I’ve heard many people, discontent with our education system wish the focus was more on the training for a child’s occupation and less with other ‘worthless’ subjects. I believe these people are gravely mistaken.
I understand where these people come from though. They see a high school graduate, and the best thing this education can get them is a job at McDonalds or stocking shelves at K-Mart.
However, instead of looking at education as end to money and a successful career, it’d be good to look at things from a better perspective — the evils mankind faces and the happiness of society.
Overall mankind faces three main kinds of evil.
1. “Physical Evils”
There are, first, those due to physical nature: among these are death, pain, and the difficulty of making the soil yield a subsistence.
2. “Evils of Character”
Second, we may put those that spring from defects in the character or aptitudes of the sufferer: among these are ignorance, lack of will, and violent passions.
3. “Evils of Power”
Those that depend upon the power of one individual or group over another: these comprise not only obvious tyranny, but all interference with free development, whether by force or by excessive mental influence as may occur in education.
Looking from this different perspective should help clear the person’s mind to see that merely training people for the occupation only solves “physical evils.” Having greater training in technology and science would certainly bring about an increase in those fields, but I argue those fields are not where our current society is lacking.
Kropotkin, a famous Anarchist, wrote how using modern farming technology (and this was in the 1940s (I think)) a very small portion of land could yield a great abundance of food. Yet, for some reason, even as of 2006, groceries are not going DOWN in price, they have been going UP in price. Shouldn’t technology bring about a decrease in the price of these kinds of things? Well, it SHOULD, but it doesn’t.
One of the great things Kropotkin advocated is that people should be provided with base living needs such as food, water, clothing, and shelter, because even as of 1940 and the technology of that era, it was so incredibly easy to provide those things to the people. I forgot the actual statistics, but he had great evidence to back it that this was perfectly feasible.
This concept doesn’t just apply to food – it applies to energy, clothing, and homes as well.
Technology isn’t our problem. Our level of science has the capabilities of providing a great abundant life to every man, woman, and child. But, why isn’t it? Why do people struggle day to day just to get a home, transportation, and food to eat? It’s simple – it’s the economic machine.
The three evils I stated just a second ago can be broken into two categories:
1. Evils of Nature
2. Evils of Mankind – Man’s relation to other men
Using science, we’ve solved a great deal of the evils of nature. Death and pain still exist unfortunately, but we shouldn’t have problems with food, clothing, and shelter.
All problems our society faces relate to the relations of men with themselves. Whether it be character flaws such as greed, hatred, envy or unduly government and economic structures. Some people say “the money just doesn’t flow right” – this is true, but oversimplified.
People who advocate putting the Bible is schools only seem to notice ‘character flaws.’ A text such as the Bible, if studied diligently probably would increase a moral awareness and an increase in proper good behavior but leaves the others lacking. We certainly can’t leave out the sciences such as physics, chemistry, and biology.
The subject most people do not even think about, because they have not even heard of it to begin with is ‘evils of power.’ This includes a study of different ways a society can be structured and the pros and cons of each. Most people have heard of ‘democracy’ and ‘communism’, but they know little about them. They seem to think democracy is perfect and the ‘best’ alternative there is out there.
Intellectuals have been thinking of our society and it’s problems for quite some time, and have advocated many solutions which, for the most part, have never made it to the public ear. These include Anarchism, Communism, Syndicalism, Guild Socialism, and various hybrids.
Messing with government and society structure messes with the people in power, and I’m quite sure this kind of information is purposely witheld from the public.
If our schools took out the study of history, and only taught technical related occupation information, the little bit of ‘evils of power’ they’ve been able to gather from scattered history lessons — even that would be taken away.
I know High School (and probably college) history are lacking. I can remember having one main thought in history class: ‘It’s just one thing after another’ and I could form no relations between one thing that happened to the next. That’s because of how it’s taught in schools. For the most part, it’s just one memorized event after another. You learn everything but what you really need to know – the subject of the ‘evils of power.’ How people come into power, how they use that power to oppress people, and why they do it.
With history, if you don’t know what to look for, it’s easy just to get caught in the details. Because people are lacking studies in the ‘evils of power’, government, and economic structuring, they find the subject of history to be left with nothing but memorized events – which they soon forget after leaving the classroom for a few months.
I don’t blame them for wanting to discard it. Thing is, it’s not history’s fault, it’s the fact that you’re only getting a partial piece of the pie.
Other subjects, say, English, many think to be equally useless. I myself partially agree with this,at least to the masses, but I, amazingly, have found uses for English. As I’ve studied in depth Philosophy I’ve found that many arguments that confuse people are linguistic arguments that can be solved by a more thorough understanding of language and words. Being honest, that’s the only use I’ve found for the pedantries of English.
People interested in writing, such as journalists, seem to make English and language their focus. This is stupid, as the actual writing of words down on the page, I believe, is probably only 5% of what a real writer does. 95% of writing is the content being said. Elegantly stating stupidity isn’t exactly what we consider to be a great work. It’s all about content not so much writing ability. Take Immanuel Kant for example: He had no idea how to write and was one of the worst communicators I can think of but his Crique of Pure Reason, Crtique of Practical Reason, and Critique of Judgment stand as philosophical canon.
I’m not saying the 5% is useless, there’s just a lot more than English to writing quality works.
Reading also shares unduly praise in our society. Reading is not neccessarily a virtuous exercise. If you read stupidity, you’re wasting your time just as much as a person playing a video game. Stupid books create stupid people. Shallow books create shallow people. It’s more important that you read high quality books that contain deep truths, than it is that you’re simply out there reading.
When I study and shop for books, I find that most books are not worth reading. Amazon.com and bookstores are full of worthless books that you would be better off not reading. It’s finding the quality works and only focusing your energies on them that will give you real benefit. There’s always a process which I call ‘context studying’ in which I study the authors of books themselves, and make an arduous effort to filter out the worthless books and focus all my energies on quality works. You always end up with a few worthless books on your shelves, but for the most part, you end up with the majority of your time spent on quality works.
Need a good example of a worthless book I found myself stuck with? Check out James D. Miller’s “Game Theory At Work” — this books is all around awful.
Make sure to check out the spotlight review by one of my best friends, Greg Thompson. I was actually present with him as we wrote that review.
Anyways, this ‘context studying’ is normally absent in college students. They just get handed books by their professors and they read and become like their professor. This can be both good or bad. It really all depends on what they’re handed. But, I believe professors and college are generally looked to as ‘miracle men’ who are going to filter everything down and do all the hard work for them. Any time you try to cut corners you always lose something. Education is no exception. Context studying cannot be elimated if a person is going to be truly educated properly.
How about foreign language? Eh, I have little interest in the subject actually. I always think in terms of ideals, and think we should only have one common language we all speak. No use wasting time learning 50 foreign languages. You can have someone who can speak every foreign language out there and still not be able to answer the problems you face. Language can be thought of as a tool, but if you don’t know how to use the tool and apply it to life’s problems, you’re just as worthless to me. Though, that’s only an ideal, and people in different nations speak different languages, so translators and knowing languages does have utility.
I enjoy studying language mechanics though, and learning the base concepts all language have in common, and the study of creating an ‘ideal language.’
As for mathematics in school, I feel it is taught in the worst fashion. Students are told an outright lie – “Working problems over and over and over is the only way to learn mathematics.” No, this is the way to burn a mechanical process into your brain that will leave you in a few months. The problem with math is that they do not teach how the great mathmaticians came up with their equations or why. You end up thinking that the great founders of the subject, from Archimedes to Descartes, Leibniz, and Newton all were these strange geniuses and there is no way to understand their thought. This is wrong.
School tries to teach mathematics from a ‘practical’ angle. They’re not so much concerned about you understanding the inner workings of mathematics as much as teaching you how to use them in everyday life. This angle works fine up until Trigonometry and Calculus. The subject just seems to go flying into the abyss as you’re left with plugging numbers into cryptic equations and wondering where it all came from. You’ll notice in Trig they try to get around going into the inner workings of Sin(), cos(), and tan() by making you plot these charts and deal with oversimplified problems.
I never once saw a person go through and teach me how to take the sin() of an angle without a scientific calculator. sin() is a mechanical process to the students, not an actual function where they understand the step by step process their calcultor does for them.
Calculus becomes even more aloof as you utlize chain rules and linear algebra’s crazy matricies to solve things you would have never came up with on your own.
Mathematics is actually an awesome subject that is fascinating beyond all words. It’s just not taught right at all.
Actually, I take that back, it is taught correctly if your goal is just to use it, but if you’re like me and interested in the subject you’ll find high school as well as college mathematics, for the most part, extremely lacking.
I used to read my AP Calculus textbook over and over and think – “I’m just stupid – I can’t understand this stuff.” I could get an A in the class, but I had no idea what I was doing. Turns out, these ‘Calculus’ textbooks are not designed for you to understand how they came up with the equations or to get into the minds of the great thinkers who invented them. They’re about immediate utility.
I’ve actually learned, the more intelligent you are, most likely, the worse you will do in school. They say Einstein made very bad grades. I’m quite positive it’s because he found it lacking, but at the time, had not yet had the chance to study the subjects more thoroughly for himself.
Many of the truly brilliant minds seem to be anarchic. They rebel against the common accepted science of their time. That’s why they come up with something new. A brilliant youth, I believe, will see that something is lacking from the education being presented to him and will shun himself from the school system to the degree of the strength of his will. If he’s really strong, he’ll probably drop out and study on his own. If he’s weaker he’ll be more or less like a Stoic and play along because he doesn’t think it’s worth upsetting his parents and the ridicule he’d be sure to find from dropping out.
I suppose the last main subject to be talked about is the various sciences studied in school. These subjects include Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. The problem with these subjects is similar to that of mathematics – it’s all about cranking problems or reguritating some text from the book.
My high school Physics classes were taught in the exact opposite fashion in which I would recommend. My physics teacher thought the beginning chapter of the Physics textbook on ‘units’ and the experiments on how they arrived them was too useless to study. This is the exact opposite of how true genius operates. Many people think when studying the sciences you want to dive right in there doing crazy problems using all these equations. And, that is exactly what we did in my physics classes. I had no idea what a Newton, a volt, or heat was, but I could crank out all kinds of “answers.”
What I’ve noticed from all the books written by Nobel Laurates and other famous scientists or philosophers, they take something so remotely simple that you think you’re not even moving forward. You keep elaborating and elaborating and elaborating on some simple subject. You keep taking small little steps here, and another small step there and each step is almost obvious. Next thing you know you’ve read 100 pages on some simple subject such as ‘area’ which most math textbooks don’t even talk about. Then you find out that area is simply a relation between mental objects and you piece these small steps together and are left with Einstein’s theory of relativity.
All the huge equations that seemed so complex are really just the combinations of the simple steps you were taking earlier and it all just pieces together. But, school textbooks just assume it’s too simple to talk about. Likely, the authors don’t possess this in-depth knowledge themselves, which is why they don’t feel it’s important. Though it could likely be they think it’s too intricate and are more concerned with textbooks that are ‘practical’. Bah. The distinction between practical and not-practical as well as ‘useless’ knowledge to me is difficult.
As for elaborating greatly on ‘simple’ subjects – philosophers do the same thing. I expected to find philosophers elaborating on crazy intricate subjects, but I found them taking “simple” everyday subjects such as love, peace, happiness, space, sight perception, etc, and greatly elaborating on it. There’s a proverb, I think from the Art of War, that defines genius in terms of uncommon knowledge into everday subjects. I wish I could find it. I agree with that proverb.
Chemistry was worse than Physics, partly due to my teacher. That subject was the perfect example of complete mental mechincal processes. I could do all kinds of crazy chemical reactions, and give you complex chemical structures for all kinds of reactions — but put Chlorine or Bromide in front of me, take the label of the jar and I couldn’t even tell you what it was.
Other science subjects suffer the same fate. I remember “learning” about all kinds of strange energy spectrums and energies and what not, having no idea what I was looking at. Spectrums with X-Rays and Gamma Rays and blah blah rays. It was just a bunch of colorful charts – devoid of all meaning outside of putting an answer down for the test.
My own independent studies have shown me school is lacking – but it has also shown me that simply teaching a person their occupation is not going to help us either.