Saturday, November 9, 2013

"Higher" Education

No, that is not an allusion to a certain favorite herb at college campuses around the nation. Maybe the quotations are more aptly put around 'Education' because the paradigm for education simply does not work in the US. It is just as hard to make a living before or after college. Although most people come out of their respective higher education facility with more knowledge and improved skills, translating that into something to live off of is nearly impossible for the majority of young people. It used to be that college was for those who were to rule over the rest of the ignorant and simple folk, that after a degree from a college, a job was almost guaranteed.
After looking at recent numbers and trends, let alone living through my own specialized 'education', I have realized that the entire way we go about teaching people is flawed. Practical skills have all but been abandoned, and the theoretical aspects are outdated and unhelpful. People have more information, theory, and data at their finger tips than they could ever analyse, yet we still think that teachers can impart theoretical knowledge into children.

The hardest challenge that faces the child of today is learning how to deal with the over-saturation of reality. From over-population, over-advertisements, over-sarcastic meta-humor (Arrested Development, and The Daily Show), to the entirety of the internet culture; a young person must learn how to decide first what is sincere, then what is informed, then what is believable, then what is provable.
Knowledge used to be found by personal reflection and reason combined with sharing information from one person to another. This model has yet to be abandoned officially, although the last time I learned something profound in a classroom was long ago. Today, the way we interact with information is entirely different. We google things, or look on wikipedia, maybe some other site but the routine is the same. Sifting through massive collections of data is a hard task, especially when looking for a specific pattern.
We use the people around us to collectively provide meaning to all of the noise that we see. The primary impetus for education today, should be learning how to critically and thoroughly engage with information that is provided. How to read an article, no matter to subject matter, pick out the implicit assumptions, and figure out how these assumptions shape the way the article is written.  We need to teach kids how to read people and their work. Not just how to read the work itself. Can you pick up a book and figure out what the author is trying to say in it? maybe you can, because that is a primary goal of a lot of English classes that i have been in.
But can you pick up the that same book and figure out who the author thinks he is, and what the author is NOT saying? What the author is taking as a priori truth? What the implications of these beliefs and truths have on the meaning the author is trying to espouse? This is the kind of education that the the bulk of Americans need.

There are people in positions of power who have for over 100 years, sought to not only tell people things, but engineer a society in which certain things are unthinkable, impossible, and crazy.
The ways that this has been done escape me. I am not that good as seeing through people's intentions. But I see the results. They astound me. It shapes the way we think about gender, about race, about identity, about nationality, about the food we eat, and the stories we read. There are implicit assumptions that give rise to very prescriptive world views, and conflicting ideas that lead to stark paradoxes.
These things can most easily be seen in our government, and national advertising campaigns. Things we subject the youth to from as soon as they can see until they die. In fact, almost everybody in our country grew up seeing ads and propaganda all their life, and if we don't teach future generations to critically interact with this, then all hope of progress is lost.

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