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A False System Of Education - Mary Wollstonecraft

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Mary Wollstonecraft was born in 1759 in England, the oldest daughter of an abusive farmer. Her work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, was released in 1792, and is now recognized as a landmark treatise on women's rights. Its notion that culture rather than nature is the determiner of much gender difference foreshadows later feminist theory, and some aspects of environmental psychology as well.

Wollstonecraft's revolutionary work in Vindication contained a passage, "A False System of Education". In the following article, I will be discussing some of her points and elaborating on them to find a meaning more apt to modern society.


A False System of Education

Equality is an essential aspect in our lives. In many cultures, the idea of respecting individuals of all races, genders and religions has been steadily increasing over time.

In modern times it is almost a thing of the past to discriminate based on such characteristics. However, there are still problems with equality in our world, and overall there are many things which need to be addressed before it can be said that everyone is equal.

Firstly, we must define exactly what equality means. Instinctively we assume that it means that we are all equal, but the fact is that we are not all equal. Some of us are smarter than others; some are stronger and better skilled; some are more creative. The more accurate way of defining equality is through balance. Equality is balance in unequal things.

Socrates has taught us the importance of balance all too well, and here too it is of vital importance. As an example, men are physically stronger than women, on average. How can we create a balance in this unequal distribution of strength?

A simple solution would be to allow men to do the physical tasks and labours, and allow women tasks more suitable to their strengths such as being affectionate mothers. This solution is reflected throughout history and even in modern times, the only difference being that in modern times women have just as much of a choice as men do in choosing their tasks.

Mary Wollstonecraft argues of a lack of balance that existed until recently in that women are generally considered inferior to men. The argument consisted that women can be just as intelligent as men, but because of their weaker educations they have become mentally weak and believe their tasks became solely to love. This idea of giving women and men equal education is now reflected in at the very least Western society, where anybody can get an education.

Since the problems with gender inequalities in education are essentially solved in our modern times thanks to such writers as Wollstonecraft, I will address the issue with education itself. The lack of balance now lies not in whether a sex is being excluded from the education, but in the method of the education itself.

The main problems in current education systems include:

  • dependency, in which you must wait for instructions and procedures instead of solving the problem on your own
  • ineffective procedures, in which naturally easy tasks like arithmetic and literature become incredibly difficult when taught in an ineffective way
  • judgements by certified officials, which creates a sense that self-evaluation – the staple of every philosophical system that ever existed – is not a factor in your education, only the judgements of others.

This is the true false system of education.

The focus now should switch not of equal teachings to all human beings, but to balanced teachings to all human beings.

The current issues with the educational systems of today are unlike the issues women faced in previous centuries, yet they are exactly the same.

Women were made mentally weak with inferior education; is it any surprise that the youth of today, boy or girl, rich or poor, are indifferent to everything but toys and violence, being materialistic, and cannot concentrate for very long, being addicted to distraction?

Self-sufficiency of women may have been accounted for in the past, but the problem now is with the self-sufficiency of youth.


Wollstonecraft, Mary. "A False System of Education" from Vindication. Classics of Western Philosophy. 1:190-199.


mrpopo (author) from Canada on June 09, 2014:

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Well said Sanxuary.

You're right in saying that the institutionalizing of education is an attempt at equality and largely determines teaching and grading techniques in a one-size-fits-all manner. I've said it once in this Hub, and it continues to ring true: equality is balance in unequal things.

You reap what you sow, and this is true at the individual level as much as the institutional level of education. The advantage of having such an institution is that it can, through virtue of experience and stability, guide individuals much more efficiently than if they were to do it alone. I feel schools don't do this enough. They're less about learning guidance and more about maximization of grades and accolades.

To put this in greater perspective: you wouldn't create the same exercise program for an athlete as you would for an obese person, so why force an identical learning program and curriculum on each individual student?

Sanxuary on June 07, 2014:

Its the greater problem that equality determines how we grade but unfortunately one shoe size does not fit everyone. Perfect grades does not mean that you should be a doctor. We already know by personal profiling that there are a lot of different people thinking in many different ways. Environment effects us all but so does time and maturity. I have always heard the term people never change, oddly changing everyday is the greatest reward and the only reason for living at all. I am not who I once was years ago and decades ago I was completely someone else. Sadly it is true that a lot of people change very little. I meet a lot of people caught in life traps and its terrible to stay in one. Still you have to be willing to say the hell with everything to give you that change. Sometimes its a good paying job that is physically and mentally destroying you or just runs against your beliefs and who you want to be. Why stay in a destructive relationship when you can be loved. If you are not getting positive results then solve the problem. To get there you have to escape the demands of this World. You have to keep looking until you find it. Build sanctuary in yourself first, demand it in your home and protect it by not allowing it to be violated in your home and watch the selfishness disappear in your life. Never stop growing up this life is about spiritual maturity before you leave this world.

mrpopo (author) from Canada on June 05, 2014:

Hi Sanxuary,

I suffered from the same difficulties in applying knowledge learned at both the secondary and post-secondary levels. In my case it's a difficult scenario to adequately assess. It could be that I am not suited to succeed in this sort of educational environment, but whether it's because I simply lack the required cognitive capacity and disciplinary skills or whether the system itself stifles learning is tough to say, especially with the inherent bias that we all carry in self-assessment. But there are a myriad of variables that could and likely did affect my educational success, including health and family environment, not to mention individual learning handicaps such as dyslexia. How much of an effect that had on me is anyone's guess, but the results are still there, seemingly written in stone without taking into account variables that exist outside of the school spectrum, all the while having a very direct effect on my future, ambiguously determining what I am qualified for or not. It becomes an extremely demoralizing effect, one that can build up and reinforce itself, turning into a cycle that is very difficult to get out of.

There is a category of students that do nothing to achieve a grade, that is true. There are inherent problems with that alone. However, there is another category of students that are willing to do anything to achieve a grade. Cheating, plagiarism, faking illness, pleading with teachers, acquiring previous examinations, utilizing study drugs, all nighters... all are, for the most part, short term solutions for a short term reward: a grade. And I can't say I blame them - I've done a number of them myself, however sparingly, and just to get by. There is little to no short term risk in engaging in such behaviours and the reward is significant in both the short term (a high grade) and the long term (opportunities granted by the grade). Both extremes are applying basic risk vs reward. Students who choose not to apply for a grade don't value it as a reward and thus choose to risk nothing (no work applied). Students who choose to apply themselves for a grade value it and thus choose to risk more for higher grades (although not significantly more). These risks come often at a sacrifice to genuine learning, and create an uneven intellectual playing field for students that can't/choose not to undertake such morally ambiguous risks. However, I'd like to think that I mostly belong to a third category: students who want to learn for the sake of learning. Unfortunately, I feel that students in this category will quickly fall to one of the other two categories, becoming disillusioned with the way the system rewards conformity and the use of non-learning tactics while simultaneously punishing innovation and learning itself. Students here either fall in line or fall behind. I was in the unique position of doing both over a four-year period in a post-secondary institution.

The problem to me then seems to be the evaluation of students as an overall percentage of their one-time performance in a course. Learning becomes secondary to the grade.

Most students, like most humans, aren't very good long term planners. They want the grade because it is a short term representation of a long term goal. And so that's all they work for, the grade on the short term on the vague promise of the long term. Maybe it works in theory, but in reality students do not develop the skills required to truly succeed in the long term by using the short term strategies that create that desired grade output. My personal exposure to anecdotal evidence suggests there are plenty of people who have all but forgotten most if not all school subjects not directly related to their current careers and have done some of the short term strategies that are not conducive to learning but result in an optimal grade output. I can venture a guess that there are empirical studies backing up this notion.

Grades are ambiguous enough as they are, but is there even any integrity left in them? Are these numbers accurate representations of the student's capabilities? Are these archaic, industrialized educational systems truly effective for creating new problem-solving generations?

I honestly wouldn't know what a traditional hour of television is like. I mostly watch things online or PVR desired shows. It's definitely time saving and you get to skip the commercials (although I've seen so many bad commercials in a lifetime that I just automatically tune them out, except for those rare funny, self-aware ones such as Old Spice). I can imagine that the commercials you speak of might be symptomatic to the real issue(s) at hand.

Sanxuary on June 04, 2014:

A very true set of points and hard to compete with as a parent. We are being taught to be consumers and its difficult to tell your kids that punching a ticket is no guarantee that life will grant you any just rewards in doing so. Self assessment and real life applications are not applied to most of the knowledge they are being taught. I found it incredibly hard to learn something new, if I was unable to know how I might use it in the real world. How many times have we encountered a problem we could have solved by using some math formula we have long forgotten. If we knew what it could be used for we might have thought of it. We see the impact everyday like full time employees making minimum wage because they are powerless to do anything about it. A whole society has been taught to do there work and to apply nothing to achieve a grade. Its like blind faith in a church where you think your doing good and leaving to return home where you practice none of what you learn. Most of us do not even bother to ask why these lessons will make a difference in who we are. How do my points relate to your topic? All you have to imagine is about an hour of television. The commercials alone speak of what you are talking about.

olivia on November 10, 2013:

what are subjects she wanted to be taught?

mrpopo (author) from Canada on July 25, 2010:

Good day wingedcentaur! I am glad you enjoyed the Hub.

The idea was one that took me by surprise when I first thought upon it. Usually we tend to consider equality as "equal treatment" or "equal opportunity" and it is - partially. But I then realized that we cannot have equal opportunity unless we are all exactly the same. Despite this, by providing balance we can still maintain a sense of equal opportunity.

It's funny, I wrote this in March or April but the thought of "equality is balance in unequal things" is still very new to me. It's an interesting way of looking at it, that's for sure!

Thanks for the comment!

William Thomas from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things! on July 25, 2010:

Good Day mrpopo

I voted this up for useful. Thanks for an efficient, well-laid out presentation on a false system of education. The idea that "Equality is balance in unequal things," is one I wil be pondering.

Well done!

mrpopo (author) from Canada on July 23, 2010:

@ The Bard - I'm glad you enjoyed the Hub! Thought provoking and a bit unsettling to ponder on, but that's the reality of the situation.

@ Tony - that's very true. I guess governments and independent thinkers are not very much compatible. Good point about the authoritarian mode. As a student myself I try to avoid the dependency created by these systems but it's quite hard not to, especially when at times the school simply spoon feeds the students. Even worse, other times the schools will teach at a standard higher than the capabilities of the student, and no learning can be accomplished.

I firmly believe you can maximize the potential of anybody but it must be done according to the individual's current capabilities and motivations. Having weak goals or impossible ones is not efficient for both tutor and learner. Not doing so results on students not able to think for themselves (I notice that more and more acutely with some of my friends, other students of this generation and even myself (Google is a two-edged sword)). It's unfortunate and doesn't really help with the evolution of teaching and learning. Thanks for stopping by!

Tony McGregor from South Africa on July 22, 2010:

The dependency issue is very important. We have to realise that education systems are generally run by governments and so are designed to instill in learners the kind of values that will enable government to function well, not to encourage learners to be independent thinkers. Governments don't as a rule like independent thinkers too much!

And the way learners are taught in an authoritarian mode encourages passivity and deppendence too.

Thanks for an interesting read.

Love and peace


The Bard from London, England & San Pablo City, Philippines on July 22, 2010:

Very informative and thought provoking. A hub right up my street.

mrpopo (author) from Canada on May 25, 2010:

@ habee - glad to see a teacher liked it! Thanks for stopping by :)

@ Ixxy - that is very true. Your last sentence says it all. I hope we come to realize that soon. Thanks for the comment :)

lxxy from Beneath, Between, Beyond on May 25, 2010:

I completely agree--the educational system has come along way in being gender neutral, but still has yet to move beyond it's self in many ways since then.

There's waaaaay too much importance for some on knowing exact dates and names when such information is trivial at best, and easy to find out at worst.

With the birth of the information age a new paradigm in learning has yet to emerge, but I am hopeful. I believe we now must not look to teach kids "what to know," but rather "how to learn."

Holle Abee from Georgia on May 23, 2010:

I always taught a little about her in my Brit lit class. Enjoyed the read!

mrpopo (author) from Canada on May 20, 2010:

Good guess :) these articles were all based off readings from my first year philosophy course, but I'm in a sciences major. Ironically though, that was the course which I struggled with the most, yet it's inspired the majority of my Hubs (though I only have a few...).

Thanks for stopping by, Aley!

Alice Lee Martin from Sumner, Washington,USA on May 20, 2010:

Are you a philosophy major? You seem drawn to this type of thinking...Love it!

Isn't is a shame that there is always someone deemed "inferior" to another? At Mary's age it was women, and now it is the poor,disenfranchized, and minorities. Again, I reiterate it is all about "power" and people wanting to lord it over another. So silly really.

Great Hub MR!

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