Sunday, June 4, 2017

Liberation and the Values of an Education

Higher education in America is prohibitively expensive if what you want is an education. That's because it will require more than the skills you need to be employable. To be educated is not merely to be skilled or employable. Bees, ants, even planaria can _learn_ but I'm as sure as human can be that they can't be educated. To be educated is to learn how to think, not what to think. It's no small task. I'll take this a step too far too: to be educated is, dare I say? My religion. That's because the only salvation, the only liberation I can admit myself to being real is learning _how_ to learn.

Every what needs a so what, but none of that matters unless we can think with thinking. That's more than learning. (I'll also claim fellowship with Van Zandt and the Boss that rock n' roll is my other religion but that's another essay. And, yes, you can have more than one religion. ) All the rest of "religions" are to be learned from and to be learned about, but take note of how rarely they educate us in learning how _to learn_.

What we learn is not unimportant. How we learn changes _everything_. Yesterday I was trying to explain to a perfectly lovely soul that his son, who wants to be an engineer and is working as a carpenter, might also want to be an English or a History major or study religions or poetry or storytelling because _education_ adds to _life_. More importantly, that learning how to learn in these subjects is practically different from analytical sciences. We have to become more willing to suffer ambiguity and like it. We have to like confusion as a vital feature of learning. That imagination is not unreality. Well, you get the point. But much is the same no matter what we learn:
(1) ask every, any question, even the ones, especially the ones that make you deeply uncomfortable;
(2) follow the road, the evidence wherever takes you, and be prepared not to be applauded for changing your mind;
(3) and always look for the black swan. (Check the Rajanaka Sammelana and Contrariety blogspots for plenty more about this.) These are all familiar bits from me. Are you still awake?

Here's today's point: yesterday's case for education was downright impossible and proved impenetrable, utterly. Everything had to be reduced to utility. "What are you going to do with that?" This wasn't the issue so much as, _everything_ must have utility and translate into skills for commerce. I thought to myself, is this a feature of unadulterated American pragmatism? Must education always be useful because it translates into commerce, into things? But what's practical and useful is in fact not the same as what's sellable. We might need education to be human enough to share a world in which commerce, use, and ends will destroy if we don't imagine more. But if we never learn to think it becomes tough to imagine what more an education offers--- because unless we are taught to think all we can do is learn.