Why Education and Philosophy Stand In Opposition To Each Other

We believe that for people to know anything of value, we must begin teaching it to them from an early age.

We also believe that in the power of debates, in philosophy, and in the marketplace of ideas. We believe that logical reasoning, evidence, and discussion weed out bad ideas and surface good ones.

I want to argue that these two views stand in stark contrast with each other.

Why do we believe that education must begin at an early age? Because knowledge is cumulative. So we begin the process of educating at an early age through schooling and socialization to benefit from a relatively well-educated populous.

But if we believe that it takes years to educate, then why do we think that debates, books, and arguments have the ability to change minds and shape views? If it takes two decades to teach people how the world works, how is a portion of that learning supposed to be undone in just a few hours of reading or argumentation?

It can’t both be the case that it takes years to educate someone and at the same time believe that in a few hours, counterarguments, if they are good enough, can undo any pillars built in the mind by education.

The reason why I think we believe that debates and books can change minds is that, at some level, we believe that part of what we are teaching children in our education system and through socialization is thinking and thinking critically. “Think for yourself” we repeat over and over to ourselves and our children.

The only way the above two ideas wouldn’t contradict each other is if our education system was in fact built to teach thinking. If we were teaching kids how to think and not what to think, then when they are exposed to new ideas and conflicting information, they will have the mental tools to discern good ideas from bad ones.

But of course, that is not what how we spend most of our time when educating and socializing children. Almost all of our time is spent on teaching young people how the world is, why it is the way it is, and what their responsibilities and roles are in this world. We spend two decades indoctrinating kids about specific facts and theories, about the stories of our specific countries, about stories of human nature, about what’s right and wrong, and not about the process of knowledge creation, information processing, truth seeking, and critical evaluation.

So then why do we expect debates, books, and arguments to have any efficacy in uncovering truth and reshaping minds when we have spent so little time learning how to analyze information and so much time listening to specific stories about reality, which most new ideas will necessarily contradict.

When we have billions of people not knowing how to critically analyze new information but have very ingrained ideas about how the world works because of two decades of education and socialization then it is no wonder that when most people are presented with ideas that contract their worldview, they reject them or cannot even comprehend them.

In such a world, what hope do philosophies, books, debates, and new ideas have?

Therefore, education as it is practiced today and philosophy are two very different and opposing forces.

So when we debate, read, or write (irony intended), we should realize that we are engaged in mostly futile endeavor because when debates are about shifting ideas, and when most ideas are ones that have been engrained by two decades of schooling and socialization by teachers, parents, friends, and the media, a few good arguments do not stand a chance in the face of decades of accumulated counter-knowledge.