The Fallacy of Education
I was just entering the library when I saw a group of my fellow students huddled around a table. As I came closer, I realized that they were all desperately studying for an AP class test the next period. Not wanting to be left out or suffer the consequences of a poor grade, I joined in. As we recited different equations and chanted varying facts, I began to wonder what purpose this class was serving and would come to serve in our lives. Being in an AP class is meant to signify a commitment to education and passion for learning. However, while a noble pursuit, this was certainly not a reality. None of us were actively engaging with any content, or trying to study so as to build up a foundation of knowledge, or even wanted to take that particular class. As far as we were concerned, the sole purpose was to build up our college applications and pass the looming exam. Nobody really had a passion for learning the content, or some semblance of curiosity towards how it all related to our lives. However, all of us would be considered the crème de la crème of our school. We had challenged ourselves, and demonstrated our educational achievements and passion by taking one of the hardest courses offered to us. But were we really gaining an education? The answer, sadly, is no, most certainly not.
To be educated means much more than simply enrolling in challenging courses and being a stellar student. The amount of difficult classes students take is often used as a barometer for our intellectual abilities, and our overall educational strength. Now, while these courses and such curriculums result in a significant amount of knowledge accumulated, what matters more is how we choose to apply this knowledge outside of our formal education. Being educated transcends what is learned in the classroom or lecture hall. Those who are considered to be educated must be capable of evaluating information presented to them, reaching their own conclusions and forming original thoughts, and then acting upon this. Having strong critical thinking skills mark the sign of a highly educated person.
We encounter a wide variety of information each day. Whether it be via school textbooks or daily lessons, the information presented to us almost always has some bias or subtly implied point. Those who are able to take in this wide variety of information and pinpoint potential biases and understand subtle messages are some of the strongest critical thinkers. This capacity to critically interpret information and use it in differing ways is incredibly important, because it ensures that a person can form thoughts and perform actions without being overly influenced or misled. This is useful even past college, once holding a job. Work in any profession requires critical thought. Thus, those who are capable of this kind of thought process should be considered highly educated, as opposed to those who have simply taken in information without questioning or evaluating it in any way.
This idea is readily apparent on a day to day basis. When we are presented information in science, math, and social studies classes, we simply copy it down into our notebooks, rather than critically evaluating its practical application applied outside of the classroom. As students, many of us do not give a moment’s thought to the material we learn in class or why we learned it in the first place. Indeed, once the pencils are put down after any test, we typically forget the content within a few days. The concept of loading up our schedules and doing as well as possible crowds out the room for questioning and independent thought. Many of my peers that I do consider to be educated, however, use the material learned as a means of identifying their interests, potential career paths, and own ideas concerning a specific issue. This is then acted upon by actively seeking opportunities to further build their experience in a given field and gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of a particular issue. Using schooling as a path towards activism and application of knowledge in a given area of study is the ultimate form of achieving an education, and the sign of a truly educated individual.
For instance, my own history and government courses have helped me to realize that I am interested in the political functionings and processes of American society. I decided to act upon this by interning with a state senator of Connecticut. This experience has helped me to gain a much deeper understanding and appreciation for how our political system functions. I have gained a broader perspective of many political issues and the many different components of the political system, from the constituent to the lobbyist. Using schooling to pinpoint areas of interest and then building upon this knowledge with experience strengthens critical thinking, as the information being learned in school is applied outside of the classroom as a result of interpretation and thought.
Society’s definition of being educated needs to change. Not enough students receive a true education. We take challenging courses and try to get great grades, but do not improve skills that will be useful for the rest of our lives, such as critical thinking. In order to change this, we must choose to consciously consider why we are learning what we are learning, and how the resultant answers can be used to further pursue experiences that apply what we have learned. Past high school, critical thought is still applied in any career. Indeed, this is when it becomes most needed and useful. Evaluating the merit of the work performed and how it can be improved builds upon these same skills. Thus, this process alone can ensure that all of us truly receive the best education possible, and become educated individuals.