There are many conversations about education—its importance, its purpose, and how it ought to be “distributed” to the public. There is a current conversation going on concerning higher education—college and post-undergraduate studies—and whether it has been helpful for society. Unfortunately, this current conversation has been in the context of conservative politicians due to the apparent liberal culture that is cultivated among students at the majority of universities. I say, “unfortunately” because the discussion on education is, and has been, a political one. I think a better conversation regarding education should be one that is away from politics and is more philosophically inclined as to understanding the nature of education. It is also an unfortunate conversation because some have concluded that higher education is rendered useless because of the political influence. The purpose of this post is not to weigh in on this political conversation, but to take a look at the nature of education and how it differs from indoctrination.
On a side note, to me it is ill-fated that so many good conversations have “gone political.” Several of my recent posts have had a political dialogical slant, which I don’t enjoy, but I blame the fact that so many topics have been abducted by politics. I’d rather stay completely out of those kinds of conversations, so please do not read any of this as a political propaganda.
The Nature of Education
Education is a strange thing. It’s something we go through for the first part of our lives, and hopefully continue to engage in it “unofficially” even once we graduate. Education, in its most basic form, is a systematic approach to teaching. Education has to do with knowledge, or learning. We all learn differently and have different strengths and weaknesses. Some are good at analytics (mathematics), while others are good at the arts (music, poetry, painting, etc.). Some can learn just by watching someone else demonstrate the rules to a discipline, while others have to actively engage in the discipline. There is a wide range of strategies and tools to help people acquire knowledge. Yet, knowledge itself is even stranger (if you need any convincing, just check out this encyclopedia entry). So, if knowledge and education is so strange, what could the nature of education possibly be? Luckily, I think its necessary components are fairly easy to grasp.
It seems that there are at least two major parts that compose this thing called “education.” The first is facts. Education does not seem possible without delivering facts to pupils. Knowledge necessarily requires that facts are comprehended by the knower. It wouldn’t make sense to say we have “false knowledge.” In the case of “false knowledge,” it is not that we know something, it’s that we don’t know something, or paraphrased as a “lack of knowledge”. So, facts are a necessary part of education, and are the most well-known part of education. The second, which is often overlooked, is reasoning. What I intend to communicate by the word “reasoning” is the idea of drawing an inference, logical thinking (deduction, induction, and abduction), drawing a conclusion from the facts, piecing ideas together, etc.
It’s one thing to list a bunch of facts and expect students to learn them, but this cannot be what education is, there must be more. While I do think there are times in one’s education and certain subjects that call for a listing of facts; however, as the pupils becomes more versed in her education this is simply not enough. Think of it as a connect-the-dots game found in those magazines dentists have in their waiting rooms; at least mine always did. A page contains seemingly random dots that are numbered. The directions say to put your pen at the dot with a 1 next to it and draw a straight line from dot1 to dot2. This pattern continues until you get to the last dot. Somewhere during your drawing you will start to see what the image is and by the time you complete the game you’ve drawn it. Education seems to be like this. Someone has to give you the dots (facts) in order for you to connect them (reasoning).
However, it is the reasoning portion of education that is the hardest to teach.
Teaching someone to reason well is simply stated as teaching them to think. This is what separates teaching from indoctrination. Indoctrination is obviously bad as it is semi-brainwashing people to think and believe the same way as the “educator,” but its subtleties’ are often overlooked in education. One common way indoctrination can occur in education is when one only presents one side of an argument and/or puts forth bad or misleading arguments for the other side. This is not teaching a person the right conversation and is not teaching them to weigh the options for both sides. Instead, this is only indoctrinating the pupil to believe a certain way; in which education is nonexistent in this scenario.
Teaching people to think can be a dangerous thing. Dangerous in the sense of “creating” thinkers who think differently than you do—if this is, in fact, dangerous. A great example of this is Plato and is star pupil Aristotle. Both are titans in philosophy, yet they differed on many subjects. Plato taught Aristotle how to reason, think philosophically, and come to conclusions on his own. Yet, Aristotle departed from many of Plato’s positions. Is this bad? I don’t think so. This stirs-up good conversations, it sharpens each other’s beliefs, and, if held in a civil context, it can help people find truth.
So, the nature of education, as briefly discussed in this blog, is composed of at least two parts, teaching facts and teaching one to reason with those facts. Education is a beautiful thing and should not be forgotten. It is in the education, not indoctrination, of children that breed the great ideas of tomorrow. This means allowing people to hear the full and accurate conversation in order to decide for themselves what they believe. This may seem dangerous–for, an idea is a most dangerous thing to have–but it’s for the best. People thinking for themselves is what benefits society the most.