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Dag: 14 oktober 2014

The Critical Curse: Let’s stop teaching our kids

Critical thoughts. They’re clearly a curse. Unwanted by our current society. In fact, most societies in history would have loved to have done away with it. Almost all truly critical thinkers I know are considered unworthy of participating in society, in some cases even unworthy of life. So maybe it’s time to stop fighting it: people don’t want scepsism, they don’t want to think and decide for themselves, and they certainly don’t welcome deviating ideas. So perhaps we should stop teaching our children to be free and just educate them into conformity (more so than is already done).

Like most people in my country (I’m from the Netherlands), I’ve lived a sheltered life. I was raised in what I was taught was an open, intelligent, reasonable society. Around the time I could go to university, I could study anything I wanted. Most of the more professional educations were in fields that could not ensure employment (and, in fact, most of those are in crisis, if not 100% consisting of the unemployed). So I decided to study the one thing that ensures unemployment: I took up philosophy. Not that I finished, by the way.

The one thing they teach you in the first year, is to put everything you think you’re sure of, and throw it out. You take everything your parents, your teachers, politicians and the news have assured you is true and right, you put it in the Windows Recycle Bin, and you press ‘permanently delete’. There. The one thing you have left is the famous I think, therefore I am. And you get to rebuild from that point. It’s pretty radical, in the strict sense of the word.

The thing you’re being trained for, is to not accept anything as is. To question. To find your own truths. And, obviously, a lot of students apply the same thing to their own lives – and the course. It’s paradoxical, but the first year has a huge number of drop-outs, who were, so to speak, educated too succesfully. I was one of them. Why would I sit in this classroom and listen to this man ? I was out of there.

Now, I’m not too critical a thinker. I did my best – wrote and illustrated five comic books encouraging people to think about the world, with a few facts-that-are-different-from-what-you’d-expect thrown in. Then I basically started a career, for a while. Then, of course, came the crisis, but because critical thought is way too much hard work for me, I’ve remained fairly employable.

However, I do have several friends who are critical thinkers. One of my best friends is A.H.J. Dautzenberg. A man who holds degrees in economics and literature, has a large proven professional track record in several economic fields, but… Who spends his private time engaging in, gasp, horror: Critical Thought.

Now Dautzenberg doesn’t think quietly. When he found out that a national TV campaign to encourage kidney donation had hardly produced more donors, he decided to go through the process himself. And wrote a book, that tells you all the ins and outs of donating a kidney to a complete stranger. He thinks about how we constantly (re)invent ourselves, the world, society, each other, and tries to confront us with that by writing fictional journalism. Effectively: he’s not interested in thruth and untruth, because both are constructions, fiction. An interesting idea, to say the least. He’s also started a magazine to bring poverty in the Netherlands into the public eye – not in a sad, demeaning way, but as a positive, proud statement, meanwhile urging the need for something to be done about it. Lately he has been supporting Diederik Stapel, a ‘fallen scientist’ who was caught falsifying results of scientific research. Who will never be able to work in the field of science again, accepted and lived through his punishment, but now is faced with the impossible situation to resume life after having become a public stereotype. And he has been defending pedophiles against the current witch-hunt going on in the Netherlands (for the record: pedophiles are people with feelings – it’s not the same as those who act on them). He’s been very outspoken about the  latter issue, stating that most child abuse (which is the primary argument that those who would like to see all pedophiles killed right this minute) finds place within the family environment, and a close second is the clergy. Neither of which are under political or vigilante fire.

In short: Dautzenberg is trouble, most people would say. He makes you think about things. People clearly don’t like that. So he has lost everything. He’s lost most of his clients as an economic journalist. He and his family have received numerous death threats. Obviously, being an outspoken public figure, he has a hard time finding employment without the public stereotype following him. (Something that brought him closer to the beforementioned fallen scientist: they share a highly disruptive stigma and many believe neither should be allowed any access to public life anymore).

Recently, he was shortly employed – in the field he holds a high academic degree in – to process students’ theses. Once the educational institutuin (Fontys Academy) found out they had a Critical Thinker in their ranks, they took swift action. Dautzenberg was sacked. And rightly so, after all: despite the fact no student had any direct contact with him, just having his BRAIN, holding critical ideas, in the same building as those of the students, is incredibly dangerous. They even annouced, proudly, sacking my friend.

As I said, I’m hardly a critical thinker. I like smelling flowers and petting my cat. Sitting in the sun, musing. Writing light verse poetry. Drinking a beer with my friends. I’m employable. Society doesn’t mind me too much. I’m, after all, (to quote The Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy) ‘mostly harmless’. I can only conclude one thing: let’s stop teaching our kids. Altogether.

Teaching – knowledge – is dangerous, to society and to the one who posesses it. Once you’ve climbed out of Plato’s cave, you can’t unsee what you’ve learned. Let’s just brick up the exit. Despite all the progress our culture has made thanks to critical thinkers, it’s clearly something we don’t want anymore. I recommend we train everyone to conform without a single doubt in their minds. That way we can also stop developing robots to take over our jobs. We can abolish voting, because there won’t be any deviating ideas anymore.

Something to think about. NO, WAIT. Sorry… what was I thinking.

 

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