We don’t need no Education

“You! You! Yes, you! Stand still, laddie!”
When we grew up and went to school
There were certain teachers who would
Hurt the children anyway they could
By pouring their derision
Upon anything we did
And exposing every weakness
However carefully hidden by the kids

I think Pink Floyd summed up the entire education system (back in the 1970-80’s) fairly well in their song “We don’t need no Education”. The effects of such an oppressive educational model are still present, in fact, the educational model hasn’t changed much in the last few decades. The lyrics (accompanied by the video) articulate in a concise fashion the banking model of education (as described by Paulo Freire’s in his book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed“); it is particularly apparent in the last couple of lines in the song where the students recite along with the teacher:

“An acre is the area of a rectangle

whose length is….”

In the banking model of education, the student is viewed as an empty account to be filled by the teacher. Paul notes that “it transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads men and women to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power”. The following lyrics from the same song “We don’t need no Education” succinctly express that a banking/factory model of education is oppressive and abusive and change is needed:

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone

The lyrical brilliance of Pink Floyd shines here where they use double negatives; “don’t” and “no” in the same line negate each other expressing that although education is necessary, operating within the confines of the current system makes the children mindless souls that do not have free creativity or imagination (this argument is not only supported by the lyrics but also through the stunning visuals in their video). The combination of words “thought control” and “dark sarcasm” further argues that teachers can be perceived as authoritarian and controlling. In particular, if the child does not please the teacher then the child is automatically wrong and punished for their behaviour.

I think there are plenty of parallels between Paul’s work and Pink-Floyd’s lyrics. However, both bodies of work seem to paint an extremely pessimistic view of the education system. The lyrics and the book are fairly old (70-80’s) and may have been apt for the post-war era. In the current context, there are several common themes/core ideas that still ring true today.

11 thoughts on “We don’t need no Education

  1. Nice post! I like the analogy that you draw between these two.

    On a different note, do you think Freire’s would be taken as a hyperbole in modern times?

    1. Thanks for your comment, Aakash. I think Freire’s work was appropriate for its time – without context it I can see it being taken as a hyperbole. We should adapt what we can from the text and apply it to judiciously to the current education system. I think this is what I wanted to convey when I said that Frier’s work presents a “pessimistic view”; hyperbole would have been a better word choice.

  2. This is really cool how you bring in Pink Floyd to comment on our educational practices alongside Freire. No doubt with every education there is indoctrination. And if it is not our education, then it is other institutions. Our cultures indoctrinate, and so do our languages (as Freire mentions about ideology and power in language). Thus, it doesn’t seem possible to avoid indoctrination, but rather, shift it to something positive. There is something negative about “thinking” and “learning” in that it necessarily compartmentalizes knowledge so we can eat and chew on it. But just as being informed about events, say through global news outlets, our binaries and stereotypes reciprocally increase, and this is problematic. So while your criticism of school is important, I doubt if not having school is any better. Plus, there are plenty of folks who don’t go to school and remain illiterate throughout their lives and still manage to make a living and make sense of the world. No?

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment. I agree with your first half of the discussion regarding indoctrination and the compartmentalization of knowledge. However, criticism is an important part of living in this world. Constructive criticism is critical in making improvements to existing processes. Just because I presented a critical point of view does not mean that I don’t support schools – I am merely commenting on drawbacks of the current system which I think can be improved upon. There are plenty of folks who don’t go to school and remain illiterate – sure they manage to make a living and make sense of the world, but then they all end up voting for Trump 😉

  3. I applaud any post that uses Pink Floyd as an effective examination of pedagogy of the oppressed. I think part of Pink Floyd’s commentary in The Wall is indeed an examination of control on many levels. The Wall looks at systems of control and questions them, challenges them, and explores what happens when we accept control and what happens when we fight against control. Freire does the same thing in the context of higher education and the role that exists between learner and teacher. He challenges the idea of control and resists the subversive nature between student and teacher as the norm. The Wall is a great way to approach Freire’s ideology.

    1. Thanks for your comment. This line “The Wall looks at systems of control and questions them, challenges them, and explores what happens when we accept control and what happens when we fight against control” summarizes The Wall so well!

  4. I am pretty sure Freire was a Pink Floyd fan and vice versa. I can imagine a conversation between the artist and the philosopher (you can debate which is which or if they are both) would include ending the imprisonment of “epistemological curiosity” in our institutions and society more broadly. That is where I think Pink Floyd’s message is often misconstrued to mean formal education is meaningless instead of what you point out in the meaning behind the lyrics which is more about the way in which we learning and create learning environments.

    I think in that conversation Freire would also not advocate throwing out the conventional “dominant” ideas, but rather building and understanding these dominant ideas as a point of difference. I had a great English teacher (who was also a Catholic nun) my sophomore-year in high school, when asked why we needed to learn grammar and rules of poetry she simply said: “You must learn the rules so you know how to break them and then you can choose whether to break them on purpose.” I had no idea how true that was for grammar and life.

    1. Noel, love the quote “You must learn the rules so you know how to break them and then you can choose whether to break them on purpose.”. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Wow! I hadn’t caught the underlying meaning of the double-negatives before. Great observation. They’re actually asking for education, but not “thought control.”

    I’ve been ruminating on the ways that the voices in our heads mess with us (http://tonybrainstorms.blogspot.com/2016/04/theres-someone-in-my-head.html). You’ve made me add to my list: voices installed by others, such as teachers and oppressive education systems.

    You might want to check out Gardner’s recent post: The Web is not the same as the internet, and why that matters (http://www.gardnercampbell.net/blog1/?p=2080). He talks to this idea that our educational model encourages passive thinking. That problem-solving is the best possible outcome. Solving problems that someone in charge points us at. He asks the question “could there be a higher learning objective?” His answer comes as, “yes! Problem-Finding.”

  6. This song is a classic, but the film is just so subversive. I think it certainly captures one attitude toward the creation of drone-like students being put into a meat grinder and coming out as a “product” of all of the “necessary” ingredients to make them fully functioning members in society. I like that you are able to connect this to Freire because I think it works perfectly.

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