Education is the best provision for the journey to old age. – Aristotle.
Most of us go to primary school, high school and then college. After that we dive in to a job where we maybe spend a few years getting educated on the ins and outs of the business. But the latter half of this education is very limited. It is centered around one or two topics. And I think that is very sad. And what is even sadder is the fact that most of us stop studying after a certain point in life.
In this post I want to show you a few reasons why I think your education must not begin and end with school. I truly believe that education should continue well into the last years of your life and it should be based around a wide and vast array of topics and theories.
Warning: this post contains a lot of opinionated ranting.
The basic education and its limitations
In the majority of western countries we are lucky enough to get a pretty good education. In most nations it is a legal obligation to send your children to school and as such we get a good level of rudimentary learning. And then, as I mentioned, most of us go to college. We study an area that we are interested in and then we move on to a job in that area.
And then the study stops.
Ask yourself this question: when was the last time you read a book because you were interested in it or because it had some practical application to your life? I am not talking about fiction novels here, I am talking about going to the library and finding a book on a topic that you find fascinating and reading it just because you want to learn more?
I am guessing it has been a long time.
99% of people are only educated in the basics like history, maths and English. We have a little bit of knowledge in science and then maybe we have touched on drama, art, economics, business or philosophy. But we do not know these topics very well. In fact, our knowledge only covers the bare essentials and does not go deep enough to allow us to have new insights or helpful understandings. All we have are the basics.
And now for the major limitation of a basic western education: it is rote learned. I remember sitting my exams in college – I got excellent grades because, for some reason, my mind was able to rote learn many different things. I could memorize almost whole texts by just reading them a few times. But I rarely understood the concepts. If someone asked me to recite a certain definition I could do it easily. But if someone asked me to explain how a certain concept applied to their situation I would get a blank look on my face and just stare at them.
I think this comes from a mixture of a few factors. Firstly, I never found school particularly challenging or interesting and as such I just learned the basics to get passed. Secondly, I never had truly remarkable teachers that motivated and pushed me. They signed on at 9 and clocked out at 5. That was it. Finally, I found that the methods of grading in western schools (tests and exams) were usually based around rote learning rather than penetrating insight. And so I stuck to it.
What a shame.
When I look back I realize that high school was about getting a “score” that would determine which college you could go to. And I realize that college was about getting a “score” so that your future employer would know how hard you could work. None of it was about learning or understanding, it was about how well you could play the game. I am not a very smart guy but I can appear intelligent because I have a strange ability to memorize.
And this is not the point of education.
Why your education must not end when school does
As you can probably tell, I am not thrilled about the way schools teach people to learn. All too often the subjects are impractical and poorly taught. We might learn discipline and work-ethic but I do not think we actually learn the topics very well. And this is why I think education must continue well past your school years.
Going to the Indian Himalayas to study philosophy
I can’t really speak for other people so I will share my own experience. As soon as high school finished and I got that final “score” I saved some money and flew to the Indian Himalayas to study philosophy. The past 12 years of school had left me bored, uninspired and desperate to find some stimulating topics to learn. I was sure there was more to study – something that would teach me about life and the world around me.
And I found it in the Tibetan community.
Now I am not saying everyone needs to fly to Tibet to get a real education. That would be ridiculous! What I am saying, however, is that we need to make more of an effort to study things that we are interested in and things that will get our mind working again.
Debate, meditation and a new education
When I was studying with these Tibetan masters I was amazed to see how different the education system was. Instead of memorizing a text and doing a test I would be asked to memorize it and then debate it with the teacher.
First of all he would take a position that was completely illogical and ask me to disprove him using the text I had just memorized. For example, he would say, “the Earth is flat” and ask me to disprove him. After a while he would take less preposterous positions and get me to debate with him. And then finally he would adopt a position that was actually quite close to the position of the text and get me to debate him on a very subtle point. After all of this I would then be told to meditate on what we had debated, slowly trying to turn the logical understanding into experiential realization.
I found this method of teaching truly refreshing. Here I was being challenged, tormented and refined. I was asked to not only memorize my topic, but learn it inside out and back the front. And then, to make things even better, I was asked to take that knowledge and meditate on it so that it became part of me – part of who I was.
I never got anything like that back at home.
Granted, I was much more interested in philosophy than I was in maths and English and this obviously made a difference to how hard I worked. But the point is that the education you currently have might not be as good as you think.
What if there are more things out there to learn? What if there are topics and theories that you are yet to encounter that could change the way you live? What if there is a book in your local library that could change how happy you are? What if you start to study again and find that you are not living what Oprah would call “your best life”? Would you want to know?
Of course you would!
How to start reeducating yourself
So let’s assume that after reading my rant above you are open to the idea of starting some new study. Where do you start? It can be a little bit daunting as there are so many topics to choose from and so little time to engage them. I think there are two places to start:
1. Find a problem in your life
This the the approach I took when I went to India. I realized that I wasn’t happy and I wanted to find some answers as to “why”. I wanted to learn some philosophy from some people who had applied it and see whether it would solve my problems. And I am glad I did.
The first way to start your re-education is to pick a problem that you have in your life. Perhaps, leading on from yesterday’s post about heart disease, you might have a problem with cholesterol and be at risk of a heart attack. In that case you would start studying about how to solve that problem. You could read up on how the heart works and what its exact function is. Then you could read about what foods affect your heart health. Finally, you might want to go to a gym and learn how to actually exercise to help your heart. Remember, education is not just about books!
2. Pursue a passion
The second way to start your reeducation is to pursue a passion that you have had for a long time. This is an excellent idea because you already know that you are interested in it and as such will be able to approach it with vigor and determination.
In high school I knew a guy who loved Kung Fu. He hated school and spent most of the days in the boys toilet smoking weed. He was a bit of a cool kid, bit of a tough guy, and he never really connected with the subject matter or the teachers who were teaching him. So when he turned 16 and was legally able to leave school he did. And he went to study acupuncture.
At the time we all thought this kid would just bum out and become a drug dealer or a dole bludger. We even tried to convince him to finish high school by telling him all the usual crap about how useful a high school diploma is. But he did his own thing and now, so I hear, he is a successful acupuncturist who spends his days treating patients in his clinic and studying the ancient martial arts. His whole life is centered around his passions.
Studying with the motivation to prepare for death
Finally I want to share an idea that someone once shared with me. I think Aristotle probably agreed with this as well, as you can see in the opening quote and his other writings. The main goal of your study should be to prepare for death.
I do not mean to sound somber or depressing but we are all going to die. Every single one of us is going to die. No one, ever, has escaped death. But even though we know this we don’t prepare for it. We live our lives with short term goals and make preparations to stay forever. And I think this gets us into trouble.
I truly believe that study should be about preparing for death. I think when you are old and weary you want to be sure about who you are, where you come from and what your place in the universe is. I think you want to approach your death by looking back at your life and having no regrets. And I think this stuff can only come from study and experiencing that study.
So with that thought foremost in your mind I ask you all to start reading and studying again. Read history. Read autobiographies. Study philosophy and religion. Study physics and biology. Find out who you are and what you are here for. Find out how you can help people and how you can tap in to your inner most potential. After all, isn’t this what education should really be about?
Don’t let your education be limited to getting a job and earning some money. It is so much more than that. As humans we have the amazing opportunity to learn and think and analyze. We should make use of that opportunity while we still have it. It isn’t going to be there forever.
Your education must not end when school does. Don’t stop asking questions. Don’t stop learning even for a day. Your education, whatever form it comes in, can enrich and enhance your life and the lives of others.
This post sort of came right out of left field. I was looking at my shelf filled with books and realized how lucky I am to be able to learn and study. I then had a feeling of compassion sweep over me when I thought about all the millions of people who stop studying when school finishes and just go about their life with closed minds. I hope that this opinionated ramble will act as a catalyst for you to restart your own reeducation!
Originally posted on November 21, 2008 @ 9:08 am
The most shocking thing I ever discovered about school was how inefficient it is.
On an impulse I started teaching myself Japanese when I was around 14. I bought cassette courses and textbooks and used free internet materials.
By 19, through very little study, (I was never terrible disciplined about it) I was accepted into my university to study it as a joint hour with English Literature. Last year was my fresher year and I was put in the ‘Advanced Japanese’ module – one normally taken by 4th year students. The rest of my degree is mostly Japanese anthropology modules because I’ve pretty much done the language side of it.
I don’t say this to brag because I don’t think I’m a stellar language learner or a particularly diligent one – it’s just that I could get through material so much faster when I wasn’t sitting in a room with 30 or so other students following the teacher’s agenda.
When I discovered this I took a really critical eye to other subjects at school and what was covered in curriculum and non-curriculum textbooks and off. With the exception of Maths and Science (which tend to require one-to-one explanation) all subjects are almost certainly better self-taught.
The Daily Minder
Richard, thanks for commenting. Good to see you around again.
I find that really interesting. Throughout University I almost never went to classes. In four years I probably went to 20 lectures – at the absolute maximum. I just found I could do 20 minutes of reading at home and get more out of it than 2 hours in the lecture hall. I am guessing you were the same.
I wonder whether the teaching style is the flaw, or the fact that classes are overcrowded?
Hello! Looks like another treat for me. 🙂 Looking forward to reading this post when I get time!
The Daily Minder
Let us know what you think when you have Miss Attica!
I graduated in business and after that I studied medicine. Now I am not one neither the other. But I did that jump because I was in debt with my scientific knowledge and wanted to study more natural science.
I think anyone should know, for example, the biology featured in this website http://www.biology-questions-and-answers.com , even if you graduated in arts or humanities. Some basic knowledge is common to our cultural inheritance and we cannot put it apart from us.
At least, now I am informed about my body (less about my money).
The Daily Minder
Good stuff Victor. Which one is your passion?
Thanks! I’m glad I took the time to read it. Made me want to hit those books again!
I share your fascination for philosophy, so that will be my subject aswell. I have studied this before, and do a little “philosophical” thinking myself once in a while. Espessially on questions like “who you are, where you come from and what your place in the universe is”. I’m curious about your thoughts on this. Can I request a post on that subject? About death:
Not sure I follow you on preparing for death when learning something. Maybe I’ll understand it better when you write this post I’ve requested. 🙂
On point one (find a problem in your life) I have a suggestion:
I find that my work gets much more exciting if I think of a task as learning something new (in addition to contributing with my own knowledge of course). Makes the time fly and the work fun!
Thanks again for a great post. Love the part about your going to Tibet!
The Daily Minder
Haha – Miss Attica you seem to be the biggest fan of my Indian and Tibetan journey stories! Thanks for the comment.
Probably am. 😉
Finally, I’m getting to this post. I read it when it came out, but wanted to wait till I had some time in order to comment.
The education system is really messed up, I teach in a public school, and teach part time at the University here. Its incredible the lack of skill students have to learn, and think critically. They can memorize things, but after the class is done, they’re hard pressed to remember what they memorized, so its only been put into short term, and then when asked to manipulate the information in a critical way, they are often dumbfounded. The students in my college class want their hands held and every detail explained to them rather than making leaps of intuitive logic on their own. They’re almost afraid to think. Its crazy, I work hard through the semester to deliberately be vague in my “requirements” so they are forced to work for what they feel is quality, rather than my idea of it. It keeps me more interested and keeps their work from resembling everyone elses’ in the class.
The other thing I teach a lot of to my students at the school and the college is how to work with people. The skill of working with others is an invaluable one that many students come out of school not having. To me its more important than any academic subject, I work with people far more than I ever work with Math, English, etc. The academics are important, but working with people I think is far more important, and very neglected in the school systems.
Here we have high stakes testing, where the schools are literally closed if the kids do not perform to a certain standard. So because of that, the schools spend much of their time focusing on getting those kids to the standard set by the test. Essentially training to take a test all year. Its all rote information, very, very little critical thinking. Its sad, creativity and social skills are a dying art form.
The Daily Minder
Mickey I agree with most of what you’ve said. How, though, do you think it can be improved? Can it be improved?
System overhaul 🙂 I doubt it’ll be improved to be honest, our values aren’t on critical thinking skills, or communication. It would take a philosophy change by the people for it to happen, and we can’t even get parents to show up to meetings. Its been gradually happening for years, and there’s not really an end in sight. But all things are impermanent, right? They’ll be random teachers here and there that teach differently, but we just look like weirdos. The people that are coming from the system are the ones that become the teachers, so unless they suddenly get an independent thinking bug, they’ll perpetuate the problem.
So you only agree with MOST of what I said eh? 🙂
Its a shame schools are trying to change their starting times from mornings to afternoon.
We are helping raise one lazy generation.