let school interfere with your education.
an old joke about how knowledge accumulates in universities: students
enter college, knowing everything, and graduate knowing nothing.
In this way does knowledge continue to grow within universities.
My years of experience in what is referred to as "higher
education" inform me that there is more than sophomoric humor
in this description.
have recently written, my all-time favorite teacher and professor
of anything was Malcolm Sharp, with whom I studied at the University
of Chicago Law School. Malcolm was straight out of central-casting
as a loving grandfather type, he was also a master of the Socratic
method of learning. It was through the processes of continued
inquiry, the refinement of one’s questions, that his students
began to experience the understanding that answers
do not provide. Only discovering how to go deeper and deeper into
the asking of questions does understanding arise. This is why
learning how to think has far greater significance for
one’s life than learning what to think.
whether, at any stage in your formalized education, you were encouraged
to think outside the boundaries of the assigned curriculum. Were
the institutional keepers of the questions you were expected to
pursue tolerant of any independent inquiries you might undertake?
Might continued efforts to pursue your own agenda of discovery
land you in the principal’s office or, worse, subject you to behavior-modifying
drugs or other treatment? At what point – if at all – did it become
evident to you that the system of formal education to which you
had been sentenced had, as its purpose, the turning of you and
your fellow inmates into well-conditioned servo-mechanisms whose
energies were to be devoted to fostering institutional interests?
I have long
been of the view that the earlier children are able to experience
a free and unstructured environment for learning, the greater
the likelihood they will carry an epistemological independence
with them. Having experienced the joy and energy that accompanies
an unfettered exploration of one’s world makes a child less vulnerable
to the people-pushers who see him or her only as "resources"
to be exploited.
learning has the dual nature of both informing and constraining
our inquiries. Heisenberg’s "uncertainty principle"
reminds us that the observer is the observed; that what we see
is filtered through the lenses of what we have seen previously;
that our prior experiences provide the categories and other concepts
with which we define the present. This is why – contrary to the
faith of the Objectivists – we can never be certain that what
we know and observe comports with "reality." That our
learning may, in fact, be identical with "reality" does
not overcome the inherent and inevitable character of the subjective
nature of what we know. Such an awareness compels us to refine
the Cartesian proposition "I think, therefore I am,"
into "I think that I think, therefore I think that I am."
we are unable to contrast how much we know about the universe
with what is possible to know. I shall nonetheless offer this
analogy: imagine that what you and I know – or think we know –
about the universe is contained within a child’s marble. Then
imagine this marble situated in the state of California. Believing
in the sufficiency of our experiences within the marble, we presume
that the rest of the universe operates on the same principles
and dynamics as those with which we are familiar. Why do we do
this? Whether one subscribes to the "Book of Genesis"
or the "Big Bang" explanation for the origins of the
universe, there is an underlying assumption that "existence"
must have some identifiable point of beginning. Upon what do we
rely for this presumption? Is it not evident that both hypotheses
are drawn from our prior – and very limited – learning; that "reality"
may exhibit itself in causal patterns that we cannot even imagine
establishment finds it essential to its interests to keep our
knowledge of reality confined to within the boundaries of the
marble it controls. To this end, the educational system is charged
with the task of conditioning the minds of people to learn what
is serviceable to members of the prevailing order. Students –
whether they be children or adults – are provided with a great
deal of knowledge, generally in the form of information,
skills, doctrines, or other lore that can be utilized on behalf
of institutional purposes. Learning that is not so useful tends
to be treated, at best, as a form of entropy (i.e., energy
unavailable for productive work) or, at worst, disruptive of established
ends. Learning that fosters a deeper, institutional purposeless
– or, worse yet, threatening – understanding is to be discouraged.
operate as little more than robot factories, training students
to provide answers to the limited range of questions that prepare
young minds to perform their roles as institutional automatons.
The questions that students are permitted to ask are largely confined
to enhancing performance in their assigned functions, but never
to ask why they are robots!
County of Los Angeles published a pamphlet stating that children
must be taught "that we are all part of one big social system,"
and "must learn how to participate effectively" within
that system, it confirmed Ivan Illich’s observation that "once
young people have allowed their imaginations to be formed by curricular
instruction, they are conditioned to institutional planning of
every sort." Another government school system informs us
that those who resist such conditioning are to be fed into the
"juvenile delinquency" system "to correct the pupils’
of a coercively-enforced system of learning is so contrary to
the self-interest-driven nature of life that many students seek
to avoid it, whether by physically dropping out of school (that
horrible crime known as "truancy"), or just not doing
the assigned work, or otherwise pursuing one’s own agenda
rather than that of the teacher. Whatever alternative the student
pursues, the more independent student is labeled as suffering
from "attention-deficit disorder" (i.e., the unwillingness
to remain bored by the prescribed curricula and the teacher’s
rote methods of teaching subjects of little interest to intelligent
minds). For the more grievous offenders, the state’s criminal-law
system (i.e., juvenile courts) await. In the interim, students
may find themselves subjected to Big-Pharma’s collection of "behavior-modification"
drugs in order "to correct the pupils’ maladjustments."
The connection that has been made between prescribed psychotropic
drugs and school-shootings has been conveniently ignored by most
establishment voices. Those who prefer to look for causal explanations
in guns would do well to ask themselves why so many of these mass-killings
take place at government schools!
continues its systematic corruption of our natural disposition
for learning, insisting upon its agenda for conditioning minds
into becoming institutional servo-mechanisms. The established
order – consisting of political systems, major corporations, the
mainstream media, organized religions, schools, and academia -
has long been at war with the kind of learning that generates
understanding rather than obedience, a battle that
is, once again, being waged against the technology (e.g., Internet)
that puts learning back into the hands of individuals.
tend to short-circuit the processes by which minds dig deeper
in search of the refinement of questions that foster understanding.
But in our modern world, schools are not engaged in helping students
learn how to clarify the quality of their inquiries, or to help
them discover deeper, inner meanings to their lives. Most schools
are in the certification business, attesting to the next
level of institutional interests the qualifications of their graduates.
High schools certify students to colleges; colleges certify their
alums to either corporate employers or to graduate schools; professional
graduate schools (e.g., medicine, law) certify students to state
licensing agencies; while licensing boards certify these would-be
practitioners to the public.
the course of this institution-serving system of training, young
minds must be inoculated against exposure to ideas that engender
the kinds of inquiries, speculations, and discoveries that tend
to a more individualized sense of being and purpose in life. Therein
lies the breeding ground for understanding, and it is such
existential awareness that must be kept out of the human psyche.
Like black holes – whose gravitational forces prevent the emergence
of any light – most schools work to suck understanding out of
the minds of their students, a function whose successes are reflected
in the confusions, conflicts, and contradictions of our world.
of the struggle that goes on for control of our minds has been
no better expressed than by the late creative genius Steve Jobs.
In discussing his experiences with elementary school, Jobs said:
"I encountered authority of a different kind than I had ever
encountered before, and I did not like it. They came close to
really beating any curiosity out of me." My modification
of Twain’s earlier comment reads: never let education interfere
with your learning; never allow assigned knowledge
to undermine your understanding of yourself or the world.