinting at the possibility that it may not be true. Usually, at a certain age, kids start informing each other or parents tell them, but if this was not the case – like it is when an entire culture is immersed in a view and schools and the media keep repeating it – they would grow up believing that Santa Claus is real.

And so parents, teachers and the media all repeat that going to school means getting an education and if the children never hear anything else, they will pass on this same message to their own children or students when they grow up.

Most teachers, no doubt, go into teaching, because they want to help children learn – they want to educate them, and most parents will send their kids to school, because they want them to learn. But it is exactly that confusion that lies at the basis of these disagreements between schools and parents.

So, let us literally quote the dictionary  – Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, and I have used both the Ninth (1989) and the Tenth (2001) edition – and with apologies for any repeat from previous articles and in my young adult novel In the Real World.

The dictionary starts by listing the following synonyms, which are regularly used in relation to schools:

“teach, instruct, educate, train, discipline and school all mean to cause to acquire knowledge or skill”

Then it separates them:

to teach  is the most general and refers to “any manner of imparting information or skill so others may learn”

to instruct is “methodical or formal teaching”

to educate is “attempting to bring out latent capabilities”  In the 2001 edition, this is modified to “the development of the mind”

to train “stresses instruction and drill with a specific end in view”

to discipline is “subordinating to a master for the sake of controlling”  In the 2001 version this is modified to “training in habits of order and precision”

to school is “training or disciplining, esp. in what is hard to master or to bear” In the 2001 editions “or to bear” has been omitted. And the first entry definition given for the verb “school” is “to teach or drill a specific knowledge or skill”

Just to confirm, for those who object to my choice of dictionary, the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) says about “to school”:

  1. To educate or train (a person, the mind, etc.); to make wise, skilful, or tractable by training or discipline; to be educated in a particular belief, habit, outlook; to educate (a child) at a school; to provide (a person) with a formal education, typically at a school, college, or university.

More modern dictionaries, like the New Zealand Oxford  (2008) and some online equivalents, say:

to teach is “to give systematic information to (a person) or about (a subject or skill)”

to instruct is to “teach, direct, command or inform”

to educate is to “give intellectual, moral or social instruction as a formal or prolonged process”  

to train is to “teach a specific skill by practice”

to discipline is “mental, moral or physical training” or “control or order exercised over people”

schooling refers to “training or discipline” or “education at school”

So the more modern the dictionary, the more there is a tendency to relate schooling to knowledge and the mind, and education to schools, which is evidence of  language being interpretable and subject to fashions, even within the era. With that in mind, I also looked at the word origins:

According to the OED, the origin of “to school” is to reprimand, scold, admonish (obs.). To tell (a person) he or she is wrong about something; to dictate to (a person); to criticize, correct, ‘lecture'”.

And the etymology dictionary (online) agrees with this. The origin (around the mid 15th century) of “school” as a verb meant “to educate; to reprimand, to discipline”
And to educate, this dictionary says, stems from the same period and means to “bring up (children), to train”. The root of this word, “educe” means to “bring out or develop from latent or potential existence, which is therefore in agreement with the Merriam-Webster.

So, even if the word meanings change a little, there is a clear focus difference. “Education” means bringing out latent capabilities in the learner or to develop and bring up; in other words, the focus is on the child. It wants to raise an individual who can develop their own natural talents and skills as good as possible and so be happy contributing to the greater whole (the society). “Education”, by its very definition, acknowledges that not every child is born with the same talents and its goal is to discover and nurture those inborn talents.

“Schooling” focuses on the skill or the outcome. The goal is to create an individual who can perform the end goal, who can benefit the needs of the society.

This is a subtle, but very important difference, and it is possible that the half of the population who are Js (who naturally equate the needs of the group with those of the individual) might protest and say that this difference is contrived.

Nevertheless, the role of schools is to create citizens that will fit in the society, that will not cause trouble and that will contribute to its needs. To allow too much individuality is in conflict with these needs. An established society does not want people questioning it, it wants them to endorse it.

As said before, societies cannot exist unless the majority of their members obey their rules. And how do you achieve that better than by instilling the beliefs in the members when they are too young to question it?

In principle, education doesn’t need schools and, possibly, schools don’t need to provide education, but an institution that does not teach any skills or values is more like a prison. So, schools (as state institutions) can provide education, but that does not mean that the words can be used interchangeably.

Schools, as said in Changing Beliefs, at times run ahead or behind the popular opinion, but it is their job to make children accept the beliefs of the society they represent, whether that society is a religious group or the state.

The views of the current rulers are instilled in children through schools, and in a democracy those are the beliefs of the mob – beliefs that change with fashions and depend for a great part on trends.

Thus, if the vast majority of people believe that evolution and homosexuality are wrong (as was the case less than a century ago), then that is what schools tell the children. If the majority suddenly goes overboard to the other extreme (and mob beliefs are seldom moderate), then schools will follow that trend.

Schooling can only happen in an institution; education is something parents can do just as well. So if you send your child to school, you have to understand that your own beliefs could be dismissed in favour of those the school holds. The alternative would be to educate your own children according to your own beliefs.

However, as said above, the “right to education” has been made into an obligation to send children to school – and some countries will threaten parents with prison if they are not willing to subject their kids to the beliefs of the state (through school).

In general, the more open-minded and tolerant a society is, the more it will allow its members a mind of their own. In doing so, each individual is likely to contribute to the collective in their own area of expertise, which, if all different talents are valued equally, means each can feel satisfied and respected.

A stable society tends to be lenient, but the moment a society starts weakening, it will try and enforce its own views – the weaker it feels, the more moralistic and dogmatic it becomes and individual needs and views are suppressed. This is true for any group (whether the society at large or a club or a school) and the less tolerant a society, the more it will enforce ‘education laws’.

The common belief (also instilled in most adults through schools and the media) is that these laws prevent child labour. But in most cases that was a convenient excuse that played on the emotions and guaranteed compliance without effort.

In short, education is not schooling; a law that makes going to school compulsory is not there for the sake of the children.

My advice to parents: If you have a choice, go talk to the schools and find out how open-minded they are. Do they really allow the individual child to have its own opinion without being penalized with lower grades or a scolding, or is it just a slogan the school has adopted, because the word “individual” is a popular hype word?

But one more word of caution. As I said before, whether somebody is inclined to accept the popular view or go against it, whether somebody is by nature an individual or not, depends on their personality type and there is no guarantee that your child is the same type as you are. So it is possible that if you, as a parent, object to schools and to uniformity of beliefs, that your child actually prefers that and feels safe in such an environment. If you make a fuss, you could be compromising your child.

Similarly, if you believe that making children fit in the society is a good thing, because they will later get a good job, make sure that you are not forcing a naturally individualistic child into something that stifles their inner self.

Because, regardless of what schools do, most parents aim to educate their children and that means allowing their natural personality type to develop according to their own needs.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Santosh
    Mar 01, 2015 @ 23:41:54

    if you are a teacher it is good to see such an article. Otherwise schooling or education is another word of business in today’s world.


    • nonentiti
      Mar 02, 2015 @ 10:06:32

      Thank you, Santosh.
      I anticipated some teachers not being happy with my article, because some identify strongly with their school. I am glad to hear your positive response.


  2. Santosh
    Mar 03, 2015 @ 00:32:53

    When there were less school great personalities were born. Those great people studied the world and opened school to share their knowledge. Now we don’t have such great people in the world because we are trying to learn what somebody have already discovered. Students are not trying to discover something new or understand a topic through their own mind… because school keep them busy with routine homework just to complete some task. I too was a victim of that but recently have understood how interesting things become when we try to understand something. The thought was simple – How someone would have calculated volume of sphere, area of circle? How somebody has calculated earth radius – How can I? Anybody can give a try to find answer for this and fall in love with books. But to explore such answers school should give time to think to every students which is not the case today, and is bad.
    I just know there is some problem in the way children are taught in school and society. Your article gives some very good hints to think over. Keep writing!


  3. nonentiti
    Mar 03, 2015 @ 10:20:39

    Thank you and I agree, schools are often used to keep kids busy. There are some alternative system (like the free school) which encourage kids to think and explore for themselves, but some children need more guidance than what those systems can offer. It remains a question of personality.


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