Learning as a Lifetime Project

The title reads ambitious, but trust me, I don’t have the sage answers . That’s the point.

If there’s one thing that frustrates me about my students and parents, it’s how they treat undergraduate education as an end-all-be-all. The “right” school. The “right” major. The “right” research internship that leads to the “right” career.

Well, I was listening to a podcast, EconTalk, earlier today, and the host Russ Roberts said this:

But the thing I want to push on, and this is just something I’ve learned as being the host here and forced to think about education and think about what people remember, and many of the books I’ve read and the people I’ve talked to — and that is this idea that there are concepts that are apparent and easy to define but hard to absorb and use. So, I learned this actually first from — I had William Byers on. He’s a mathematician — I don’t know, maybe 4 years ago. And he talked about the word ‘randomness.’ He said, ‘It’s easy to define randomness. But, you could spend a lifetime understanding it.’ And I think that’s true of so many things. And as I get older I find that the deepest things that I know are things that I knew 20, 30, 40 years ago. But I know them in a different way. I see them in a richer way. And I remember them in a richer way. [emphasis mine]

What a helluva beautiful concept! The idea that the things we already know will become more true, more complex, more illuminating as we get older is delightfully counterintuitive. As we grow older, we don’t learn more —we just add more context.

Now, I’d love to hear other peoples’ opinions about that (looking at you, Jordan), but what I’m thinking is this:

The liberal artists (i.e. Socrates, not Andy Warhol) have the right idea. Our first round of higher education should be about exposing us to a rigorous level of thinking about all topics. Then, we are released on to the world to make ends meet, to struggle, to figure out what we’re good at, and test all the wide-eyed assumptions we made about the world while at university.

And keep testing. And testing. Until the day we die.

So, what is the “right” path forward? Is it the one that challenges our assumptions? I certainly try to push my students towards asking difficult questions.

I think I’m traveling because I’m ready to take my own advice.



Listening to: NDN stakes, feat. Sitting Bear — A Tribe Called Red

Watching: An Idiot Abroad — Season 1

Reading: “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua

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