Why is education important?
That is the question behind the actual words of complaint when school has the audacity to impose upon a child's time and attention.
You know the scene:
Imagine your most beloved child is before you in full complaint mode.
S/he is whining about memorizing times tables or the futility of algebra or the monotony of history.
S/he is pleading for your sympathy with that pouting face that irks you just so or is simply defiant with arms crossed or hands on hips.
The complaint will probably include, "Why do I have to…"
Part of you sympathizes but the parent voice in your head is telling you to do your job as the parent and not give in to mere sympathy.
Playing out your parent role means they have to get over it and do what needs to be done.
I challenge you to answer their actual concerns, not their stated questions.
But to do that you need to gauge the true depth of those concerns.
If you can approach their concerns rather than answer their questions, then you have the opportunity to offer both sympathy AND strategies to get over it and do what needs to be done.
The benefit of the following approach is that it does not require your child to know their real concern or it's depth.
You don't even have to know yourself, you just have to be willing to go through the process and pay close attention to how your child reacts.
If you can stay with it long enough, your child will either move on or you will be clear that you need more help. Either way you have something of value.
Education is Important for Disillusionment
The foundation of this approach is that we don't really know what is actually going on except in fragments.
This is true of everything in our lives; our world, our relationships, and our own minds.
We feel and sometimes think we know, but our minds have evolved exquisite methods of generating a myriad of unconscious assumptions that fool us into believing we have a true and correct knowledge of our world, our relationships, and our own minds when the truth is we don't.
If we assume that our knowledge is mostly an illusion, then we have to have a practice of disillusionment to figure out what is really going on.
This is not the extreme position of positing that there is only illusion, but the moderate position that we are inherently prone to illusion and the wise course in emotionally charged or high stakes situations is to verify our shared understandings to ensure our actions serve the well being of all and align with our moral values.
Your child's complaint and the underlying concerns are, therefore, most likely arising from an illusion.
Since we are also assuming that your illusions are just as pervasive as your child's illusions, then your best bet is to gather reliable evidence of what is really going on and then go from there.
I have included several visual illusions on this page to remind you of how we can be fooled by our own minds.
These illusions are all caused by our minds automatically filling in information or unconsciously interpreting it.
Our minds do exactly those two things all the time in everything we do without our even knowing that it happened.
That's why we need to collect a lot of evidence and find where it converges to know what is really going on.
Science is the social organization of the necessary process of disillusionment.
The reason the dot disappears is because you have a lacuna, a blind spot, on your retina where there are no light receptors because that is where the optic nerve is attached.
There are three underlying primary concerns behind complaints about being made to do stuff.
Each of these deep concerns may arise from illusions rather than actual reality.
When a task seems unfulfilling then hedonism or intellectualism may be confounding our understanding of the situation.
When the task seems not to be connected to immediate reality then fear or social proof may be getting in the way of recognizing how the task fits into a larger plan or goal.
Finally when the task seems unconnected to larger moral issues then identity and certainty may be impairing our ability to discern the proper path towards expressing our integrity.
So when your most beloved offspring or student complains there are three levels of concern and two illusions behind each concern:
Education is Important for Work
The trite answers that the parent voice in all our heads provide in answer to the phrase, "Why do I have to…" is, "Because I said so!"
This is a power struggle in the making, of course.
That obvious answer is rarely stated, however, because given a choice we adults like to invoke a more pervasive power on our side so the slightly cleverer answer is, "Because that's the law (or the rules)!"
Of course, even the clever answer is trite because it begs the question of why the law or the rules say so.
The parent voice defends the rules by explaining the necessity of getting a job.
The story is that you have to have a diploma and/or degree(s) to get a good job so you can act responsible by supporting yourself and your family when you become an adult.
This answer is trite because by "job" we usually mean getting a paycheck and if that's what it's all about then it is an insult to the value of human lives.
We certainly need to find our work in this world, but we are not on this earth to have a job.
We are human beings who are supposed to make a meaningful contribution to the well-being of all that we are a part: from our global ecologies; to our society; to our families, circles of friends, and organizations; to our individual body/mind; even down to the cells that make us up.
If a job is just a paycheck, then work is doing what really needs to be done in service to goodness, truth, beauty, unity, and joy (which might come with a paycheck sometimes, too.)
Having a job is less important than being a good person with meaningful work to do.
Notice that without great effort you cannot see the picture above as simply a two-dimensional set of shapes.
Education is Important, but School May Not Be
I have to make a clear distinction between schooling and education, like I did between a job and work.
Becoming an educated person means you have access to optimal states of mind regardless of the situation you are in.
You are able to perceive accurately, think clearly and act effectively to achieve self-selected goals and aspirations.
(On my definition of education page I address the inadequacy of the dominant conception of education as the delivery of knowledge, skills and information.)
Schooling, on the other hand, mostly consists of jumping through the hoops of instructional accounting to get symbolic rewards like test scores, grades, diplomas, degrees, etc.
If the goal is only to get a job, then schooling is important.
But if the goal is to find your work and become educated, then schooling may not be important, it depends on what your work is.
There are three fears that arise from being made to do schoolwork:
Given my distinction between schooling and education, then I take these fears very seriously.
If the child is correct that school rituals are absurd, the work irrelevant, that their time is truly being wasted, and the world situation makes it all pointless, then there is a serious problem.
But as I said before, we have to consider the deeper possibility that they are under the spell of illusions, rather than observing reality.
Part 2 of answering "why is education important?" gives an outline of a strategic conversation you can lead to address their real concerns and defeat their illusions.
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