Writer, Alan Moore, on Public Education

29 Oct

I love the work of Alan Moore. In case you don’t know he’s an English writer primarily known for his work in comic books, where he’s produced a number of critically acclaimed and popular series, including “Watchmen” and “V for Vendetta”. Often described as the best graphic novel writer in history, he’s also identified as “one of the most important British writers of the last fifty years”.

The following is a section of a much larger interview I found on the website The Occupied Times. You can read the entire interview here.


OT: Having left school early and built a career as a self-taught writer and artist, what advice do you have for young people today who wish to pursue their own ambitions, or those who don’t have access to the resources of higher education or training?

AM: Having been recently asked to run a few workshops for excluded kids in Northampton, this is a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Firstly, I’d say that from the perspective of someone just kicked out of school and denied further education, it would probably seem as if the world has ended…and in terms of the conventional world that schooling was allegedly preparing such a person for, it probably has…it may well be the greatest stroke of luck that person has ever experienced. The compulsory education system widespread across the western world is largely a creation of 18th century Prussian educationalist Wilhelm Wundt. After Prussia’s defeat by Napoleon at the battle of Jenner in 1802, it was decided the main reason for the Prussian army’s poor performance was that the soldiers were thinking for themselves rather than blindly following orders. Wundt suggested a new compulsory education system that would solve this problem by fragmenting the pupil’s intellect, and thus also fragmenting his or her personality. This would be achieved by dividing learning into a whole range of separate subjects without providing any linkages between these isolated areas of knowledge.

Also, dividing the pupils up according to age (and, if possible, gender and religion) would further isolate the individual and make them malleable to authority. This is the origin of modern education, a process which seems mainly intended to alienate individuals from the learning process while at the same time teaching punctuality, obedience and the acceptance of monotony. During the Thatcher era, it was decided that the American secretary of state Robert McNamara’s policy of setting ‘kill targets’ for GIs during the Vietnam War (which had obviously done such a lot to ensure America’s victory in that conflict) should be adopted by the NHS. After this had been effected, with the resultant damage to the health service that entailed, it was decided to implement the practice in the field of education. And here we are.

In being excluded from the current education system, it might be thought that the excluded party has been fortunate enough to be knocked off of a conveyor belt which was at best delivering them to a staid life as a useful worker-unit, and at worst propelling them towards a psychological and intellectual abattoir. Not until we are forced back on our own resources do we learn what those resources are, and having been rejected by an education system which quite evidently wasn’t working anyway can be a perfect opportunity to educate oneself. You can pursue those subjects you are actually interested in, where learning is enjoyable and sometimes actively addictive, and will probably discover that an interest in one subject will lead naturally to an interest in almost every other subject over time. You may even find, as in my own case, that you’re often asked to lecture at the educational establishments you were prevented from attending, where the highly specialised and exam-fixated students will seem baffled and bewildered by the breadth of knowledge which you seem to have absorbed. It’s also worth pointing out that none of the many wonderful artists or writers with whom I’m acquainted have got there through the route of academic qualifications. In practice, most of what is being taught in schools amounts to shoddy and beleaguered lessons on how to become a shoddy and beleaguered teacher, perpetuating a system which for centuries has been geared more to the enslavement of young psyches rather than their liberation.

One Response to “Writer, Alan Moore, on Public Education”

  1. AR October 29, 2012 at 5:48 pm #

    I agree that public education needs a major overhaul, and many of us teachers have a lot of ideas as to how to do it. (A shame no one lets us make policy!) I am dismayed at Mr. Moore’s take on the “enslavement of psyches”, but then I’m always saddened when anyone starts that tired, old mantra. Education opens minds, frees us from the mundane, and illuminates our world. It’s the single best present we can give ourselves, but it is what each individual makes of it. I think Mr. Moore must be one of those who does not do well in organized settings, and I get that. I see kids like that often, but it doesn’t mean the whole experience is worthless for the other 90%. I think he and other very gifted people don’t realize that all people are not created equal in mind, spirit, or ability. For many students, organized education will raise them to heights they could not achieve on their own. For others like him, organized learning is like fetters that hold a person back. More importantly, education is not worth much if it is not quickened by life experiences. A person must use their basic knowledge and go forth to experience and truly learn. I’m sorry that Mr. Moore doesn’t value that process because it wasn’t quite his cup of tea, although I’m glad he found his own path to enlightenment. That’s all any teacher ever hopes for: that each student will find that book, subject, or moment that enervates him or her and turns the student into a lifetime learner.

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