Friday, April 13, 2007

The Imprint of Education

"Education is what is survives when what has been learned has been forgotten." ~B.F. Skinner

It seems that so many of my students view their education as a vehicle to a good job (read: money). There is nothing inherently wrong with pursuing financial stability, but there is something inherently wrong with viewing education as merely a means to this end. When learning how to think takes a back seat to the future diploma, the emphasis shifts from becoming a thinker, a discerner, and a seeker of truth, to functioning as a navigator of a system that seeks the easiest way to fulfill those pesky general education requirements and avoid "difficult" professors. What a way to waste late adolescence and early adulthood.

If an education is merely preparation for future work, then what is the purpose of going to a university? Or, for that matter, reading a book for pleasure? Those four or five or eight years of school could be better spent earning money and gaining work experience if education was simply about training. Training and education are two different things, although training can be important for a future career. But, becoming a lifelong learner or thinker is much more dependent on education, or, more precisely, learning how to think.

What so few of my students seem to realize is that by seeking to be a thinker, they are ensuring their future success. Regardless of skill, trade, or educational level, learning how to ask questions serves as a tremendous advantage in any field. The ability to generate questions while identifying biases, assumptions, and points of view allows for sharper insight into how we live, work, worship, and relate to others. That ability does not come from an accumulation of historical facts or mathematical formulas, and it does not come from being well-trained in plumbing or electrical work. It comes from asking questions--from thinking. Can one read a book, watch a movie, listen to a sermon, run a race, plant a garden, or use the internet without asking questions about it? If so, it may be time to ask a bigger question: why do these things?

I think Skinner has it right on this one. I certainly have forgotten the details of the Krebs Cycle, but what remains is the ability to think scientifically. I cannot recite all of the facts and dates from the scads of history classes that I took, but the process shaped me to think like an historian. I do not remember exactly how my dad taught me to use a bait-casting reel, but I know how to catch fish.

It is not so much what we know, but how we think that makes for interesting lives, and a diploma has little to say about how we think. It merely says that we had the opportunity to expose ourselves to a lot of wonderful ideas. Whether that occurred or not is another matter.

Running Update
Today's mileage: 4 miles (21 miles this week)

I am in my first week of taper for the Derby Marathon. The taper is just what is sounds like: a gradual lessening of mileage leading up to race day. The primary objective is to maintain maximum fitness while resting the body from the rigors of peak training time. I had five weeks over fifty miles and many other over forty miles over the winter. This week, I will log about 35 miles (14 on tap for tomorrow). Next week, that number will dip to ~25 miles. The week leading up to race day will be very light. Mentally and physically, I was in need of this taper, but I can already tell that running fewer miles will make me antsy. More on this as race day approaches.

1 comment:

Amanda Moore said...

Amen! It's frustrating to see universities themselves buying into the school=money idea and abandoning the idea of education for the sake of education.