Is Education Important?!? Yes, But Schooling May Not Be

by Don Berg, Founder
Attitutor Services

Part 2 of 2
to Part 1

Why is education important?

That is the question when you hear complaints about school work.

But there are three very valid concerns behind the complaint, even though the cause of the concern may be an illusion rather than reality.

Part 1 of this article set the scene and the foundation for how we are wired for illusions.

In this conclusion I explain the different illusions and how I would approach the process of disillusionment.

  1. Unfulfillment Concern
    • Hedonism Illusion
    • Intellectualism Illusion
  2. Unreality Concern
    • Fear Illusion
    • Social Proof Illusion
  3. Immorality Concern
    • Identity Illusion
    • Certainty Illusion

Why is Education Important? Fulfillment via Disillusionment

To find the path to fulfillment we have to see through the illusions of

  • immature hedonism, which is mere pleasure seeking, and
  • immature intellectualism, which is overly concerned with clever ideas.

The hedonistic illusion is based on over emphasizing the illusions of the body's physical/ emotional/ sensual aspects.

The problem with immature hedonism is that it does not give sufficient acknowledgment to the communal interdependence of our lives.

The truth is that we are fully integrated body/mind systems.

The 'childish' concerns that they could be doing things that are much more fun or that are more meaningful are only childish to the degree that the child's concern is only for themselves.

But that is often not the case.

Most of the children I have known who have awakened to the inanity of school are roused by their concerns for the issues of the wider world due to their maturing perspective on life.

They sense that there are important problems in the world that need to be addressed and with typical youthful exuberance they want to jump into the fray immediately.

This is not mere childishness, it is the expression of an emerging social conscience.

The intellectual illusion is based on overemphasizing the body's mental/ spiritual/ thinking aspects.

The problem with immature intellectualism is that it does not give sufficient acknowledgment to the experiential basis of our shared understandings.

The intellectual side of the path is more commonly expressed by teenagers who are rapidly developing a more complex view of the world and find that schools and mainstream media dole out simplified versions of what they are learning in other ways.

It is possible that children and teens are expressing an immature frame of mind, but it may also be the unskilled expression of a maturing frame of mind.

It is our obligation as responsible adults to assume the best and react accordingly by inquiring into how they would prefer to act on their empathetic impulses (which would equally reveal to everyone concerned if those empathetic impulses were not, in fact, present and adjustments could be made accordingly.)

To address the inquiry to fulfillment then we have to enter into a dialogue about what principles we should be operating within.

I would first of all turn the question back onto the curious child or a disgruntled teen and ask them why they think the law and adults, like me, agree that school is necessary.

In my experience kids reply with the trite and true answers of our conventional wisdom about jobs. Sometimes, with children more than teens, that is enough for them to get on with doing what needs to be done.

But, if they are still in the mood for questioning and given that basis I would ask them about what they think is the right thing to do about their concerns.

  • What would you find more fulfilling than schoolwork?
  • How could you be responsible for the commitments that have been made so far, and
  • if a change is called for, then how can we respect the people who are staying with the old course while we take a new course?

These questions activate the principles of respect, responsibility, and our commitment to having integrity in our relationships.

And these are far more important lessons than any inane school rituals or make-work. These questions of fulfillment activate principles of both virtues and values to guide our actions.

There is no presumed nor prescribed answer, only a process for respectfully looking past the illusions of what we both think is the situation, and getting down to what really matters, which is figuring out how to meet the fulfillment needs of all concerned.

The motion that you see in this illusion is simply your brain interpreting the information it has in a particular way (no animation on my part.)

Why is Education Important? Resilience via Disillusionment

If the conversation regarding fulfillment does not resolve the issue, then there is something deeper going on.

The real issue may be quite indefinable, and if you find yourself lost then it is time to take the next step which is to make a concerted effort to nail down what you both share as an understanding of reality.

This is an important basic practice for both adults and kids.

The illusions that tend to drive us off course in this aspect are

  • fear and
  • our propensity to believe social proof without question.

One of the most important functions of a proper education is helping people develop a variety of strategies for facing their fears.

As Roosevelt once said, "The only thing to fear, is fear itself."

If we can learn to face our fears then we will have the most important tool for staying in touch with reality.

The opposite illusion from fear is the safety of a group through our deference to social proof.

We are inherently programmed to feel safer when we conform to a group, even if our direct perception of a situation disagrees with the group's opinion.

This was demonstrated by a variety of experiments in which one subject (told only that the experiment is about perception) is put with a number of other people and told to make a simple judgment about the longest of three lines on a printed card.

What the subject does not realize is that all the other people in the room are working for the experimenters, and are not fellow experimental subjects.

What they found is that if the group is of just the right size (not too big nor too small) then a large percentage of people will overrule their direct (and correct) perception of which line is actually longer and concur with the blatantly incorrect claims of the rest of the group.

These findings clearly demonstrated what has become known as groupthink.

Groupthink is based on an evolutionarily useful illusion that we will be safer if we conform to our group's judgment than if we act on our individual opinion.

Both of these illusions, fear and groupthink, dissolve in the light of proper scrutiny.

Given generous amounts of time, space and trusted companions to reflect and consider deeply what is happening in a situation we will neither remain fearful nor continue to succumb to groupthink.

The next step in truly addressing anti-school sentiments is to support your youthful inquisitor with an abundance of resources for facing his/her fears and verifying their grasp of reality with trusted companions.

The key to resolving this level of distress is supportive resourcefulness.

As responsible adults we must create an environment in which the children in our care can access the resources they need to undertake the journey of simultaneously facing their fears and also taking risks within the safe boundaries of a trusted group.

Why is Education Important? Human Survival via Disillusionment

The final aspect of addressing the real inquiry is putting the global situation in perspective. The illusions that derail us at this stage are

  • our identity and
  • our certainty that we know what's really going on and by extension what is going to happen.

We have a direct experience of being an individual person with a consciousness that is essentially isolated within our mind and body from everyone else.

The truth is that we are not actually isolated in the sense that we can act independently of others.

It is a very useful illusion to think that we act independently, but our actions are fundamentally restrained by our understanding and our understanding of literally everything is restrained by how our brains are wired to understand.

Thus our actions are restrained in many different ways and this is a huge blind spot for us.

The fact is that we are embedded in a vast web of relationships with

  • our cells,
  • our body/mind,
  • our families/friends/organizations/cultures,
  • our society, and
  • our global ecologies.

All these different levels of reality shape our behaviors in innumerable ways that we don't always know about and rarely, if ever, truly understand.

And yet we insist that we are 'free' individuals based on our direct experiences of acting in ways that certainly seem free to us.

The opposite illusion is our certainty that we know what is going on.

The truth is that we have a lot of good guesses. But no one really knows for certain because the world is notoriously unpredictable beyond the scale of our immediate personal sensory awareness.

We do have a very good grasp of what is happening in our physical and relational worlds at a narrow range of scale that is centered on the extent of our literal sensory awareness.

Beyond that we get steadily less reliable at knowing what is going on and particularly bad at predicting what will happen.

Take medicine, for example.

The scale at which medicine operates is necessarily centered on our human bodies, but only very recently in human history did we discover the basic features of our cells at the microscopic level and the basic principles of public sanitation at the macroscopic level.

And there is no reason to believe that we have mastered medicine at either the microscopic nor the macroscopic levels.

On the microscopic level while we may have mapped genomes we still do not understand how they actually produce the seemingly infinite variety of living things.

And at the macroscopic level given the looming threat of global pandemics and other medical catastrophes today, we do not truly understand that scale either.

The solution to our illusions of identity and certainty is to educate ourselves to take advantage of the features of human experience that have proven their value over evolutionary time scales and apply them to the whole range of living beings on the planet today, not just humans.

The features of human experience that have proven effective on evolutionary time scales are what I call optimal states of mind.

Optimal states of mind are probably more commonly known as enjoyment, happiness, and a myriad of other positive emotions, feelings and thought patterns.

I refer to "optimal states of mind" instead of positive feelings and thoughts because it is very important to have a way to distinguish our moral path from the illusions that divert and distract us.

The difference between positive states of mind and optimal states of mind is that the optimality of a state takes into account the long term objective results of experiences rather than just the subjective evaluations of them.

Thus the pain and momentary suffering that must be endured to achieve a respectable level of skill in a martial art, as I did years ago, may have been optimal given the ultimate results, even though they were subjectively experienced as negative at the time.

Optimal states of mind have been evolutionarily stable for all living things, not just humans.

The traditional content approach to education, exemplified by the 3R's of reading writing and arithmetic, are all very new inventions evolutionarily speaking and our 'high' technologies are effectively worthless from such a large timescale, so far.

What we can truly count on is the wisdom of life itself which has proven itself for many millions and billions of years longer than we have existed as a species.

The way that every organism navigates life is through seeking to optimize it's state of mind.

Consider slime mold.

There are multitudes of individual single celled organisms spread hither and yon across a forest floor.

Then food begins to run out in one area.

Each individual reacts to the shortage by producing a chemical that attracts the attention of other individual slime mold cells.

The longer they don't get enough to eat the more of the chemical message they send out.

When the chemical reaches a certain concentration the cells each move towards the higher concentrations and they soon aggregate into a single multi-cellular organism.

The pseudopod that forms then goes through a whole lifecycle of it's own that eventually ends with it dispersing into the environment again as single celled organisms spread hither and yon across the forest floor.

Without the benefit of any of our complexities of culture, let alone the complexity of a brain, these creatures creatively seek the optimization of their states of mind.

When they are running out of food they get whiny and antsy just like we do and the only thing that satisfies them is either more food or taking creative action to resolve the situation.

In this case, joining with other slime mold cells to cooperatively generate a whole new organism.

Essentially, they gather like minded folk together and do something about what ails them in a frenzy of coordinated action.

To paraphrase Margaret Mead, "Never doubt that a committed group of organisms can change the world, indeed, nothing else ever has."

What the slime mold does is to detect a particularly alarming change in it's environment and then responds.

What the slime mold cannot do is detect whether or not the chemical concentration it is responding to is really other slime molds or just an experimenter dousing it to see what happens, or a predator luring it to it's death.

It is our ability to see that our concepts of the world can be wrong that makes us human.

We are the first being that we know of with a concept of illusions and what they mean for our survival.

The moral duty that accompanies our unique talent for detecting and manipulating our own illusions about the world is to apply our talent to the preservation of all life not just our own.

This is not a duty that arises out of some nobility or divinity on our part, it is a duty that is simply commensurate with the power to destroy all of life that we have also attained.

Education and Schools

So what is the relationship between the school drudgery that our young person is questioning and the education that we argue is so important?

There is no easy answer, but everyone, no matter what their situation, has the opportunity to wrestle with the essential moral imperative to do no harm and help when they can.

Our duty as teachers and parents is to assist our young charges with developing practices that activate the principles of virtues and values, that get us in touch with reality, and ensures that we act to achieve well-being for all.

Therefore every responsible adult is called to get real with their awakening young person and find out to what depth their disaffection with school runs.

Are they simply unfulfilled? Fulfillment is largely a matter of having the right attitude in whatever circumstance you find yourself.

Thats why I preach teaching kids attitude first.

Attitude is the most practical reference point for optimizing our states of mind and you can read more about that on my definition of attitude page..

If they are more than merely unfulfilled, then they are grappling with deeper feelings that should be taken seriously through listening deeply yourself and providing supportive resources to help you both get straight with each other about the reality of what is going on.

If it is even beyond deep feelings then you both need to look carefully at how to support each other to get in touch with changing the situation to optimize your states of mind, to develop practices that will help you both to face fears, take risks, get clear about what's real, and together build a life that is fulfilling and worthwhile.

What about school?

If it serves as a useful resource for learning and teaching the moral path of disillusionment then stick with it, otherwise ditch it.

Do not unquestioningly accept school people's word for the value of schooling, they have a vested interest in the illusion that schooling is synonymous with, and the exclusive path to, education.

Schools are a tool that can be used to acquire an education, but they are certainly not necessary, and they can sometimes be a hindrance.

School people who know this try their best to be helpful and not hurtful.

So, why is education important?

Because when we understand it properly as our uniquely human opportunity to establish a regular practice of disillusionment, then it serves as the true path of nurturing moral behavior that enables a child to live a fulfilling life and withstand adversity, plus it might just save our species from extinction.

Part 1 of "Education Is Important, But School May Not Be"

Click here for another page answering why is education important (UNESCO Education For All).

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