Education, a Monstrous Thief of the Future

By Nicholas Stock

Long has it been known that the future is cancelled. This doomed fate claimed by Fisher, and indeed others, has only solidified amidst climate crises, right-wing political control, and post-pandemic uncertainty. More and more, it seems that both metaphorically and literally there is no future to come, at least not in the dominant imagination of western politics and culture.[1] This is troubling, of course, but not simply because the future has been stolen. It is troubling because something ‘out there’ in the abyss of reality has the agency to steal our futurity. Someone, something, an it, is a thief of time. Temporality has been infected, seized upon and warped; only a monstrous being could do such a thing.

I use the word monster deliberately. The strange, or as Fisher might say, “the weird” or “the eerie” (WE 11-12), is often neglected in the contemporary landscape. For Fisher it is ostensibly capital which is “at every level an eerie entity: conjured out of nothing, capital nevertheless exerts more influence than any allegedly substantial entity” (11). It is weird too, as it instils apparently needless desires into the dominant imagination that remain as unwelcome presences. Indeed, perhaps the things we describe as systems, apparatus and tools may be better understood as something weird or eerie, something like the beasts and monsters of fiction.This gives them agency, terror, material reality – a sort of organic property as if they live and breathe amongst us. Maybe they are ontologically beyond the language of cold machinery so commonly employed to describe them.

Many tales have been told of monsters that slip into our reality from the ‘outside’, entities that come and distort our everydayness. In ancient mythology, gods ultimately played this role, selfish and vain creatures that stepped down from above to toy with the beings below. Demonic lore also yields similar stories – from Lucifer’s tampering with Eden through to Mephistopheles’ appearance in Faust’s study. Literature has perpetuated such depictions of beings that enter our reality: Lovecraftian old ones drift in from their slumber in the beyond and come to engulf us. Those like Cthulhu that represent “an interplay, an exchange, a confrontation, and indeed a conflict between this world and others” (Fisher WE 19). And contemporary media shows us fragile fabrics between worlds: Lynchian curtains are lifted in quiet towns, and through them come haunting tormenters who linger in our homes like BOB in the Palmer household. But these monsters that lurk amidst reality are not just those of fictions. Indeed, in the capitalist epoch where “fiction is no longer merely representational but has invaded the Real to the point of constituting it” (Fisher FC 34), there are monsters amongst us, some that we even exist within. After all, the great thing capital is a monster, “an insatiable vampire and zombiemaker” (Fisher CR 15). Empire is too such a beast, something that we must remain within as it “is the kind of domination that knows no Outside” (Tiqqun 137). It consumes, or rather subsumes us all, and bares its teeth of police violence and military might. The futures of those colonised throughout history have certainly had their futures stolen by this being, and so too do the colonisers see their future as tied to that of the imperial fiend. Truly this is “the time of monsters” (Žižek 43), an epoch in which we climb into the slavering mouths of beasts and then wait for things to get better. But as time passes, things will only get worse; those inside will digest in the hot acid of these beasts, or be defecated as lesser beings than when they crawled in.

Indeed, the language of monsters and beasts can be used to describe the likes of capitalism, especially the sort of monsters that play with time. But I wish to describe another monster that enacts its will over time, one often ignored despite its pervasive monstrosity and temporal grip. This monster visited me one evening as I sat in my study attempting to write an article not dissimilar from this one. The Lynchian curtain was drawn, and so appeared a malformed beast, a hybridity of different visages, some vast and ancient thing with its many mouths agape. It was education itself that came to me in all its terrifying reality, but it quickly devoured me and left me able to only spy its insides. And in its sticky innards, I realised I would be there for the remainder of my life, as I do now; so too would anyone who has been ‘swallowed’ by education, that is, who has been educated. So, I ask in this piece, how can new futurities be envisioned if we are to remain stuck in the belly of education?

This strange experience where the curtain fluttered allowed me to see how education stole the future. Predominantly it is through schooling, the dominant tentacle of education that slithers through the streets of both city and countryside, grasping at every corner of the globe towards totalisation and feeding students into its many mouths. Schools designate the time of the child, initially by carving a being’s temporality up into childhood and adulthood – the latter only achieved after progression through the former. But how is this portion of designated time to be experienced by the child? It is through units that become smaller and smaller, for “time is used as a dimension of education and a scale of development” (Kakkori 578). Students are designated as students, allowing for division into age groups and year groups first, an easy way to ensure that these beings are forced to view themselves as moving from one temporal moment to another. We are pushed from stomach to stomach inside, as these moments are carved into further moments: the year is divided into terms, the terms into weeks, the weeks into days, but most pressingly, the day into blocks, periods and lessons. Some teachers now plan the moments of their lessons down to the minute, with much lesson planning literature dictating the need to split the lesson into clear “segments” (Butt 102), and even some “scripting” (Hazell n.pag.) every part of it. Each second must be touched by the tentacle of schooling. It is no surprise that by the time students finally ‘leave’ the beast’s daily control, they still see time as divisible into such units as they have been taught to follow – they are still inside the beast after all. Temporality becomes a sort of “vulgar time” (Heidegger 571) where the importance of the past or the yet-to-come of the future is lost. Many of us give ourselves to learning-over-time but lose our own temporality in doing so, taking on the beast’s sense of time rather than our own.

Time is projected by education too – and this is where its grip on the future becomes more palpable. Most leave school ready to become slaves to a capitalist market; indeed, students learn “how to be a capitalist” (Chambers 98) while in school by inculcating individual competition and marketised value through the examination system. Time, it seems, becomes a technology usable by the beast for “extracting more labour time from the student-as-learner-as worker” (Lewis 236). Forever are children compared and ranked, scrutinised under a “normalising gaze” (Foucault 184), and taught to believe, like that of a “small firm” (Chambers 90), they must invest in themselves if they are to succeed. Indeed, success itself is projected as more education, an ongoing schooling and “perpetual training” (Deleuze 7) that promises an end it continually postpones; supposedly it results in a finished subject that can compete in the market that awaits beyond (though beyond never comes – Education is imminent to the market). Futurity is perhaps forgotten because education, like other troubling monstrous apparatus, teaches us to “live within the crisis of presence” (Tiqqun 149), that is, the need to learn how to survive in the capitalist-now feels like a projection into the future, but really maintains stasis. Even in its most ameliorative form, education teaches a slavish protestant work ethic to learn to let capitalism ruin us: studying, learning, educating, inculcates the “moral imperative that drudgery should be valued” (Srnicek and Williams 124), by imploring a monastic and archaic work ethic based around rigour and self-flagellation – something that has only been exacerbated in UK reforms. Education gets in our blood, or we get in its blood; it becomes a fundamental aspect of being. Education might need us to sustain its existence; it sustains its own present by toying with our futures. We are fed to the beast, as it were.

The monstrous being may well reveal itself to us as the school – these are the moments that the curtain flutters. But the being that exists ontologically beyond the school, education itself, has an even tighter grip on time. This is not the manifestation that has been perverted by capitalism, but rather the true monstrous form itself. For what does education encourage to us envision? It dangles images of success, casting utopic visions where both the individual will reach their goals and society will improve (a symptom of the “meritocratic faith” (Allen 231) at play in educational logic). How often is the call for education to solve the woes of societal troubles heard – “a cure for our ills?” (Stock405). This logic fuses with the great monstrosity of capital, for time in education is measured as that of “value”(Bojesen 395), ensuring that every moment is appraised as constituting a glittering future of individual success. But there is something more insidious here beyond the capitalist beast. For, education would like us to believe that even those that wish to battle monsters like capitalism can do so by aspiring towards an educated future, a time when society becomes enlightened enough to be free of the shackles current temporal stasis and societal ignorance. Though one may try to pull education free from its capitalist, or as it stands now, neoliberal model, still many remain beholden to the structure of it, towards a future it desires. It is here one can spy the redemption myth that plagues this being, the promise of better things to come if we only listen to it. But should we be so quick to listen to some beast that slips from behind the curtain and offers us a future? Like Mephistopheles appearing from the ground and dangling knowledge in front of Faust, have we considered what the monster would want us to be for its future?

Monsters often make promises that benefit them. Futures are happily traded with education for the knowledge obtained. Even I sit here in my study embroiled in an educational-now, thrown into this world that I have deliberately plunged deeper and deeper into. This is what education would have of us all – chasing an educated future. But to be an educated person may be little more than a desire to discipline oneself via the pious pursuit of learning, become a grovelling servant to the monster. Perhaps I can entertain, briefly, some ways to resist this time-thief. Though I cannot send it back behind the curtain, there are ways to exploit fissures in its time. Like the Afrofuturist vision that seeks to free itself from the proto-capitalist history of slavery (Eshun 287; Dean 1), so too must critique return to education’s genealogy of control, discipline, empire, capitalism, and futural projection. Indeed, our visions of the future are so deeply tied to what we have learned, what has been taught, especially during our time in school, that to free ourselves from this monstrous entity would entail the need to uneducate (or to “unlearn” (Chambers 108)), to break free from the structure that has “schooled” the “imagination” (Illich 1). For Fisher, this can be achieved through the pursuit of “group consciousness raising” (PCD 118), and yet, perhaps for now at least, this feat of raising consciousness beyond the grip of the beast may be impossible. Indeed, who among us has not been subject to education’s domination? Those such as I, educated to the extreme, are more beholden to the beast than anyone.

Maybe it is the outsiders, therefore, that hold the answers. Those who were never offered any sense of future, even a temporally static one, might seek to find futurity beyond the whim of the beast; those who are outside, an “Imaginary Party” (Tiqqun 92) “the ‘criminals’, the ‘violent’, the ‘insane’, the ‘vagrants’ […] the ‘underworld’” (45). The voices of those cast aside by education, or those who rejected it, may be more lucid than most when it comes to fighting back against the beast. And a fight must take place: like Tiqqun’s attack on capital, “Reappropriation of the means of living-and-struggling, of space […] of the common […] of an autonomous culture […] of violence […] of basic survival” (68) are in demand for all monsters. Spaces and sites of education need reclaiming, for the school has become the very embodiment of the beast that represents all of its temporal control.

How to survive without reliance on education? Too many would be aghast at the call for an end to the project of education. This is, of course, the trace of the beast. A world, or indeed a future, without education is unthinkable.


Nicholas Stock, “Education, a Monstrous Thief of the Future,” Alluvium, Vol. 9, No. 3 (2021): n. pag. Web 4 June 2021. DOI:

About the Author

Nicholas Stock is a postgraduate researcher in philosophy of education at University of Birmingham and a lecturer of English Literature in a sixth form college.  He is interested in ironic approaches to education, particularly those that embrace literature, poststructuralism and post-Nietzschean ontology. He tweets @89stock.

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[1] This collective of western society, often referred to as a “we” or “us” in the article, encapsulates all those who are educated. This does not simply mean the few that have been to university, but rather anyone who has undergone some sense of education. As schooling is compulsory, and indeed education more broadly is everywhere, this “we” is an inclusive term.

Feature Image: “Kurtz” by Benjamin Horn

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