Meritocracy is the best of human paradigms yet discovered, which has allowed millions to live a more fulfilling life and allowed tens of millions (billions?) around the world to understand their own potential and to actualize it, being rewarded and recognized with status, with money, with fame, for using their God-given talents, in spite of their genders, in spite of their race, in spite of their humble beginnings. However, we all recognize that the head-starts that some children get set them far apart from others in our current, flawed meritocracy. The rich beget the rich. The children of wealth are sent to private schools that know how to teach not only the expert knowledge that students need to distinguish themselves in the competitive landscape of college acceptance but also the implicit knowledge of status markers: how to participate in the social circles, what beliefs to hold, what casual remarks to make in order to distinguish oneself as a member of the upper class.
Is this wrong? I think that question isn’t nearly as important as realizing that this is our present state of consciousness, manifesting in the outer world. In a sense, this classism is extraordinarily human. It keeps us all in our cars, on our highways, humming along, cooperating at work, smiling over our coffee cups although we don’t want to. It keeps us from killing each other. It keeps us affable, locked into our places…functional. Billions of people functioning. Imagine that. According to Steven Pinker, this era of human history is by far the most peaceful ever.
That’s including the world wars and genocides of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The archaeological record shows us that human beings at one point, long, long ago—the Pleistocene comes to mind—warred and murdered one another incessantly. During that era, one out of five human beings died violently. Meritocracy, even in its present form, hints at a remarkable evolution of consciousness: population has exploded, yet we have found ways to strengthen harmony among all people.
I am looking forward to a move from meritocracy, which in its present state measures a narrow range of abilities, squandering the potential within millions of children and frequently problematizing them, to a luxocracy, from “lux-” the Latin word for light: the more you let your inner light shine, the more you are recognized and rewarded by society. I feel in my heart that we are approaching a transition to this paradigm. There are constant glimmers of this paradigm: human interest stories in the news about the cop who humanizes himself and becomes a hero, the Tank Man in Tiananmen Square, exceptional children like the boy who raised over $50,000 to save Ghanian children from enslavement when he was only 11 years old, the little girl who painted gorgeous portraits of religious figures and scenes of peace with little training—she said they had come from visions.
You think luxocracy is impossible? How many Industrial Age Britishers comfortable in the privileged classes would have said that the poorer classes crowding the work houses was their natural fate? How many of these white Westerners were sympathetic to a world-view that closely resembled the Indian caste system? This is no longer the world we recognize. Even India has to a great degree thrown off its millennia-old caste system. However, it is important to recognize that, back then, the work houses were a great advance: they were a form of social security, keeping people from falling into utter destitution and starvation. The work house system actually represented a great deal of compassion. Well, to be sure, rich and influential men did it partly from a sense of self-interest, but there was also a growing consciousness of natural rights. That describes the shadow and the light of the time of the Industrial Age.
Heritable privilege was being left behind, and a new paradigm of meritocracy was slowly taking shape. Today’s paradigm in the Synthetic Age is meritocracy to be sure. The light of today’s paradigm is its inherent justice: the way children and adults can rise to the level of their capability. Its shadow is its inherent injustice, not only the customarily discussed injustice of unequal opportunity, but the subtler and even more costly injustice of the way that education can dehumanize people and rob them of the chance to act on any of their personal gifts. There must and there will be a better way. Eventually, meritocracy is going to be transcended.
Once meritocracy has been surpassed, we cannot have schools, as we know them now. Before meritocracy, there wasn’t schooling. There was apprenticeship. There was agriculture. There was a patrician class, literate, that learned the art of political intrigue and how to inherit the rule of their ancestors. They patronized men of genius. Most of those men were apprentices in the arts, such as sculpture, architecture, or the practical arts, such an engineering. (Da Vinci, anyone?) Education was not for the public. It was for the privileged. School is really just a concept of our era, and school has a chicken-or-the-egg relationship with meritocracy. We have meritocracy, which means we need broad public education, to allow everyone an equal chance to reach their full potential, and we have school, which means that the meritocracy will be built and perpetuated indefinitely. Except that it won’t.
It’s going to be eclipsed. And how do I know that? Because I am sitting here writing this blog post. Meritocracy is going to be eclipsed, and school is going to be eclipsed along with it. It’s going to replaced with a vision not unlike that described by KnowledgeWorks, Chad Wick’s think tank, which says that education in the near future is going to be immensely diverse, custom-tailored, and aligned to the values of the individual family raising children. Schools dehumanizing impacts on children were never intended to be malicious, just as the work houses were meant to be a mercy, but eventually our understanding of justice deepened. A more just school does not look like a school, just like a more just work house does not look like a work house. It looks like social security. In the same way, schooling needs to be done away with, utterly eclipsed by a decentralized and self-determined educational pathway for each family.
Those who reflect on their education will notice that the defining experiences of their lives may have happened at school, and they may have been bad; or they may have happened at school, and they may have been good; or they may have happened outside of school, with their parents, at home, in their neighborhood, in another town, and they may have been bad or good. When these defining life experiences took place at school, those who reflect on their education will notice that many of them were not by design–they happened in the hallway, in the bathroom, between classes, or behind the teacher’s back. School so often gets in the way of authentic life experience, and therefore so often defining life experiences take place outside of school, where school isn’t acting as a giant flour sifter, separating people from one another into endless categories and “grades.” Education is authentic, so we will have to move beyond schools.
In a sense, social networking is a strong signal to all of us that global society is not ready for luxocracy but that we are already being thrust into it. We can all see one another, and what’s being glorified? The reality-television aristocracy and jihad. The technology is in place, but the human heart is in disarray. Yet, we have DonorsChoose, a website where the public can make crowd-funded donations to worthy classroom projects directly to teachers around the US. Yet, we have Teach for All, a global network of organizations affiliated by Teach for America, concerned, caring, high-performing teachers being recruited successfully from everywhere, facilitated by the concepts of social networking. Yet, we have the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, a silly little thing amplifying awareness for a little-understood disease that will benefit enormously from an infusion of fresh research money. Yet, we have the Khan Academy, a web-based anytime-education organization, sharing academic knowledge around the world at all times of day and night.
It seems that virtue is starting to rear its head and learning is beginning to occupy a place of honor. So, when will we be ready for luxocracy? We’re ready now. These are the threads that, when pulled, move the whole cloth. It’s happening—quite rapidly, too. It’s just a question of the world’s billions each taking responsibility for their own feelings and thoughts, their own state of mind. A tall order, to be sure, but true and attainable. And those of us who are educators taking charge of our thoughts and feelings must surely realize that we feel dehumanized on a daily basis by dint of the very fact that we are taking away from children: forcing them to be sedentary, forcing them into silence, never really getting to know and appreciate them. It’s not that there are too many of them, it’s that there are not enough members of society taking responsibility for their education.
After that word vomit, I’ve got a couple of questions for you: What do you think about the idea of luxocracy? And how do you let your inner light shine? Please comment below.
For this week’s Autodidacts Unite, be inspired by a shining example of luxocracy, the cave digger, Ra Paulette.