In May 1949, Albert Einstein, the renowned physicist, wrote an essay for Monthly Review magazine in which he claimed that capitalism was throttling the education system. His view was that the capitalists controlled “the main sources of information” and listed these as being “press, radio, education” (Einstein, 1949). The essay was entitled Why Socialism and directly addresses the ‘evils’ which capitalism inflicts upon society. In short, Einstein’s argument was that capitalists have their own agendas and motivations – making them the absolute worst influence that could exist over education. His claim is that children must be taught to think for themselves and that whilst capitalism can exercise any control over it, they are being taught a prescribed curriculum which charges each student with a capitalist manifesto.
Einstein argued that something needed to fight back against this and he argued that socialism was the right political theory for the job: “socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end” and recognised that human beings must nurture ideas to allow them to become fully-fledged thoughts (Einstein, 1949). He claimed that for capitalism to be stamped out of the education system, a socialist economy needed to be implemented alongside an educational system which encouraged a curriculum which taught to social goals (Einstein, 1949).
However, it is clear today that Einstein’s vision was never given the impetus it required to make any real impact since schools today are still not teaching students how to prosper in society, but rather students are taught how best to secure their own future with very little regard for society as a whole. True, younger generations who are going through the education system now are being taught more about environmental issues concerned with how to lower the on-going threats to our planet but this is a small gesture when considering that the vast majority of these kids won’t grow up to become botanists or environmental lawyers, for example. Many of the problems in society are issues which are not dealt with at a young enough age meaning that many children fail to learn social skills of diplomacy, acceptance and respect and grow into adults who not only fail to comprehend these concepts but actively flaunt them too.
Society faces a vast array of issues which, if Einstein was alive today, he would undoubtedly argue were the fault of capitalism. In practice, education is designed to be about the regurgitation of facts rather than independent and critical thought. This idea is perpetuated by the continued implementation of exams and assessments in schools: students are reared on the idea that a grade signifies their intelligence when actually it only signifies their ability to retain and repeat information. The true test of knowledge, as Einstein would testify to, is the ability to apply knowledge to a situation and since children are not taught how to do this or even encouraged to try, society falters as it is over-run by people unable to convey a simple idea of their own.
In all, Einstein made a number of important points with regard to the impact of capitalism on the education system and for the most part, his vision has been realised in the society of 2011 today – people are measured by archaic methods of assessment which neither reflect their true intelligence nor encourage the ability to think critically or question what is presented to them. Capitalism still controls the education system as it is designed to produce mindless workers who do not question the system but rather just accept the ‘facts’ as they are presented to them. In Einstein’s vision, socialism can encourage individual thought and impassioned learning – something which the current education system and society is lacking.
Einstein, A. (1949). Why Socialism? In Monthly Review, 61(1), unknown.