Creating a More Equal Society

“A wide range of social problems are worse in societies with bigger income differences between rich and poor. These include physical and mental illness, violence, low math and literacy scores among young people, lower levels of trust and weaker community life, poorer child well-being, more drug abuse, lower social mobility and higher rates of imprisonment and teenage births.” 

Richard Wilkinson 
Why Inequality is bad for you – and everyone else

 

Living in an unequal society is less safe and less pleasant than living in a society with more equality; a more equal society benefits everyone in it. But what does it mean, equality? Equality doesn’t mean we are all the same; all people are different. But all people are people.

To strive for equality means to strive for equal opportunities and chances in life. This means a child growing up in the Badain Jaran desert has just as much chance of becoming a doctor as a child growing up in Shanghai’s Xintiandi. And a child that grows up in the Beijing Hutongs has the same opportunities of spending their live traveling as a child growing up in the suburbs of Guiyang. More importantly, all children around the world have the chance and opportunity to live their lives in the way they want, regardless of their ethnicity, gender identity, special needs, or preferences. And all adults, too.

A society where everyone has equal opportunities is safer, people tend to trust each other more, cooperate better, and generally feel happier.

How can we create a society with equal opportunities? How can we ensure people born in different places under unequal circumstances have the same chances of realizing their potentials?

1. CREATING EQUAL CIRCUMSTANCES

Public policies and private initiatives can make sure schools and hospitals are built, people have food to eat, access to clean drinking water, houses, and electricity. In order for the circumstances to be equal, adjustments may be needed to provide for certain people. For instance, we need to ensure children with special needs can participate fully in their school, or people with lower incomes are allowed to pay lower prices.    

Taking care of the basic needs and making sure that inequality is counter-balanced by the interference of positive discrimination is an important step, but it is not enough.

People’s minds play a big, if not the biggest, role, and dehumanization is still widespread through different excuses, false beliefs, and superficial and precipitous judgments.

We live in societies in which some are viewed as less than others, and some view themselves as less than others. People live with fears and expectations, imprisoned in their own assumptions. In order to change this, we need to make people understand their worth, and create a society in which everyone recognizes everyone’s intrinsic worth and with equal opportunities. In order to achieve this, we need to have…

2. EMPOWERMENT

People should be able to take their own decisions, think critically, act fearless, find creative solutions, and maximize their potential as human beings. We can achieve this through education. This second part is crucial for the first one to maximize its impact. They are not two successive steps; they should be developed simultaneously. The two form a complementary whole. Being able to think critically, find creative solutions for problems, and seize chances is necessary in order to ensure everyone can use the system well. Conversely, empowerment is only valuable if you are able to sustain yourself.

As mentioned, people are different, and they have different needs in order to excel. Then how can we provide this education of empowerment?

Education around the world happens in more or less similar fashion: all children go to school from a young age, adults are there to teach them indispensable knowledge, they get tested, and if they understand everything well enough they graduate. Why is this? As often, in order to understand our own situation it is relevant to look at the history of our educational system.

Although teaching has been important since the times of Confucius in China or Socrates in Greece, systematic education for all is a development that emerged in the 16th to 19th century. From religious considerations emerged the idea that everyone should be able to read the Scriptures, while employers believed the main point of education to be punctuality, an ability to follow directions, and governments wanted schooling to create patriots and soldiers. In short, education was there for children to become obedient followers, not autonomous leaders. The idea that children had a natural ability to play and explore was irrelevant to these goals, so inherently punishment became part of the system. (Gray, 2008)

 

In the education system that was formed over the years, and which largely still exists today, there are a few assumptions:

  • Learning is for children 
  • Teaching is for adults 
  • All children should be educated
  • Playing is the opposite of learning
  • Children should be forced to learn by punishing them if they don’t

This type of education is mostly still in place, though it is getting better with more and more progressive methods and schools arising in different places.

In the reformation we propose, these assumptions will be implicitly challenged.

A first question to ask ourselves: should children be educated at all?

In the society we live in, we need some sort of education in order to find a job. But is it really relevant to educate everyone? And is the goal of everyone’s life to find a job? Without falling into a trap of me writing a book about the possible benefits of education, I will continue this argument in the light of what I mentioned before: education is important because it leads to empowerment, which in its turn will contribute to equality in our society.

So, what should the goal of education be? In order to empower individuals, there are a few basic points education should focus on.

1. SELF-DISCOVERY

In order to develop as a person, it is important to know who you are, what you like and dislike, when you feel comfortable, what makes you happy, and which skills you should focus on developing in order to handle life’s various and unpredictable situations. This can be achieved through exploration.

2. CREATIVITY

In order to be able to find solutions for problems and to look past what is given, stimulation of creativity is important. It is not necessary to teach creativity, because creativity is innate. In an educational system we should stimulate it, and give it space to develop. It happens often that children feel insecure to create, thus an important part of stimulating creativity is helping children to build self-confidence to create.

3. CRITICAL THINKING

The ability to question the status quo, doubt, reflect, and take measured decisions is relevant for everyone. In a diverse society it is important that people learn how to see things from different sides and through other perspectives.

4. COMMUNICATION

As we live in societies, it is important that we are able to communicate (in some form). Without communication mutual understanding and co-living becomes completely impossible.

5. MORAL EDUCATION

Empowerment for equality means empowerment for everyone. This means we need to have an inclusive society, in which everyone is respected and valued.

(I have presented them in arbitrary order, number 5 is just as important as number 1, and they are not meant as a temporal or successive list.)

I’m not arguing that this an extensive list of the courses of a complete education system, but as everyone can benefit from these, they should form the major part of the curriculum.  This education system is partly focused on developing emotional intelligence, i.e. the understanding of emotions of self or other, the ability to regulate these emotions, and the ability to empathize with others. The development of emotional intelligence is important, because it allows students to implement their skills for themselves and for others. The five points mentioned shouldn’t be taught in a sort of vacuum, but with situations and examples from the real world.

These basic skills are relevant for everyone in order to create a more equal society in which people respect each other. The truth is that nobody knows what the world will be like in 5, or 10, or 50 years. Maybe global warming will turn our planet into an oven and force us to live all together in Antarctica, and maybe most jobs will really cease to exist in the next decades. We cannot really be prepared for that, but if we learn how to communicate, live together, understand ourselves and each other, and think out of the box, we will manage to deal with our problems.

The real solutions for our problems are not in innovative technologies or sophisticated systems; the real solutions are in us.

 

This reformation of the educational system does not mean that everything which is now taught in schools is irrelevant. Keeping in mind that education systems around the world vary greatly, what would be left of the education system as we know it?

  • Learning a language.  Though the way languages are taught is counterproductive (generally through books instead of focusing on the inborn talent that young children have of picking up a new language), learning a language is essential for communication. Ideally, everyone would learn a similar language, in order to ensure communication between people from opposite sides of the world possible, even if it is only as a second language. Also ideally, this would be a neutral language which is easy to learn for people from different parts of the world (e.g. Esperanto) and inclusive (perhaps a Sign Language based on Esperanto).
  • Art, though with the goal not of set cannons of beauty, but of various ways of self-expression, self-understanding, and communication.
  • Philosophy, though in a different way than usually taught (if at all), with the focus on not studying the history of thought, but with the focus on developing critical thinking skills, logical thinking, and moral education.
  • Play time, in order to have time for children to interact, create, and stimulate each other.

It is of course important to include time to raise awareness about the planet as well, and to encourage everyone to live in a more sustainable way.

What about all other courses? There is relevance to some other courses we are taught in primary school and high school. For instance, mathematics is relevant to some extent for making children able to understand numbers, history is relevant in order to know why things are as they are, which problems we have encountered in the past, and how we have solved them, etc., but especially the younger years of education should be focused on the development of the person, and this goal should be central in all of the educational years. 

How about secondary education? Even though I enjoyed my high school years and performed well, most of what I was taught is completely irrelevant in my life now. Very recently I needed to calculate the length of the third side of a triangle. This was the first time in the ten years after I graduated from high school that I could have used Pythagoras’ Theorem, but I had forgotten all about the theorem. So I went on the internet and found a website which made me fill out two sides of the triangle, and calculated the length of the third side for me.

 

And that’s the world we live in. There’s more information available at the click of a button than we can ever read in our entire lives. It is relevant for some people to know and understand advanced mathematics, but not for the vast majority of people. Maybe mathematics is used as a training of an ability to think abstractly, but it is not treated in that way. Knowing Pythagoras’ theorem is treated as a goal in itself.

I’ve used the example of Pythagoras’ theorem and mathematics, but the same can be said about almost all courses I had in high school. Very often we are just taught factual knowledge, while creativity or moral education are not at all part of the curriculum. It seems very wrong to me to teach almost every child between 12 and 16 that an atom’s center consists of protons and neutrons, while not teaching them any critical thinking skills.

There should be a possibility for people to learn these things, but there are many ways to obtain information by yourself. The internet is full of accessible and interesting information, and there are so many public libraries. High school teachers should be guides who allow children to find, understand, and critically assess information, instead of inculcating information.

What is it that we remember from our high school years? We remember the human connections that influenced and shaped our lives, not the names and date of birth of some 18th century president.

In this reformed education system, the development of the person will always be more important than learning subjects.

Higher education should keep in mind the main aims of education, while providing ample opportunities for student to either learn a practical skill, explore different topics of interest, or prepare themselves for a career.

Learning and developing yourself doesn’t stop after school. Adults are not completely formed unchangeable individuals, they still explore themselves, their boundaries, expand their comfort zones, and learn more and more about others and the world.  But instead of learning in an educational system, they learn by living, reading, watching, talking, or discussing. Offering possibilities of learning for adults should also be part of the educational system.

Keeping in mind this theory, B人BEL focuses on different parts of education. We deliver education programs to primary and high schools, which focus on empowerment for all students. We offer free education to migrant schools in Shanghai, and we offer programs to international schools. Both programs differ because the curricular education received by the students differs as well. In general, our education focuses on self-understanding, expression, human relationships, inclusion, and creativity.

Learning is not limited to schools or students, so we offer different and accessible ways for people to develop themselves outside schools. Our events bring people together to create more understanding between different people, to inspire people to explore themselves and their capabilities, to discuss problems, and to think of solutions together. Our social media brings visibility to different (marginalized or less-visible) people and their lives, in order to create understanding and bring people closer together.

Education becomes more powerful when it gets to more people, so we always strive to give this information in an accessible, affordable, and entertaining way, using different sorts of media to stimulate different people.

If you believe a society with more equality and inclusion is possible, join us!