Oliver James: The Norse code

The present purpose of education is to create good little consumers and producers. Ultimately, in psychological terms, it is instruction in the replacement of Being with Having ('I am what I achieve, first in exams, then in my career'). It's a crazy system. So what should be its goal?

Hardly anyone would dispute that the acquisition of the three Rs should occur and that teachers should see this as a primary obligation. Likewise, children need to be taught to rub along with others and to learn the basics of obedience to authority.

But the purpose of this should not be to make it easier for foreign corporations and capital to exploit the labour of our children when they join the workforce. Rather, it should be to provide the basic intellectual and social tools with which to express the motivations that each of their unique family histories have set running in them, to help them achieve volition as playfully and enjoyably as possible.

Blair blathers about opportunity, but he means materialistic ones (wealth, status, power). Like nearly everyone in the upper echelons, he has seen himself as a machine to be flogged to death (straining his dodgy heart) in the service of more bigger snacks (success), now. But the true opportunity our affluence presents is of a society in which we concentrate more on having fun and enjoying our relationships with others. The greatest obstruction to these real achievements is the modern delusion that everyone must aspire to materialistic ones, and in particular, that identity and self-esteem only derive from career success and before that, school performance. By definition, great swathes of the population will always be relatively failing compared to the winners in this system and workaholia will prevail.

If one's relative material status ceased to be so crucial, doing low-status jobs would no longer seem so demeaning. Repetitive or unpleasant ones would attract higher wages than the stimulating and enjoyable - why should I be paid far more per hour to write this than the cleaner who does the office? Parents would start seeing the care they provide to their children and their elderly relatives as valuable again.

You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm certainly not the only one. The Danes have been living most of that dream for decades and schools are the place where it can start to happen. As pressure groups have been pointing out (assessment-reform-group.org.uk, home-education.org.uk, childrensarts.org.uk), priorities can change.

Everyone will have their hit-list of what the new ones should be. In my last book (They F*** You Up), I argued that all teenage schoolchildren should undergo some form of emotional audit of how their upbringing has affected them. Whatever the details, it's time Blair travelled to Denmark to learn how to move towards an education system that puts wellbeing before corporate profits.


Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.