The Nature of Education: A Fine Line between Learning and Indoctrination

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.

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Four Popular Arguments that aren’t Helping Popular Topics

Hello all!

I hope your week is shaping quite nicely. It has been several weeks since my last post. My wife, Brooke, and I just had our first baby and everyone is doing well! Scout, our little girl, is unbelievably cute and I am truly blessed to have her in my life. Brooke has recovered well and is adjusting to motherhood like a champ!

This week I wanted to address several popular topics that are not being discussed well. My point in this post is not to argue for one side, though I’m sure you can guess my stance on a few of these. The purpose of this post is to help people think more clearly about popular topics no matter your stance. There are many terrible thinkers out there and it doesn’t help that a large portion of people with a microphone are those terrible thinkers. So, without further ado, here are four popular arguments that aren’t helping popular topics!

1) Popular Argument/Discussion: Such-and-such politician did not speak out against the prejudiced organization. This politician must endorse them!

  • Although it is sad when politicians, such as the president, do not speak out against hate groups, racist agendas and the like, this comment does not actually accomplish anything. For one, someone’s silence on an issue does not necessarily mean they are for that group. Their silence may not be helpful and may actually be harmful, but this is different from giving allegiance to something. Bringing up does not help the dialogue progress.
    • Helpful Argument/Discussion: Keep the discussion on who was directly involved, what they did that was wrong, why it was wrong, how can we avoid continuing these problems, and what are encouraging words and thoughts to keep unity among those who believe what was done was wrong.Also, check out this blog on a related topic! (Click here)

2) Popular Argument/Discussion: people are (or are not) born homosexuals.

  • Some of may find this discussion “old-hat”, but this debate is commonly found in religious circles such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. This popular argument centers on whether or not people are born with homosexual desires. I don’t think this is a help, or tenable, argument. The problem with this argument, from either side, is a little hidden. There is, I think, a missing proposition in either side’s arguments. It goes as follows:

People are born homosexuals,

Therefore, homosexuality is good.

Or

Homosexuality is bad (or not natural, as some will say),

Therefore, people are not born homosexuals.

However, both of these arguments are invalid. There is a missing proposition in each argument: If people are (or are not) born a homosexual, then it is good (or bad) that people are homosexual. So, they should look like this:

If people are born homosexual, then homosexuality is good,

People are born homosexual,

Therefore, homosexuality is good.

Or

If people are born homosexual, then homosexuality is good,

Homosexuality is not good (bad),

Therefore, people are not born homosexuals.

Both of these arguments are now valid. The first argument is an example of modus ponens,

If A then B,

A,

Therefore, B.

The second argument is an example of modus tollens,

If A then B,

~B,

Therefore, ~A.

However, it should be clear now what the real discussion should center on. Both sides have bought into the idea that if someone is born a certain way, that makes it okay. But, do one’s birth-desires (as I will call them) determine if something is right or wrong? Usually we would say no. Here are two examples. 1) For Christians: the fact that people are born in sin and born with a sin nature does not mean that sin and our fallen nature are good. Why? Because being born a certain way does not determine its moral status. So, if you just replace “homosexual” with “sin nature”, we clearly see that this argument is not sound (true). 2) For non-Christians: if someone is born with Common Variable Immune Deficiency (CVID) to the point of having no antibodies for an immune system, does this mean that CVID is a good thing? Of course not! Why? Because something’s moral status cannot be based on the fact that someone was born a certain way. I say this because the usual response is, “I can’t help that I am a homosexual. I was born this way.” Again, the hidden premise here is that if someone is born a certain way, then that means that certain way is good, or at least acceptable.

  • Another problem with this argument is that it really can’t be proven or disproven. If someone says that they were born a homosexual, someone else really can’t argue with it. It would be like arguing with someone about their favorite color. I can’t argue with someone about their favorite color. That’s something only they would know—accept for the poor fellow in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Likewise, simply saying that you were born a certain way is not an argument in and of itself. So, not only do these arguments not accomplish anything, they are also incorrigible—they cannot be corrected or proven.
    • Helpful Argument/Discussion: Discuss the virtues (or vices) of homosexuality in a scientific, religious, social, and psychological context, and discuss which moral theory (relative morality, absolute morality, pragmatism, etc.) should be ascribed. I think a lot of time has been wasted on this popular argument for (or against) homosexuality.

3) Popular Argument/Discussion: Abortion is about the woman having a choice about her body and anyone who disagrees hates women.

  • I mentioned this argument before in a post about logical fallacies (click here!). There are many problems with this popular argument, one of which is that fact that this is the logical fallacy called red herring. To put the argument forward that abortion directly involves the woman’s worth and her right to choose completely misses the actual conversation. For one, most pro-lifers would agree that women are worth just as much as men, should have a right to make choices about their body, and do not hate women. These are widely agreed on. However, the dissention is between whether the unborn baby is a life. For, if the unborn baby is a life, meaning a person with worth, rights, and separate from the woman’s body, then the listed criteria are irrelevant (women’s worth, right to make decisions about their body, and hatred toward women). However, if the unborn baby is not a life and is merely this weird lump of seemingly growing cells inside of a woman that is poorly labeled “unborn baby” or “fetus”, then the woman should have the right to make a decision about her body, but you would first have to prove that the unborn baby isn’t a life. Thus, the popular argument is unhelpful, irrelevant, and needlessly aggressive.
    • Helpful Argument/Discussion: Discuss why the unborn baby should or should not be considered a life. Point out logical gaps, inconsistencies, and evidence for your position. I believe the reason why the real conversation has not happened is because most pro-choicers have not come up with a reasonable response as to why the unborn baby is not a life. Answers like, 1) babies should be considered lives (people) when they’ve had experiences, 2) taken their first breath, 3) are self-supporting, or, more recently, 4) only if they grow up to be a person (Philosophy Time). The problems with any of these listed arguments are they could be applied to a wide range of people already born and they are irrelevant. How does having experiences grant person-hood to someone? Or, how does taking a first breath grant person-hood? Do you lose person-hood when you hold your breath? And what about people who are not self-supporting, whether through developed disablements or accidents? Have they lost their person-hood and value because they have to rely on people, machines, or medicines to survive? Number 4 is too ridiculous to expound on. I’ll let you to watch the video and decide for yourself. Thus, most of these, and other arguments for abortion really come down to believing there is a special change that occurs when the baby is born; however, not much headway has been made in determining what is that special thing. The point I am making here is that there are not many good arguments out there for abortion, quiet possibly in part because the discussions have focused on the wrong, unhelpful arguments.

4) Popular Argument/Discussion: Anyone against raising the minimum wage to $15 doesn’t want to help lift people out of poverty.

  • This fairly popular discussion is riddled with unhelpful arguments that distract from the real discussion. What’s wrong with this argument is most people against the $15 minimum wage increase are not for people staying in poverty. Being against the increase does not entail one being for poverty. This unhelpful argument mirrors the abortion discussion we discussed above. It’s a red herring fallacy. It is entirely consistent for someone to be against this increase and be against poverty. If someone wants to argue that the latter is entailed by the first, you’d have to show a necessary connection between them, which would be a lot of work as these two ideas seem to be unrelated.
    • Helpful Argument/Discussion: This discussion really should center on numbers, data, and trends. Are corporations, big and small, able to pay people this much? Will an increase this large put people out of jobs because the company cannot pay that many staff that much money? Would this really lift people out of poverty, or will their hours just get cut? Is this increase viable for the whole country? Why $15 dollars and not more or less? Would this raise the price of goods from the company who now has to pay their employees more? Would the cost of living eventually rise to match this minimum wage raise? And if so, did the cost of living raise because of the minimum wage raise? The good thing about these questions are twofold. 1) There are years and years of data that can be looked at from many different areas (a.k.a. every state, county, and city). So, these questions do not have to remain abstract or visionary. There are real trend-lines for these questions that can help us establish why the cost of living is raising, and if raising the minimum wage will cure poverty. 2) These questions would help move the conversation forward by getting people to look at the data instead of looking at their feelings. Poverty is a big deal and demands our attention—attention spent on helping people, not putting people down who disagree.

There are many other conversations out there that are not being forwarded because popular arguments distract from the real conversation. If a society is to actually improve, then real, helpful discussions must be had between people who disagree. Often times we are just talking past each other, venting our uninformed opinions at someone else instead of talking with someone else. In a time when information is so prevalent, it’s ironic that so many people are uninformed and distracted.

Until next week! Think well!