There is a fascinating post over at Zen Habits today called Education Needs to Be Turned on Its Head. This post resonated with me on one level and then enraged me on another. In this thoughtful and provocative piece, Leo Babauta argues that the system of education qua concept needs to be, yes, turned on its head. He says, "Schools fail not because they dont impart knowledge or skills, but because they kill curiosity, smother excitement for learning, club down with a furious brutality our desires to be independent, to think for ourselves, to learn about things that actually interest us."
Babauta argues that rather than forcing useless knowledge down students' throats, our focus should be on teaching young citizens on how to think, on how to hone in on idiosyncratic interests and talents. I agree. Not all of us are destined for pinstripes and paradigmatic professional power. BUT. To advocate against formal education and for unschooling and homeschooling is plain irresponsible. (I do not pretend to know much of anything about unschooling and homeschooling. I am sure these are appropriate methods of learning some of the time.)
Are there myriad flaws in our nation's school system that should be addressed? Absolutely. Am I well-acquainted with the nuances of these flaws? Not at all. Am I, the privileged recipient of a degree from Dalton and Yale and Columbia, really the best mouthpiece for an educational philosophy for the masses? It seems not. BUT.
Formal education can be wonderful. I learned many things on the soccer field and around the kitchen table with my family and in the world, but I also learned many things, many priceless things, in the four walls of the classroom. I learned to read critically. And to write concisely. I learned grammar and spelling and arithmetic. At my wonderful alma maters, brilliant and generous educators exposed me to literature and poetry and philosophy and science. At Dalton, I received an incomparable foundation for future learning. At Yale, I fell in love with philosophy. And at Columbia, I learned about our nation's legal system, our admittedly flawed political machine, and I learned that I did not want to be a corporate lawyer. At all of these places, I learned how to interact with fellow students and teachers and authority figures. At all of these places, I learned how to ask questions. At each of these places, I began to learn how to think.
I have zero regrets about the vast time I spent sitting at a desk digesting the lessons of formal education. Zero.
I know. I know. I am more exception than rule. I am also a bit torn on this one because many of Babauta's points are sharply compelling. I agree wholeheartedly that formal education does not necessarily foster uniqueness and creativity and self-awareness. But in my estimation, some of these things cannot be taught, but must be stumbled upon. That it is up to us, and an admittedly nebulous task, to find out who we are as people, where our interests lie, and how we can best contribute to this world. But, maybe just maybe, pointing fingers at the educational system (again, conspicuously broken in places) is just another example of us placing blame on an easy target. Maybe it is up to us to learn how to think. And to learn how to learn.
Did my formal education "prepare" me for adulthood? Of course not. How can school of any type prepare you for the vicissitudes of parenthood, for finding love and coping with loss, for raising good kids and surfing the waves of a rough economy? It can't. But my formal education did shape who I am today. A person riddled with both deep insecurities and profound confidence. A creature who loves asking questions. A lover of learning wherever it takes place. A person who cherishes the opportunities she's had, educational and other, but who also believes, and deeply, that no league prepares you for life.
Anyway, I'm rambling now. But I like rambling. I think it is underrated. I think it's a good sign. For me, rambling is a sign of unbridled energy and untamed passion, of glorious confusion mixed with enlightenment. And guess what? I learned how to ramble in school.
Thoughts on this?