On Education: An appeal to all educators of conscience and anyone involved in decision-making processes for better education

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The new academic year again has started, and while walking on campus where I am teaching, I recall my undergraduate life 25 years ago in Greece.  So vivid in my memory are the happy times of sitting on the grass under the sun or a tree, laughing and playing and having lively discussions with my classmates when we did not have classes.  The campus of the Aristotle University at Thessaloniki was a full of life all day long, full of 18 to 30-or-so year-olds, full of laughter, curiosity, joy and beauty.  Away from our more or less parentally dominated environment, we were at last free to try life, to fly as high as we felt able, to fall and break our wings and learn through our mistakes.  As Gandhi said: “A wise parent allows the children to make mistakes.  It is good for them once in a while to burn their fingers.”

But I do not see the same picture today.  Almost no students are outside, even when there is such wonderful weather here in California.  If there are any students outside, most likely they will be studying.  Where are the rest?  If they are not in class, they must be somewhere.  And they are somewhere; they are in the computer rooms, each one of them looking at a screen.  Every day, our machines become faster and faster, but for what?  When we get off our computers, we expect our friends to respond to our demands as fast as our computers, and if they do not, we became frustrated and intolerant.  One hundred years ago or so, technology made a promise to humans,  “Trust me and invest in me and I will free you.  I will work for you and you will have what you need and you will have plenty of free time to play music, to paint, to read, to spend time with nature and your friends.” What happened?  Where is this promised time?  Who has taken away the time for reflection from students and educators and from humanity as a whole?

What we should object to is the “craze” for computer technology and machinery in general, not the technology itself, as such.  Today, computer technology unfortunately is helping a few ride on the backs of millions.  The hidden agenda behind this is not to improve the human condition, but greed.  What are we going to tell our students?  Today, we, as educators, are constantly pressured to use computer technology in the classroom.  Our schools are run more and more as private business enterprises rather than as academic institutions.  Virtually all decisions are being made on the basis of profit.  Many administrators are becoming prey to the poisonous greed of technology corporate masters.  Part of the reason for this is the fact that our government does not give enough money to support education, so the administrators are forced to compromise what their institutions stand for in order to find the money to support them.  It is a shame that we spend ten times more on war and preparation for war than we spend on education. 

The teachers, who are inspired by a spirit of service almost without exception, many of whom have abandoned high salaries in alternative careers in order to teach, are eager to pass on their experience and knowledge to their students, but somehow they have become hostages to the decisions of their administrators.  In meetings, they often feel they must vote against what they feel is right for fear of losing their positions.  In what are called professional development sessions, which seem to have no end, teachers are loaded up with large numbers of handouts that they never have the time to read.  It seems that every secretary has to produce a great number of reports and then copy them in large numbers in order to distribute them to already busy teachers.  And the teachers take them, forget them, and go on with their work.  Professional development sessions are becoming more and more about precautions and strategies for increasing enrollment, and less and less about improving teaching and the learning of the students.  But it seems that few are taking a stand so this insanity will stop.  Not only does it not stop, but unfortunately, it diffuses through them to their students.  We flood our students with papers and more papers and demand work and more work, and for what?  It is the evolution of the heart to which the intellect and all our resources have to be devoted.

We have almost come to the conclusion that without computers we cannot be a teacher.  After awhile, no student will be able to take a test unless he/she is sitting in front of a computer.  We are making sure, even now, that our students are in front of their computers when they study.  However, we cannot interact socially with our computers. Computers do not have hearts to feel; they never will.  And we, the educators who have sacrificed better-paying jobs because we desire to teach our youth so they can have a better life, must revolt nonviolently against this tyranny for teachers and students and even administrators.  The administrators do not suffer less in this play.  It is our own indifference and apathy that blocks our way towards true teaching more than anything else.

As nice as they are, are large and expensive buildings necessary for educational institutions?  Should students have to take courses that they are not interested in order to fulfill the requirements for a degree?  These are questions that we have to answer.  Education should appear to every student as play.  Temporary chaos in higher education is preferable to the criminal waste which, is daily accumulating.  It seems that we put aside every situation we face and in that way we create automatons.  We devote all our energies to teaching our students technology and skills to satisfy the demands of our mechanized world, but what about our humanistic needs?  We are asking what is wrong with our youth when they explode out of the misery we have brought to them.  We must take responsibility for everything they do wrong, for we created the world they live in.

As educators, what have we done about this craze of changing books every year?  The poor student complains that he/she spent $650 for the books for three courses, just for one term.  How much profit do those who reprint these books almost every year make?  How many millions of trees are we cutting to make these books?  How much of the environment do we destroy and pollute just from the chemicals we use to make the paper and the colored pictures printed on it?  Can we replace these trees at the same rate we destroy them?  We cannot.  But do we remind ourselves and our students that the trees are our lungs?  With no trees there is no life.  And in light of this great waste and high profits, it is quite amazing to me, having worked in government and industry where everything needed for my work was provided, that in teaching our students, the teachers have to buy their own supplies of paper, binders, pens, board markers, chalk, etc.

We teach our students so many things, but their future does not look as bright as the corporate masters present it.  They talk about economic growth.  How about individual and societal growth through time for reflection, so we can see where we are headed.  No, the business world will not allow humanity to lift its head and see that it is drifting toward universal catastrophe.  With thousands of nuclear bombs pointed towards every major city of our world, we still have learned nothing from our past agonies and sorrows.

Most educators have chosen the teaching profession because it provides time for reflection and improvement, which we later bring into the classroom.  But this free time is getting shorter and shorter every year.  The summer classes were added some years ago but increasingly, many teachers will not be hired unless they are willing to teach in the summer.  Now teachers are also being asked if they favor offering midyear inter-session courses.  Where is this pressure coming from?  It comes from the eagerness for profit.  If teachers do not act soon, I will not be surprised to see them working every month of the year with two weeks of vacation and with an illusionary higher salary.  Will the teachers continue to be indifferent to these transitions? We need to act and act fast.  We must make sure that the corporate beast does not change the beauty of the educational arena anymore than it already has in order to satisfy its greedy appetite.

We, the educators, provide knowledge to our students, but we fail to instruct them that this knowledge should be the common property of the people.  Later, when they are absorbed in the work force, they are often required to sign proprietary agreements holding knowledge in secret for the benefit of the elite.  Are we surprised at the violence we see around us and in us?  We have failed greatly to deliver to an aching world a message of peace and good will on earth.  We must remember Plato’s words, “Knowledge without virtue is immoral”.  

I appeal to teachers and administrators who can still hear the call of their conscience to stand up for their cause, to courageously defend all the precious ideals that have been washed out of our educational system.  Let us be bold and willing to suffer even more, so that we can see our students learn from us instead of from the selfish greed around them. 

Teachers and administrators alike would do well to heed these ancient words of wisdom:  

We tried hard but it seemed that every time we were
beginning to form up into teams we would be
reorganized.  I was to learn in life that we tend to
meet any new situation by reorganizing, creating the
illusion of progress while producing nothing but
confusion, inefficiency and demoralization.
Gaius Petronius  210 BC

Faculty are now instructed to keep their office door open during office hours.  While I am aware of the reasons for this (so no student can falsely accuse an instructor of improper conduct), I am absolutely convinced that this way of thinking is not going to decrease the violence around us, but actually increase it.  These policies, based on fear of losing money if the college or the teacher is sued, isolate the students from the teachers and finally isolate the students from other students.  This increases the tendency not to trust ourselves or others, and with these kinds of policies, our educational institutions are being converted into prisons, where students cannot speak in confidence to their instructors for fear they will be overheard. 

We have become a society of violence and it is because every decision that is made by those who are paid to look after the well being of the public is based on profit.  A society for profit will not last for too long.  It has already prepared the tools for its total annihilation.  Is this that we want for our children and grandchildren.  How long are we going to deny the truth?  There is hope but it is in the hearts of our youth.  Instead of hearing their voice, which has became a cry, we go on with our fears and mistrust.  Educators of conscience must get together and work together for a big change in our thinking and actions if we are to avoid the worst.

Many teachers have expressed concern about the lack of caution with which we as a society have embraced technology and in particular, computers and the internet.  They realize that the computer revolution has been over-hyped and oversold to the American public.  It is being sold as the answer to educating our children, but the hidden agenda behind the promise is to control them in every aspect of their lives through centralized control by the government and manipulation by big business. Computer technology cannot replace traditional teaching.  It cannot replace humanity’s need to be spiritual, creative, and expressive in the process of learning and becoming educated and informed.

Despite the frenzied embracing of technology by some teachers, parents, and lawmakers, there will always be others who will hold out for human qualities.

We, the educators, hold our youth in our hearts; that is the reason we teach.  We shape their minds and inspire their hearts and we give ourselves as a gift to them.  We need to be happy in our profession so that we can enable our students to have a happy educational experience, which then will lead to a happy and fulfilled life for themselves.

Mr. Andreas Toupadakis, Ph.D. is a Former Research Scientist of Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories.

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