in the world but not of it

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Before Christmas I was reading through the Perspectives On Our Age by Jacques Ellul. It is a translation of a lecture series he did on CBC, and one of the many things to catch my attention was part of a discussion on education. I want to quote a couple of paragraphs and then discuss it but the hard part is the term he uses, technological. Elsewhere in the book he describes it as being a love-of-technique. So it isn’t technological in the way of mechanical or computer run, but technological in the way of prioritizing technique. One example he talks about is athletes no longer being allowed to have their own style of movement but about them learning how to have the most efficient technique. So in talking about a “technological milieu” I don’t think he’s talking just about the prevelance of refridgerators and blackberries, but also of a certain sort of world-view that is obsessed with effeciency.

This leads, obviously, to the problem of educating children. For a longer or shorter period, our children and grandchildren, we must realize, will be living in a technological milieu, and we cannot even for one second imagine that we can raise them without some contact with it. Once again, the point is not to refuse to admit that technology exists, because it does exist; it is our milieu.
This goes back to what I was saying about the milieu. I know that it has in fact happened that when historical societies organized, small groups or sometimes individual people absolutely refused, saying: “We want to keep living like monkeys in the forest.” Of course, they could do so, rejecting the development of society. But this was no solution. Those who continued living in the forest became extinct.
In the same way, one cannot claim to go on living as in the nineteenth century. We cannot bring up our children as though they were ignorant of technology, as though they had not been introduced from the first into the technological world. If we tried to do that, we would make total misfits of our children, and their lives would be impossible. They would then be highly vulnerable to the powers of technology. Yet we cannot wish them to be pure technical experts, making them so well fit for the technological society that they are totally devoid of what has until now been considered human.
Hence, I think that on one hand we must teach them, prepare them to live in technology and at the same time against technology. We must teach them whatever is necessary to live in this world and, at the same time, to develop a critical awareness of the modern world. This is a very delicate balance, and we should not delude ourselves. We are preparing a world that will be even harder to live in for our children than it is for us. For us it is already complicated. And our children will be forced to deal with even more difficult situations.

He goes on to say that children should attend public schools but with additional education. However I’m going to ignore that last little recommendation and focus on the question of trying to raise children so that they are not total misfits and yet not so assimilated within our culture that they cannot question it.

I know some homeschoolers want to raise misfits. For some it comes from a religious notion of being in the world but not of it. For some it is a belief that misfits are somehow superior to “sheeple” or ordinary people. For some it is a belief that the mainstream world is too evil.  Well, I’m not determined to raise my children as misfits. Now they might be or become misfits, but that isn’t my goal.  The goal has got to be to work within the world, making connections with other people and attempting to change ideas and attitudes but without giving up ideals either.

Even for myself, I question how I can further explore the ideas and paradigms that interest me without at the same time alienating myself from others around me.

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