Friday, September 04, 2009

Is education always behind the times?

When I was at the university, I majored in electrical engineering and math. Encouraged by Michael Morrison, my physics major roommate at the time, I took an excellent English course taught by Dr. David Minter that was intended for English majors. Normally I would have been leary of my chances at a decent grade, but this was the start of pass-fail options at my school.

We read and wrote a report on a major novel a week, as I recall. One of those was The Education of Henry Adams. Recently, I picked it off the shelf and re-read it. It's amazing how much more sense it made, now that I have a few more life experiences. I was glad to have read it at the time; I was glad to read it again this time.

Within the last few months, I watched L'armée des ombres (Army of Shadows). One of the lessons I drew from both of these is that our educations don't prepare us well for the world in which we find ourselves. The Resistance fighters had to kill a traitor, their very first person to kill. Adams, prepared mentally and culturally for the eighteenth century, had to prepare himself for the beginnings of the twentieth.

Perhaps the lesson is that our educations, as important as they are, always teach us about the problems of the last generation. Our challenge is to apply those and more insights and wisdom to the needs of today. Our challenge is to learn from our education how to learn ourselves, how to complete our education, how to rise to the challenges we face. Taken at face value, my education prepared me for a world that's no longer visible. Perhaps the key thread that ran through my education (and perhaps yours) was the concept that education was not about learning something. Education was about learning how to learn what you needed to learn for the future.

For us, I suspect the needs of the day include figuring out how to live together on a planet that seems increasingly small and learning how to live in an age that is facing climate change, the end of oil, and a transition to equilibrium (or so we can hope).

What is the education of me? What is the education of you? Can we help each other in this cause?

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Blogger Dorai said...

"education was not about learning something. Education was about learning how to learn what you needed to learn for the future."

I had come to this conclusion a while ago. After 5 years of engineering education and another 38 years of working, I noticed that I did not really need much of what I learned but the skills I learned (of analysis, thinking, problem solving).

I keep telling to the students I talk to all the time. The problem with current educational system is that there is not even a hint of what you really need to learn mentioned anywhere.

I fully resonate with your ideas.


30 September, 2009 20:45  
Blogger Bill Harris said...

Dorai, thanks for your comment!

30 September, 2009 21:14  

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