What’s the purpose of education? Nowadays, increasingly, it’s to get a job. It’s more about technical training than it is about educating the mind. And yet, with the proliferation of smartphones, always-on internet connectivity, and ever expanding inflow of information sources, we need the benefits that a good education bring more than ever before.
In classical terms, to be educated meant that one knew how to think. The discipline of thinking wasn’t just something one did; it required work, application, and skill. We’ve forgotten this skill, and that’s a bad thing. It used to be that an educated person would read certain pieces, in common with other educated people, and then engage in discussion about the ideas on those pieces. While the “canon” has been attacked as being male, white, and patriarchal, the ideas contained in it are as valuable now as they were fifty or a hundred years ago. There’s nothing wrong with studying the classical canon, and then adding to it all the rich heritage of minority and women’s voices.
One thing lacking in today’s environment is the ability to hold a competing idea in one’s head long enough to understand the other person’s point of view. We’ve lost the art of discourse. It used to be that one could listen to another person’s thoughts, digest them, and then either disagree or agree once one was certain one understood them. In fact, Mortimer J. Adler argues that one cannot truly agree nor disagree until and unless one has fully comprehended what the other has had to say.
Something else I’ve noticed is that we don’t have gatekeepers for incoming information anymore. It comes at us with the velocity of a fire hose, all the time. If we’re away from our computer, it comes to our smartphone. If it doesn’t come there, it’s on the television at the gas pump, (how offensive is that?). When my grandfather was alive, you would get a large newspaper on Sundays and the day was spent relaxing and reading – long – articles. Now, news is delivered in soundbytes, and the average length of articles is 300 to 500 words – a blip when compared to articles from even just fifteen years ago.
So What Do We Do To Educate Ourselves?
There are many tools available to us. Some of them are modern, and related to the internet. Some of them are old-school, and related to how we control incoming information.
- Read. A lot. Whether it’s ebooks, traditional books, or Bartleby.
- Turn off the inflow. Try it for one day a week – don’t go on the internet, social media, or your smartphone. See what the real world has to offer you.
- Write. Journal and get in touch with your own thoughts.
- Read about other smart people. A couple awesome biographies are by Benjamin Franklin and Montaigne’s essays.
- Throw a party and talk about smart stuff. Why not revive the Victorian tradition of the salon? Have cocktails, snacks, and talk about the great ideas.