Tuesday, April 17, 2012

WWH Soap Box: Education Is Made, Not Acquired

In which Y'r F'th'f''l R'p't'r ex-plains the differences between "education" as a commodity and "education" as an act.
Hola, Fellow Hippies of the planetary sphere. My name's John Konopak, (aka "Dr. Woody" and other things in other places at other times, too); I am a citizen journalist living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Today I'm clambering up the Symbolic Soap-box on a matter of importance regarding RE-developing--rehabilitating, even--a practical definition of (that is to say, how we may better understand of "education."

What got me thinking about this again was: The other week, a group of students in Detroit, as I recall, went out on a demonstration protesting, in the language of the press reports of the event, that they weren't "getting" a good education.

The probably objective truth of, and my sympathy for, their sentiment was obscured by the trope by which their complaint was framed, by both the aggrieved kids and the press. The whole process we call 'education' took a wrong turn when it became something one "gets"--unless it's the way one "gets" a joke--and I don't think it is.

This is an example of the importance of what George Lakoff refers to "framing" an issue. I detest the idea, now the dominant "frame" around the subject, that anyone--any student or child--"gets" an education.

That's not how it works. You don't "get" an education . You don't just pick "education" up from school like acquiring a loaf of bread, a half-rack of beer, and a pack of condoms at the stop-n-shop. Becoming educated means becoming fluent in the understanding, interpretation, and even the creation, sometimes, of knowledge in some sphere of human endeavor.

I used to hear the similar complaints when I taught undergraduates. What those students had not learned was that, unlike "schools" they were used to, the University is a place where knowledge is "made." They use other words for it, like "discovery," and "invention," and "proof," but it's all about making new "knowledge."

People working in colleges and universities aren't there primarily to teach. That's a relatively recent development: 100-150 years or so. They're there to make and test new knowledge.

One goes to "college" or University to learn how to make new knowledge in whatever discipline to which you attach yourself. They don't call them "disciplines" for the fun of it, y'know? The rules vary, but there are ALWAYS overarching principles which one must learn and master, even if it is only to deconstruct them, later. The underlying principle of a "college education" is that a trained mind is of use no matter the task it's set.

So you/we go to University (college) to train y/our minds in 'handling' with the materials of thought, those things of which "knowledge" is made: words, and discourses, and formulae, and theories, and taxonomies, and other texts. Frank Smith, an eclectic education scholar in the 80s/90s wrote a book in which he listed all of the nearly 100 English words that are cognates of "to think," one way or another: Ponder, cogitate, ruminate, cerebrate, evaluate, consider, judge, contemplate...I could go on and on...

In "higher education," the point is to get your hands dirty in that sloppuy, messy, ideational goop, like wood-chips from a plane, sparks from a torch. Ya get 'em ON ya, get 'em All OVER ya! In yer hair and under yer nails, and in yer clothes, and mainly in yer head... You handle the material.

And in the company of masters, by watching them, you then begin to learn to make your own tools with which to manipulate your material, to shape it and form it and use it in new ways.

And THAT is an Education. And you didn't "get" it like a tube of mascara or a new pair of jeans. It wasn't passed to you over a counter. You built it. Made it. It bears YOUR stamp. They're YOUR tools. You made them and you can use them.

To what ends anyone eventually applies those tools is pretty much luck, but if you did "your education" right, you'll be ready for a lot of different challenges, a veritable, and infinitely tempting plethora of possible paths and pursuits.

Just look at me, the very picture of success, down here at the beach, hippies.


No comments:

Post a Comment