There isn’t one.
Not really. Not one that should (!) give you the basic tools to understand and analyse your surroundings, instead of reading the Daily Mail and accepting every barely-spell-checked word as Gospel Truth.
The other day, I caught myself marvelling at a conversation with some friends. Why? Because it covered an impressive range of topics from politics to theology, to sports, to literature, history and current events – and everyone knew what they were talking about. This in itself isn’t the surprising part, what is, is that it was so out of place compared to most conversations I observe around myself every day. It’s not at all impossible that I’m just always in the wrong place at the wrong time, and am somehow specifically drawn to ignorance, but the crushing majority of conversations I witness in public places like cafes (Nero’s and Starbucks – pricey enough to expect the hipster patrons to be moderately well-read) parks, and even my university campus trend toward the alarmingly dim.
For instance, the other day I head a girl explaining to her friend (no joke!) that the First World War was caused because nobody liked some uppity aristocrat named Franz Ferdinand and someone shot him. That was sincerely it. I may be out of context, but the way she was telling it, it certainly came off that this girl sincerely believed that personal dislike and a trigger-happy Serbian were the only reasons behind a devastating war which has shaped the course of history for the past 100 years. I hope these girls weren’t history majors or I would weep. It is ignorance like this that allows people to keep getting distracted by shock-value news stories that distract from the fact that the world’s superpowers are essentially in the same imperialist arms-race as they were in the early 1900’s, the same economic shithole that helped cause another devastating war 20 years later, and with the same feelings of inequality running high enough to soon turn violent even in the First World. Yet somehow, people keep thinking that if they ignore it and focus on how shitty things are in Syria, the problems building back home won’t actually affect them, or won’t happen at all. Which is the brilliant strategy Europe adopted the last time there was a power-hungry, wealthy and newly developed country invading people for no reason *coughtheRhinecough*, which led to the somehow more noticeable invasion of Poland (if I were Austria, I’d be offended that it took Poland getting invaded (yet again) for anyone to notice something was amiss). Another example was when shortly upon moving to the UK, I was impressed by a Pub being called the Last Plantagenet and pointed it out to my friend (a UK native),and he looked confused and asked me why I was impressed by some plant.
I realise that “keeping the masses dumb” is a pretty old political adage, but I disagree with the value of that strategy. Yes, dumb-as-sand people are easy to control… to an extent. The plan falls apart when they start forming mobs because they either a) are already massively impressionable and someone’s been more clever than you and turned them and they lynch you or b) they finally get annoyed themselves with being manipulated and still lynch you. Then they install a military government that is just as oppressive as the last one, if not brutally more so, and complain about how their democratic vision was unfairly stolen from them by people with guns and an inkling of forethought, and roll woman’s rights back 50 years or so. Either way - you get lynched.
Education is the building block of society. If your people don’t know what going on, they’re not going to be able to fully participate in a truly all-over progressive future. The more we delude ourselves with spoon-fed information, the less capable we are of making objective judgements, and analysing what’s going on (e.g. why Labour was in power for 14 years). I’m not a conservative, or a liberal, because frankly none of the parties currently available offer anything other than a very slightly different shade of the same incompetence, and none of them are capable of introducing any real progressive and practical change to strengthen and safeguard the global economy against more irresponsible gambling, and some such fucking shit. I strongly believe that education should be if not entirely free, at least easily affordable for anyone, of any class with the capacity to excel in their chosen field. I have a real problem with bank bailouts at the sacrifice of school and university budgets. The result is Physics students who can’t do math, historians who don’t understand cause and effect, and politicians who believe that a background in economics and history is unnecessary for a degree in how to rule a country.
Ignorance leads to incompetence and incompetence to ruin. It’s not a surprise that China releases something like fourteen Engineers to every one Engineer graduate in the UK. When you sacrifice your sciences funding, you can say goodbye to progress and self-sufficiency, and hello to aggravated immigration and a welfare state because your own people are too uneducated to understand how to innovate and MAKE things, so you need to invite foreign talent at greater and greater numbers, while more and more perfectly intelligent people are sat on the dole because they’ve been let down by the system (and have gotten obscenely and inexcusably lazy). Incompetence leads to people with MBAs getting high-ranking jobs in industrial companies without the faintest idea of what it is they’re meant to be managing. You can’t be a manager of stuff; you have to have at least some basic understanding of what it is you’re selling. Knowing how business by itself works is pretty useless, if you don’t know what it is your business is meant to be selling.
But the most important and greatest blow, is that teachers today don’t love to teach. I have recently heard a PGCE (basically a teaching degree) described as a means to take a year off, get paid tax free, and chill out while you look for a better job, and –hey! – you’ll have a backup if your plan A goes tits up. That – is a problem. Teachers are the second most important role-model in a child’s life after their parents. Teachers are the people who open the world to a child, who inspire them, who lift the curtain of mystery from their surroundings which are like an exclusive club they can’t join because they don’t understand it yet, and say “come on in”. Teachers make engineers, poets, writers, actors, painters, scientists, artisans, all the professions of the world! But if your teacher is just doing this to get by, that’s not going to be the person who inspired you, and made you want to try and learn and excel. They’ll be the person who’s house you’re teepeeing with your friend because they’re a drunk asshole.
Respect and love of teaching is of the utmost importance if we are going to become a better society. Respect and funding of proper rounded Education is vital if people are going to get off their asses and start looking for jobs they love, not tolerate to make a living. Without education, you get stupid mistakes being made, like erroneous wars that are allowed to happen because no one can or chooses to see through the veil of their origin, or whole economic systems that are allowed to collapse because no one was monitoring them. This is not OK. And the solution starts with winning back education.