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Critical consciousness and educatedness

24 Feb 2019 at 06:44hrs | Views
Even some of the leading philosophers and theorists of education have made the mistake of thinking that being informed is the same thing as being educated.

In actuality one may accumulate quantities of factual and fictitious information and still remain fundamentally uneducated. In that way, some of the most educated people are truly informed but really not educated at all, I will insist. One of the ways in which knowledge as a resource was colonised is its reduction to mere quantities of information.

The reduction of knowledge to statistics and quantities has elevated information or mere data to the status of knowledge, which is a capital error, I argue. This capital error is also a very dangerous one in that mistaking information for knowledge has become so normalised and naturalised in the westernised university in Africa and its related institutions such as colleges, high schools and other academic concerns.

When academics and scholars are being graded and rated a lot of counting takes place. How many years they have spent in their occupation, how many qualifications they have gathered, what is the number of their publications, how many public lectures and keynote addresses they have given in how many years and how many places are some of the quantitative questions that are asked. In that erroneous way education is reduced to a quantity and a body of statistics and numbers.

For that reason, a mistake is made that knowledge is countable and measurable. At school, in college and at the university the intelligent students are those that can give correct answers to questions. Those who can supply quantities of information to answer questions are the brilliant students, and that is a colonial error, I proffer. The best students, decolonially arguing, are those that have the critical urge and ability to ask questions.

Those students that can question answers and question questions themselves are the students that expand rather than narrow knowledge. To know is to question, I may say. This is as true as it is that to answer is to close rather than open avenues of knowledge. An answer closes thinking while a question opens it, in actuality.

Education for Liberation
Credit must be given to one Paulo Reglus Neves Freire. Commonly known as Paulo Freire, a Brazilian theorist of education and philosopher of liberation, he pioneered critical work on decolonial education and knowledge. It is to Freire that we owe the term and concept of "critical consciousness." It is Freire who powerfully noted that "education is the practice of freedom."

To educate one, Freire argued, is to "conscientise" them and with them practice the decolonial art of "consciousness raising." Standing on the shoulders of Freire, if education is consciousness raising and conscientisation, we can quickly see it that being educated is a "consciousness" and not a quantity of answers about a subject and the world. My own addition would be that education must be, not sense but a sensibility, which is a quality and not a quantity. In that way, being educated can be imagined as possessing a certain attitude and mental and emotional deportment.

In that radical and decolonial way, education cannot be simply reducible to literacy and numeracy. Being able to count, to read and write does not entirely define being educated. Literacy and numeracy are skills that one acquires by training, they are not knowledge itself. Training and education, by me, are different as training is skilling while education is by Freire "consciousness raising" and "conscientisation." The decolonial view of education as a consciousness and a sensibility throws many cats among few pigeons by making the suggestion that there are many among us that are called educated when they are just informed and skilled and that there are many out there that are not skilled, are uninformed but are educated in terms of their consciousness and sensibility.

In ancient Greece, the educated or philosophers, were considered those people that "stood back from humanity and the world and asked questions" even about obvious things. To be a philosopher was to question both answers and their questions. Philosophers did not just receive information and accepted it and banked it in their hearts and minds, they questioned it, they also questioned their own questions.

So I can insist that to be knowledgeable and educated is not to have quantities of information and ideas banked in your head and ready to be unleashed on others. Instead, to be educated is the sensibility and consciousness to question information and to refuse given assumptions. So the first step towards education is the assumption that one is ignorant and that those that are said to know might be ignorant or mistaken in their knowledge.

In a way, Freire was right that education is the practice of liberation. One way in which we educate and liberate ourselves is to free ourselves from the mistake that we are knowledgeable. That freedom helps us to ask questions and seek new answers on a continuous basis. For that reason, education is a continuous process and not an event that one starts and finishes. Education is not acquired but it is practised.

We are therefore colonised and mistaken to reduce education to diplomas and degrees that one started and finished, and to qualifications that one acquires and keeps for life. All that is mainly the stuff of training and skilling, not education, I argue. Freire is therefore right and important in saying that fundamentally education is the act of liberation.

What we normally celebrate as education might after all not be education proper. Paulo Freire debunked the myth of ignorant students that go to school where there is a knowledgeable teacher that fills their empty heads with knowledge. Freire called that colonial and "banking education" where supposedly wise teachers deposit knowledge in the heads of ignorant students until they are also wise, that kind of education duplicates the colonial master and slave relations, it does not practice freedom but it fortifies domination of one by the other.

In the banking education system the teacher is not a liberator but a kind of preacher. The teacher becomes an oppressor that seeks to indoctrinate the learners with a specific ideology and not knowledge. In the decolonial arena of education for liberation, teachers and students critically work together to ask questions about certain subjects and the world. In that way, teachers and students become both teachers and students to each other as a group, freely exchanging ideas and sharing sensibilities.

Educatedness as Critical Consciousness
One problem of education as a quantity of knowledge is that those who are educated and who are supposed to possess knowledge become certain about what they know. They are so certain that they become prisoners to their certainty. For example, one plus one equals two is an unquestionable certainty to those that believe it to be so.

In the way it imprisons the mind and stops one from asking questions certainty is a kind of ignorance. It forces one to ignore many other possibilities and alternatives to what one knows. In that way, ignorance may not just be the absence of knowledge but also the presence of stubborn old certainties. Some of the most informed people do not just become arrogant but they are truly ignorant, in that sense.

As adumbrated by Freire, critical consciousness does not believe in certainties. To know is to continuously question. To know is not to answer questions but to ask them and ask more of them. To know and to be educated does not simply mean to possess a big file of many certificates or to have a large bank account or information and ideas in one's head. Education is not a quantity of information or ideas but a quality of mind, a critical sensibility.

It is my considered suspicion that capitalism and its statistical economics introduced the idea of education as quantity and knowledge as an amount. The disciplines that divided knowledge into subjects and divided historians from philosophers, separated mathematicians from sociologists also contributed to the counting and measuring of knowledge as quantitative not qualitative. Before the disciplines, one could move from mathematics to history and from theology to geography without being asked to stick to his or her discipline.

Plato, for instance, considered the father of western philosophy by some, was a competent mathematician who was so proud of math that he did not allow anyone that was not competent in mathematics to enter his academy. Affixed on the door of his school was the message: "Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here. He who can properly define and divide is to be considered a god. . . . He is unworthy of the name of man who is ignorant that the diagonal of a square is incommensurate with its side." Yet today mathematicians cannot be counted as philosophers and philosophers are not expected to dabble in mathematical reason.

There was a time, even in the West, where knowledge and education were not sliced up into subjects and disciplines that are narrow and limiting. The disciplines as part of the colonisation of knowledge and education gave knowledge names and quantities that can be separated and counted as objects when knowledge and education are not things but a consciousness.

The disciplines are exactly for that, disciplining, imprisoning the mind to a narrow area of specific information. Fundamentally, I think, it is important decolonial homework to embrace the idea that knowledge and education are a quality and not a quantity, and to live with the important sensibility that to know is to ask questions and not to give answers.

Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena writes from Pretoria: decoloniality2016@gmail.com

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