Three a week: Education

It is difficult to think of anything more important than education. Three questions:

Question 1: Why education?

Humans have to balance a lot of things in their lifetime. Should we spend time getting educated, enjoying our family and friends, learning skills, or maybe watching TV? Should any one of these things be more weighty than the other? If so, why, and based on whose standards?

I think by merely asking such questions, we have arrived at an answer. Here’s why: when we ask, “Should we do X or Y, and for what reasons?”, the only way of answering such a question is through some form of education. If you spend time pondering the question of how you should spend your daily time, you are pursuing knowledge.

Is spending time with family important? There is a more important question we have silently asked before we can respond – “Is the answer to the following question important: Is spending time with the family important?” If we didn’t care about the answer to the question, we wouldn’t have bothered asking. Even such innocuous questions like, “should I change the channel right now?” are related to an individual’s pursuit of knowledge, if sometimes trivial knowledge.

Of course, that being said, if education and the pursuit of knowledge are so important, perhaps people should spend a considerable amount of time learning about education itself, or refining the technique which they employ to learn anything. One’s life becomes exponentially more effective if you pursue knowledge with an accurate methodology of thinking/learning.

Question 2: Who is responsible for education?

We live in culture where we naturally assume education takes place in a brick-and-mortar school. However, is this the best setting for education? It is perfectly plausible that if you put a bunch of kids in a room, tell them all to pay attention to a teacher, they might completely ignore everything that is taught to them. Why? Because before any education can take place, the individual needs to be open to learning. All the lecturing in the world will not teach a child anything who is tuning them out.

On the other hand, even a poor teacher, bad tools, and unhealthy school setting will not stop an avid learner from learning. You can be using the dirtiest hand-me-down copies of textbooks, and an individual who is open to learning will soak in as much knowledge as possible. This is why young children pick up on things so quickly – they haven’t yet lost their love for learning. Cram them in a school desk; tell them to be quiet and pay attention, and watch their love and passion for knowledge fade away.

As far as I am concerned, with the learning tools available today (like the internet), we should be entirely focused on encouraging the pursuit of knowledge, not just throwing words at people in a boring classroom setting. Given that education is ultimately up to the individual, I think school teachers and professor should largely just get out of the way of the intellectual curiosity that so many people are born with. Allow people access to information when they request it. Don’t shove it down their throats.

Question 3: Is all education equally valuable?

I am just going to give my opinion here. There is good education, bad education, and anti-education. The majority of people who have been through a public school system have received anti-education, and the rest have received a bad one. OK, maybe not literally, but close. Here’s what I mean by that:

Students are taught to repeat information taught to them, not challenge it. There is a deliberate hierarchy in modern education, and students who challenge this structure get in trouble and are squelched. The question “But why?” has been synonymized with that bothersome student who just wants to prove the teacher wrong. There are a nearly unlimited amount propositions which students are expected to believe, defend, and regurgitate for the teacher whenever called upon, without ever spending a minute deeply thinking about.

For example, Abraham Lincoln was a great president, right? How many people were taught this? Virtually everyone? What kind of reaction would a student get if they were to challenge this notion, and call Abraham Lincoln one of the worst, most disturbed, and power-hungry presidents we have every had? Regardless of the reasons put forward, not only would the student be corrected, but his very intellect and patriotism would also be called into question. It is openly stated: a large component of public education is to make “good citizens” out of pupils. Part of teaching students to have civic virtue is to instill a sense of pride and responsibility about their country.

Whether or not this is a good idea is up for debate, but it is most certainly an intellectual travesty to have students (and anyone else, for that matter) condemned for merely challenging the idea of civic responsibility. Do I have a duty to my country? Should we even have a country? Are public servants actually doing anything respectable? Are the police really on our side, or are they power hungry sociopaths? Are judges really independent arbiters of justice, and should they be respected as such? I don’t know, but the answer to these questions seems awfully important, and it is never, ever up for debate.

There are innumerable sacred cows in the academic world: the virtues of public service, the theory of evolution, the efficacy of our government, the theory of gravity, the wonders of modern science, etc. You merely challenge for a second any of these, and you will have your head bitten off by a teacher, fellow student, or your neighbor. Of course, this is what I mean by anti-education. Deliberately teaching students to put their heads down and not challenge authority. There really seems to be no difference to me between the dogmaticism of modern education, and the domaticism of the medieval church, especially when you see those student/congregation members enjoying a direct correlation between their perceived educational level, and the amount of mindless sentences they can regurgitate.

“Bad education”, on the other hand, is common, but less destructive in the long run. Bad education is simply inaccurate information taught to a student, but in a more positive way. While it wouldn’t be a good thing to have students taught that 2+2=5, it isn’t the end of the world if the teacher is open to being proven wrong. Merely teaching students bad facts is infinitely easier to overcome than teaching them the virtues of groupthink.

“Good education” is something of a rarity, and I don’t think it can be simply taught. An open-minded professor can do wonderful things with students, no doubt. But you take an inquisitive mind, couple that with the internet, perhaps couple it with an inquisitive professor, and you have a recipe for accurate, open-minded self-education. Anyone who does not take what their teacher/professor/pastor/holy book/parent says as truth is well on their way to having a good education. Once you tear down the inhibitive walls of intellectual authority, and start putting every single proposition through the critical-thinking wringer: you start truly thinking for yourself, and are that much more likely to hold accurate beliefs.

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