As the U.S. struggles to redefine itself in the face of domestic and global economic changes, education is near the top of the list of issues up for discussion. This is my contribution to the conversation, my albeit eccentric point of view on what I consider essential in the education of an individual.
Much of the public debate addresses our need as a nation to beef up technology and science education, and vocational training that can lead to employability and improve the economic picture and, presumably, the private picture as well of our personal, workaday lives.
The thinking is right on. In terms of dollars and cents (and dollars and cents figure hugely in the creation of cultures and societies), I agree with the urgent need to encourage science and technology interest in people, especially the young, to enable them after their education and/or training is over to quickly join the work force and support themselves and their families.
Two factors give a slant to my point of view: where I am in life and where I was. I am at the tail end of life, my peak in earning activities almost surely behind me. And where I was in life was in an incomparably more economically disadvantaged country, the Philippines, where education (at least during my youth there) was very different from what is available here today in America.
The word “educate” comes from the Latin “educare,” related to “educere” – to lead out. While education in these hard economic times is seen as a tool towards earning a living, at its core it is much more than that. An educated person is one who is led out of his undeveloped, small self to see with increasing maturity and intelligence an increasingly larger world so that his position in that transmogrifying world changes. At its holistic best, education is about personal transformation, a movement from naïveté to wisdom. We should be so lucky to grow a modicum of wisdom by the time we die!
To this end, education is not only the acquisition of vocational skills; it is primarily the acquisition and incorporation of information. Here again I take the word at its more primitive, stripped-down sense. To be informed is to be shaped by what we know. Education goes beyond what we learn in the classroom, even beyond what we learn in laboratories, internships or apprenticeships. Education goes on for life.
In a sense, formal education is just the beginning of the lifelong process. More than the acquisition of vocational or career-specific skills, it is how we acquire learning skills. Once we know how to learn we can take over our own education after someone hands us our diploma. Education is really about experience, and information at its best acquired through the skillful and intelligent use of experience.
Which takes us to memory and brain function. Recent research suggests that the brain continues to form new cells even as we grow older, beyond our twenties and even our fifties. Memory is in itself a fascinating subject to explore. We have different kinds of memory. Again brain research is indicating that much of what we “know” is old memory stored not in the cerebrum but in the brain stem where they are activated with little conscious thought.
Education then is about the information coded into our brains, organs we still know so little about. Not everyone is interested in brain studies and that is okay. We each have our own unique and preferred way to acquire, assimilate and use information. Modern pedagogy is centuries ahead of what the old universities like Bologna or Paris or Oxford employed but the science of pedagogy adds but a whit in the scheme of a person’s lifelong educational journey.
Education as most people understand the word (and concept) today is seen as the acquisition of facts. That to me is so far from the essence of education. Facts change. Studying history, for instance, we see how much our perception and interpretation of “facts” have changed.
Information is more than memorizing dates or even formulas and computer codes. Information goes deeper that what today we know from science and experimentation. Not even Big Data can contain information like that to what a man or woman acquires in the course of experiencing life.
We each have genetic pre-conditioning and maybe something more, something like soul or anima, which animates us and also directs our life force into the evolution that education really is about. In the course of our lives we “evolve” as planets, cultures, every part of the whole universe and the universe itself, into what no one can say. Some call God the fabricator of the template for change we call Fate. I don’t know. What I do know is that education is much more than simple aggregation of facts and skills.
Education is our evolution as a live organism, here now on this planet for however long, and our impact on this orb of a planet circling a medium-size star grows out of education. Education leads us from the tiny sphere we think of as our life’s ambit to dimensions beyond our ken.