I have an important point to make. I believe that our modern educational systems have it wrong when it comes to understanding what their goals should be. Of course I am not saying that proficiency in the “core” of education, English language, math, science, etc., are not important. Far from it. But, why are they important? Why do we need to read? Or learn how to manipulate numbers, or understand what is happening in the universe, climate, politics, etc. We have “experts” to do all of this for us. We can just work, earn, buy, relax, and let the world go by. When we get sick, we go to the doctor and he tells us what to do to get well. If we want to know about anything, we can “Google” it, watch the network news, or avail ourselves of scores of experts all over the media to give us answers. We don’t need to do our own research or try to get beneath the surface, because this has been done for us. OR DO WE?
I graduated from high school in 1964, a reasonably good year, if we are willing to discount the facts that Kennedy had just been killed, and that we were launching into our most senseless military adventure prior to Iraq in Vietnam. Life was simpler then. No internet. No Twitter. No YouTube or Netflix. Can you imagine? If we wanted answers in those days, we had a limited number of media outlets to inform us – no cable and maybe ten TV channels along with radio, newspapers, magazines, and books. These were our resources. Summers in high school were spent with my grandmother, helping her and exploring the city (we lived in the “sticks”, she in the city). One of my favorite things to do was to go to the main public library. To me, it was a paradise of infinite possibilities for adventure. My family loved to read, and I had caught the bug. I started reading with Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, and then progressed to the Jack London classic, Call of the wild. So, I went to the largest library in the city, stayed and read. Each day I would head to a different section, sometimes fiction, sometimes science, or religion, or history, or…. Now I am a cardholder for the Library of Congress, to me one of the greatest institutions on the face of the earth, with nearly every book, magazine, newspaper, etc., ever written or printed, in any language. What they don’t have doesn’t exist. I have had many great adventures. I like doing research on anything, and that is definitely the destination when research is to be done. Of course, nowadays the internet is an incredible resource with more than a billion websites containing information, and, of course, disinformation, on everything and anything, including access to the Library of Congress. Then there is the Gutenberg Project, Amazon, with vendors selling classics for mere pennies and Kindle downloads of full books.
Today, at the age of 66, I am still reading about 50 books a year. I average about one a week. I like to read everything, but my main diet is economics, fiction of all kinds, and history. But, I kind of go where my heart leads me, and get nice recommendations from friends and family. If I find an author I like, I generally read all or most of their books. This sort of main hobby has worked out well over the years. My goal is to know everything. What a ridiculous idea. But, a nice goal, so long as I can keep my obsessive compulsive behavior under control, and forgive myself for failure inevitable failure. The way I figure it, the more I know, the better off I am. When I go to the doctor, I can understand everything he tells me, and participate in a partnership with him in diagnosis and treatment, always asking questions. I can understand what he is saying because I have informed myself by reading enough medicine to sort out what we are discussing. Without this tool, I could easily submit to treatment or misdiagnosis that might make me worse off, or have side effects that hurt me, or pay for unnecessary and useless tests or medication. Or spend far more time trying to heal than I have to.
When I began to work in the law, my chosen field of endeavor for earnings purposes, I decided that I wanted to fully educate myself on the subject matter of my job. So, I went to the local law library and read. I took classes. I talked to the top minds in the business to get answers to questions. I threw myself into my own schooling completely. Without enumerating the benefits, suffice it to say that this stood me in good stead from every possible standpoint. I rose to the top of the profession and staying there until retirement. And, I fell in love with the job.
When my wife and I built our house, I researched home construction and picked my contractor by interviewing them to assure myself that they were up to snuff in construction materials and techniques. When I cook, and I love to cook, I read recipes, study techniques, and devise most recipes myself. Remember that I spent summers with my grandmother, and she ran a boarding house and cooked for many people two meals a day. When I wasn’t at the library, I helped her in the kitchen, doing, watching and learning. I only did odd jobs, but I learned amazing things.
Everyone needs something of what I have: a lifelong desire to learn. What you learn doesn’t have to have a practical application. Follow your heart and desire to know. You’ll be amazed to find just how much of what you learn becomes handy to understanding the world and your place in it. Life automatically gets better. Not all learning takes place in books. Learn from everything. If you don’t understand something, ask questions of experts, read and research, find answers and don’t be happy just to get along, ignorant of how things work, what things are, how we got where we are, where you can go, and what you can do.
When it comes to “formal” education, we need teachers who inspire us with a thirst for knowledge, any and all knowledge. We need teachers who connect what they are teaching to real life situations. We need teachers who engage, excite, and who can make better future citizens who care, understand and participate. Just rote learning is nearly useless in creating life skills. If what we learn doesn’t create a better connection to our world, it is essentially meaningless. Most of all, if you are a parent, enthusiastically support your child’s efforts in school, become involved in their learning, let them know just how important they are and what they are doing in school. They will inevitably become better, more rounded, engaged, and involved adults, and will pass on this drive for knowledge to their children and the others they meet in life.