​Out-Growing Consumerism 4:
School, Screens, and Our Kids

​4 minute read | Part 4 of a 5-part Series | Also published at PermacultureNews.org

​What too many ​children learn at school is not to take risks and not trust ​their own thinking. When digital data-harvesting ​enters the mix, ​it becomes the perfect recipe for producing compliant consumers.

This article continues on from “Out-Growing Consumerism 3: Living a Self-Determined Life.”


​School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need … society as it is.” 

​The fundamental premise of compulsory schooling

​The fundamental premise of school​ is that children need to be told what to learn and how to learn it​. In fact, they need to be taught; knowledge must be pushed into them. Otherwise they'd spend all their time goofing off ​and they'd never amount to anything. 

But if that is true, how do children in societies where there is no school grow into functional adults?

​Learning that nourishes vs learning that restricts

​​Some types of activities ​broaden, deepen, and enrich us​. ​They're enjoyable activities, so we tend to pursue them naturally and to lose ourselves (or find ourselves) in them. ​Some examples are: 

  • Un-directed free play, especially outside in nature
  • Any form of exploration or experimentation, such as reading, travel, tinkering, and building, so long as the direction and timing are freely chosen by the explorer
  • Real-life work, for example growing, harvesting and preparing food​​

These kinds of activities often don't fit well into schedules, and they don't ​fit into our culturally accepted notion of what learning ​should look like, but they do nourish growth and ​learning on many levels. 

In contrast, when ​a ​​student must conform to an externally imposed schedule of learning and ​is told to focus ​​on what will be on the test​​, growth ​is restricted and possibilities shrink.

​Schools call ​preparing for tests “learning.” But it’s so different from the learning that a free child naturally engages in all day long that in my opinion it really should have a different label.

​How we lose faith in our own thinking

When school uses tests, grades, ​and systems of rewards1 to teach children to focus on what will earn the approval of authority figures, children ​learn to distrust their own thinking and judgement.

If you’re ​unconcerned with earning ​the approval of an authority figure and you're ​unafraid of failure, then you are free to draw your own conclusions, act on them, ​learn from the ​results, and try again – and again, and again. 

As you act, learn, refine your conclusions, and act again, you are engaging in a natural process of growth that enables you to build your skills, gain an increasingly complex understanding of your world, and develop a strong sense of personal autonomy and self-determination.

For far too many of us, this didn’t happen optimally at school.

What too many of us learned at school was not to take risks, and certainly not to risk the ire of authority figures who insisted that we should focus on working hard for good grades so we could get into a good college and end up with a good job.

​​When you take the free will out of education, that turns it into schooling.” 

​How school turns us into consumers

​Too many of us left school dis-empowered2 by a loss of trust in our own thinking, in our faith that we can try new things and learn from them in our own time and in our own way.

In my opinion, this dis-empowerment is a form of disability that impacts on the quality of a person’s life.

​​​​A person dis-empowered in this way is set up to become a consumer.

Consumers spend their life working for money with which to pay for the goods and services that they are unable to provide for themselves because they lack the capacity to rely on themselves.

​When digital technology ​enters the mix  

As if compulsory schooling​ ​was not problematic enough, now we have digital technology entering the lives of school-aged children through various avenues.

Smart phones, any form of social media, online entertainment, free online tools from Google or any account that ​the user has to log in to... all of these can be very useful tools, but ​there is a catch. 

​The moment a young person first logs into any of these, ​the collection of their personal data begins, the better to manipulate their future choices.

​​​​You may have thought that the wolf that ate Red Riding Hood's granny was bad; this is far worse.

School-aged children are targeted by programs designed to make lifelong customers out of them. What appears to be a useful, free service is paid for with the child’s login details – ​making it possible to build incredibly powerful personality and marketing profiles of each individual3.

Google is even working on capturing the attention of toddlers with a voice activated, ‘game-like’ search ap4.

More than half of American K-12 schools use Chromebooks and Google apps, allowing Google to build brand loyalty from an early age. ​...

By the time these children have grown into adulthood, every single preference, thought, belief and proclivity will be known about them, which will make them extremely vulnerable to manipulation.”

The consumers of tomorrow

There is only one thing better than gaining influence over a generation of consumers, and that is gaining even stronger influence over the next generation of consumers while they are still impressionable children.

​Coming up next

This was Part 4 of “Out-Growing Consumerism. Part 5, “What We Must Do,” is ​here.

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  1. "Rewards turn play into work, and work into drudgery." From ​Punished by Rewards ​ the Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes​ by Alfie Kohn
  2. "How Public Education Cripples our Kids, and Why," and ​"Why Schools Don’t Educate," by former school teacher John Taylor Gatto. Also: ​"Schooling: The Hidden Agenda" by Daniel Quinn.
  3. Eliminate Google from Your Life
  4. A new patent points to Google’s plans for 'game-like' voice searches for toddlers
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