June 16, 2018

Now the British Medical Journal has raised its voice against formal education. A commentary that accompanies the report of the research is titled “Education systems must change to protect children’s vision.” This ends:

We need to remember that East Asian education systems have played a major role in producing the current epidemic of myopia and high myopia [the kind that can have more serious effects], and that these systems will require substantial change to help protect the vision of future generations.

It seems to have escaped the authors’ attention altogether that the educational endeavor in East Asian countries has had effects other than the production of myopia, and has played its part in raising those countries from abject poverty to great wealth.

The lead author of the commentary is from the Australian National University, and probably suffers from the kind of academic myopia that seems to be another damaging effect of too-intensive (or at any rate prolonged) education in the Western world. The ophthalmological form is probably the less destructive of the two.

It is true, of course, that highly competitive and disciplined forms of education are in other ways unattractive. They allow the child no real childhood. There must surely be some kind of happy medium between dragooning and complete laissez-faire. But that is another question altogether, one that has to do with the ultimate aims of life and very little to do with the prevention or promotion of myopia.

Meanwhile, from Ireland, it is reported that some schools are forbidding small children to run or kick a ball because of the costs of insuring them against accident. The avoidance of scratches and bumps is thus one of the aims of the educational system. On the other hand, the little ones must not grow fat, so chocolate must be denied them. It is never too soon to introduce children to the glories of risk assessment and management, which are the only rational way to answer the most fundamental questions of all: What are the ends of life, and how are we to live?

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