For those fearing feral youth behaviour (according to the November 2011 ICM poll conducted for Barnados, 44% of the UK population believe young people are “becoming feral”), fodder education can seem an attractive antidote.
Fodder education aims to secure a steady supply of thoroughly ‘domesticated’ workers who will do what is asked of them without question. It seeks to achieve this by sifting out the majority of each generation and processing them into submissive underlings who give up their own diverse potential so as to serve their masters.
When the political wing of the wealthy elite lament the failings of contemporary education, they are not saddened by the lost opportunities of countless children and adults to expand their intellectual, cultural and moral capacity to live a more fulfilled life. They are complaining that not enough of them have been turned into ready fodder to feed the corporate machines.
Advocates for fodder education do not want schools or lifelong learning providers to kindle the human spirit for uplifting endeavours. They dread the cultivation of a critical mindset which, instead of swallowing crass inefficiencies and gross injustice, would rationally demand a rethink of how productions are organised and resources distributed. All they want, in the name of ‘better education’, is a line of people who will accept their station in life, carry out whatever mind-numbing tasks are asked of them, and gratefully receive their low pay or the alternative stigma of being jobless.
It’s pertinent to point out that it was Adam Smith, so revered by ill-informed champions of unrestrained markets, who was amongst the first to attack the tendency of reducing workers to thoughtless automaton. According to Smith, habituating people into routine tasks which “give little exercise to the understanding” would render them “not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble or tender sentiment, and consequently of forming any just judgment concerning many even of the ordinary duties of private life.” (Wealth of Nations).
Smith wanted to see publicly funded education develop the minds of people so they can think more broadly, cultivate understanding beyond routine work matters, learn to appreciate and pursue the common good rather than just obsess about individual advancement, and expand their imagination and sensitivity. Unfortunately, fodder education, combined with the incompetence of poorly regulated markets, have today left more and more young people with barely subsistent earnings, growing debts, and in many cases no job prospect at all. Instead of hope, all that is on offer is prolonged austerity for the poor, and bonus payment for the rich.
The majority of young people do not loot and riot like the irresponsible few any more than the majority of adults set about ruining the economy and people’s livelihood like the banking elite have done. What society really needs is education which not only equips us with basic skills, but nurtures our ability to uncover myths and dogmas, challenges the lies and iniquities perpetrated by the powerful, cooperate with others fairly in achieving shared goals, and exploring the potential we have in finding fulfilment in our own ways.
It should be the aim of education to produce, not fodder, but thoughtful citizens.
A re-posting of the original, 2012 Jan 01.