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Davis, California

Thursday, April 18, 2024

The obsolete education

In the classic 1989 movie Dead Poets Society, Robin Williamsportrayal of a poetry professor inspiring his students to love poetry for its intrinsic qualitiesas opposed to a singular focus on gradesis at once touching and haunting. Touching because he genuinely pursues his belief that individuals must be motivated to discover true loves by themselves; haunting because the school administration’s reaction against the perceived casualness and nonchalance of his methodical madness is empathic.

For the school, learning is about tradition. Through hard work, prudence, an enduring commitment and a careful attention to detail, one masters the fundamentals. Consequently, this translates into grades and admission into top universities. By adhering to a formulaic, tried-and-tested strategy to success, students meet that goal. In this context, radical and independent thought are scorned.

In contemporary society, this approach most closely resembles the pre-professional culture attached to higher learning. In this structure, there is a bureaucratization of education. Emphasis is placed on inculcating students with certain branches of knowledge, with their replication of ensuing steps a measure of success. The goal is to enrich students with the necessary skills to perform a specialized task.

What this methodology of learning truly illustrates, however, is an ideology of a bygone era. This is not to say that industry, effort and grades are irrelevant. They are. But in its essence, learning is about the ability to reason what seems unreasonable. To impose a structured learning order as the school and professional courses do are to deny that learning, at its heart, is about confusion, conflict and disorder. The values that the school preaches, simply said, are antiquated as it is obsolete.

Learning is concentrated attention aroused by a profound awakening. In this sense, knowledge is not a canon of fixed percepts to be internalized, but rather a theory of human constructs. One’s objective is to discover from this knowledge.

And learning necessitates adaptation. It demands that one can reorient their pre-existing conceptions of the world around novel, unique patterns. It requires that one view education through a willingness to improvise knowledge in novel situations and creations. Versatility is necessary.

The value-added benefits of academic inquiry are multiple. It equips one with the eloquence to convey messages, to express clear thoughts using precise words, to write with flourish and finality. It imbues the desire to challenge parameters, deconstruct complexities, impose meaning, create new conventions. It empowers one to transfer the spirit of innovation across interdisciplinary breadths.

But the purpose of education is not only to enrich the mind. It is to provide the vital skills one needs to thrive in this world. That includes the patience to empathize with cultures and behaviors that are different, the grace to conduct oneself in unique situations and the confidence to lead fellow men against the unpredictability that life offers.

Also, in the simple pleasures of life such as watching a movie, learning doesn’t just help us celebrate the visceral nature of fast-paced actions. It is also about the capacity to appreciate the intensity of the moment, knowing that the challenges in life are real, lasting and menacing. It reassures.

And the benefits of learning are not provisional; they are permanent. Their redeeming qualities lie in its endowment of a fertile mind. It allows us to analyze, to reason, to reconcile structures and systems. Ultimately, it helps us make sense of the world, experience its complexities and examine its travails, challenge its conventions and make meaning out of it all.



The next movies on ZACH HAN’s list are W., Watchmen, Wanted, and The International. E-mail an alternative list to zklhan@ucdavis.edu.


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