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Learning as an act of protest: personal, political education


I am writing this brief rant to reflect on one aspect of learning. It is easy to see, usually, how a learner changes as a result of their new skills. Today I am writing to talk about how their surroundings can change, too.

1. What you are given

I only have two articles for you today. Both are not good news, and both describe huge challenges to the way of life we are used to.

The first one talks about the money you can expect to have when you retire. Apparently – unless you save very, very wisely – it will become nearly impossible to sustain your current quality of life on the amount you’re saving (this applies to the UK mainly).

The second one describes the generation of adults spending their whole lives flatsharing with others – renting instead of owning, living with people who are sometimes neither friends nor family. This is the new normal for many people: the house prices are too high for their salaries, and nothing else is an option.

2. What you are taught

In school, nobody told you this, because it would not be popular to hear. But mainly because nobody really knew. Everyone could afford a house, and nobody needed to worry about pensions too much. Why teach children about something that is unlikely to change?

Well, it did change.

The confusing thing to notice on the margins of this rant is this: what teachers are telling your kids today is probably just as blind-sided and ignorant of the future as your teachings were when you were growing up.

When it came to housing and pensions, almost everything you got told – from the way houses are built and sold and shared to the way jobs are created, kept and enjoyed – changed within a few generations. Nobody told you, and still nobody tells you.

3. What you should get taught

Just a random selection of questions that this pension-and-housing situation can generate in anyone who thinks about it for more than three minutes.

  • How do people choose the kind of people they want to live with?
  • What does a 25-year-old have to save to enjoy a good pension? How will this differ for a 35-year-old?
  • How else can I find a good flat, if I am unwilling to share it?
  • What can I do to make sure I can work until I’m much, much older?
  • Do people have arguments over the same things when they live together? How not to have them?
  • Is it legal for governments to change rules about pensions? How did they change in the past?

We could go on. You hopefully get the idea by now: a fifteen-year-old kid could easily ask these questions, and a good teacher shouldn’t dismiss them just because they’re not on the curriculum.

Learning as an act of protest

If you live in a country which faces these problems – and do nothing, you will spend the rest of your life in a housing situation you did not choose, counting down the days to a retirement that will not make you even remotely happy.

This is the kind of future you are given, unless you learn about it. And if you’re reading this, you’re learning about it.

No matter how old you are – no matter how good you think your situation is right now – there are still skills you can pick up in order to help yourself or those around you.

You can learn simple tricks and habits for being a good roommate. This costs nothing and takes a while to implement. The results could help you survive your house-shares with style.

You can take a look at what you do about your savings, and learn about ways to do more. This costs a bit, and takes a few moments each month, but can make a big difference when you retire.

The key thing is: you’re not just doing it for yourself. You are doing what 90% of people will be too complacent, too lazy or too isolated to do. And by doing this, you can learn more about what it takes for you to be happier.

Which is a rare luxury these days.

How will you learn today?


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