Monday, January 23, 2006

Too Much Education?

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it". ~ Aristotle

My letter to the editor of the local newspaper here, the Hagerstown, MD Herald Mail, has been printed, much to my surprise. I had said earlier that since the newspaper here appears to be decidedly left wing, that they probably wouldn't print it.

Since I enjoyed such success getting one of my letters printed, I went back into the Herald Mail website this morning to see if they have printed any more of my letters.

They hadn't, but I did find this very interesting letter instead: Reading doesn't equate to thinking

This letter writer is apparently writing in response to another letter in which the author indicated a belief that reading equates to thinking, or, at least, that is the impression that today's letter writer got. I have made this observation in the past in the comments section of other blogs.

There has been an observation made by many Conservatives that public schools and institutions of higher learning, have abandoned teaching students how to think, in preference to teaching them what to think.

I don't really think this is an issue that has been explored adequately, and quite frankly, I was mildly surprised to see someone else thinking along the same lines as I do.

I have often been accused of not reading books. That is not true. I have read just about everything from Beowulf to Virginia Woolf, but I haven't had the time to immerse myself in books as I once did. I used to be able to read an entire Novel in one sitting. Now, with all the other things I have going on in my life, it takes me quite a bit longer. I do learn things from reading. So, it's not that I see anything wrong with quoting authors to bolster arguments.

But, if public schools and institutions of higher learning are indeed teaching that reading equates with thinking, I see this as a disturbing trend. And it would dovetail with what I have theorized on those other blog comments. I submit that some very well educated people have abandoned the act of thinking, preferring to direct those who disagree with them to the authors of books to substantiate their arguments. I know this theory will no doubt inflame some of my readers to the point of outrage, but It's only a thought I've been toying with recently.

How often do you present your side of a controversial issue, only to be told you need to go read this book, or that book, so you can fully understand the crux of your opposing debaters arguments?

I have a question for those of you who tend to rely on books to bolster your debate:

I want to know what you think, not what some author you have read thinks. When you direct me to a book to substantiate your argument, does the author really represent what you think, or is he doing the thinking for you? There is no doubt that you are an intelligent, thinking individual, who is quite capable of thinking for yourself, but if you had no book to fall back on, would you really still have that opinion? Do you think before you go to your reference library, or after?

While it is pretty much accepted that one cannot receive too much formal education, if that education consists of teaching students what to think, rather than how to think, perhaps it is possible to be too educated after all.


Trixie said...

Mark, that's not a thought, it's a brain fart.

Let's ask you this question: When you used to read, did you ever learn anything which changed your view of the world? For instance, did you learn that through exploration mankind discovered the world is not flat?

So, you think people should already have opinions on everything, to which they hold firm, before learning more about the world?

What's the point? If you already know exactly how you want to think, and nothing else will open your eyes or expand your thinking, why bother conversing with other people even? Better be careful, a new idea might slip in there somewhere and really gum up the works for you.

The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

The act of reading and the result of thinking should go hand in hand. The one should stimulate the other.

Developing the ability to reason and to think logically...that may require a special class, specific upon it. I mean, I don't think in terms of teaching our children to think for themselves is some sort of "lost art"; something that previous generations of American children were taught, but aren't being taught now. And that's not to say that the education system today is the same one we had 40 years ago. It's not.

Your question reminds me of lessons learned from my teacher Mark Mikita. He would frown down upon the act of memorizing techniques. Rather, he'd give us a sequence of movements to explore, stressing that in the real world, things will not happen like this. What the practice of techniques should do, is stimulate ones ability to flow and improvise, on the spot. To be able to think on ones feet and recognize when the opportunity presents itself, to find the find the jointlock...the counterpunch...the opening for launching sustained and superior firepower. But you don't get there by being fixated upon a subscribed sequence of motions that may happen in that specific manner, in one out of a million chances. You have to be in relationship with what's going on. It'd be like memorizing some great speeches...some great lines...then trying to deliver them in a situation that doesn't call for it. Rather than memorizing speeches, it is far better to be taught how to be a good conversationalist. Now, if you've done well to study some great speeches and excellent quotes, those things should be able to be called forth, midstream, in the natural flow of a conversation, to support your own ideas being espoused. I take credit for everything I just said, because these things came from my personal thoughts and reflections. They are in my own words. But the germination and some of the language come from those I have been influenced by, from years of study, namely great teachers like Mark Mikita and Dan Inosanto. So am I just regurgitating their ideas, and am absent of thinking for myself? No. Because what they have taught me, I have come to understand, intimately, and made into my own. I am not merely parroting them. (Something else that Mark Mikita used to warn me about doing, by the way).

Mark...I hope I made about as much sense as your post had. Let me know if you guys are, like, " the...heck, is this blowhard going on about?!?" I wrote so much down here, I'm too lazy to go back and proof-read.

I don't mind recommending books and citing sources for people to go check out (doesn't have to be books), nor showing that I don't have an original thought on a certain topic. Such as this whole wiretapping business. Sure, I can give my two cents, but it's opinion; and it can be uninformed opinion. I've never wiretapped anyone, never sought to obtain a court order, am not a Constitutional law professor, don't know beyond Jack Bauer how the real world works in law enforcement and counterterrorism... There's nothing wrong with referring to someone who says it better or is qualified and authoritative on the topic matter.

And then, of course, there's the simple matter of having a busy life and not having the time to write more than a sentence or two, before moving onto the next blog, or rejoining the real world, away from cyberspace.

Just noticed trixie's comment as I was waxing long-winded here...

Another analogy comes to mind.

Bruce Lee used to say, "Learn the principle, abide by the principle, dispense with the principle"

Education can be both enslaving and freeing.

How does anyone ever have an original thought? As soon as we are formally educated by someone else's ideas, we are contaminated.

This runs us the danger of never being able to "think outside the box".

But by being educated, the best and brightest among us are able to build upon the lessons learned by those who came before us.

To become a great might go to school and study all the greats throughout history who came before. You learn their techniques and methods of painting. But by doing so, it can also be a kind of prison, to absolute freedom of artistic expression. Hence, the last part of Bruce Lee's advice (which also probably owes its germinations to Krishnamurti or some other thinker): dispence or dissolve with the technique.

Imitation is pale in comparison to the original artist. Why be another Rembrandt? Why try to be another Michelangelo? Hopefully formal training in art school will lead you to freedom of expressing yourself in an original manner, within the bounds of established technique; but also, may lead to abandoning what's been done before- the orthodox establishment, and instead revolutionize a whole new art movement...

...kinda like that woman who is making money selling paintings using her boobs as the paintbrush- but I digress!

There's something to be said about both, thinking inside the box, and also having the ability to step outside of it.

True originality in its raw form is chaos and crap (think of a newborn with no reference point for anything, whatsoever). Originality can still arise from building upon a foundation of something...before breaking off into a tangent.

Erudite Redneck said...

Few books make me go, "Aha! Now I think differently!"

It's the synthesis of others' thinking, supplemented with my own experience and observation, that causes me to change my mind.

And I don't always change my mind.

But I always make a decision.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Mark,

It seems to me that my friends with a Masters degree aren’t as smart as my friends with a Bachelor or Doctor degree. This has made me wonder if the skill needed to be successful in school is the ability to learn, but not necessarily the ability to think.

I believe you are right; the two are different, with the most important skill the ability to think.

Mark said...

Trixie asks, "When you used to read, did you ever learn anything which changed your view of the world?" I said I learn from books.

She also asks, "So, you think people should already have opinions on everything, to which they hold firm, before learning more about the world?"

I didn't say that at all. And that is a fantastic leap of logic to assume I did.

The art of learning is to get viewpoints from all sides and logically sort through them, and formulate opinions of your own based on what you know. Then, if you receive new conflicting information, revise your views accordingly.

My point is that some people get all their ideas out of books and have long since stopped thinking for themselves. preferring to let their books formulate their opinions for them. Or so it would appear. There is no way I could possibly know that for sure.

I am not saying any of this is fact. I am merely thinking in text, so to speak.

Goat said...

My only comment is if you don't read, you will never learn, if you do read, you will learn things you want to, don't want to and ultimately need to. I am an avid reader and won't recommend a book unless it is worth the time. If I lived a thousand years it would not be enough to read all of my desired book list, it grows faster than I do or time alots. Most of the time I spend online is researching current events, I like to be informed so my reading of actual books has shrank more than I like. My last book was "Love and Honor' by Randall Wallace, historical fiction about our Revolution and csarist Russia, very, very good read. I truelly love a good book, I am one that will read it till it is done. Perhaps that is the difference in the discussion in conservative blogs has more substance. The liberals I know don't read far from their MSM agenda. Mark, we may bang heads on Biblical translation, we agree it is the greatest book ever written and just about everything else so lets shelve that debate for now and concentrate on making sure the Reagan revolution moves forward. How about it?

Erudite Redneck said...

Re, "The liberals I know don't read far from their MSM agenda."

Goat obviously doesn't know many liberals.

Mike's America said...

Excellent smackdown Mark. You should send the editorial page editor and the newspaper publisher a letter offering to write a local column from a conservative perspective. Who knows? They might jump at the chance to reach a wider readership.

As for the subject you write about: There IS A LINGERING PROBLEM:

The problem of Democrats keeping Americans from minority groups on the liberal plantation: stoking their fears and denying them a positive opportunity for segregation into the wider society.

You see all the hysteria whipped up against successful black conservatives like Clarence Thomas, Condi Rice and Michael Steele.

Racism is alive and well in America. But too often it's practiced by the people who claim that racism by white conservatives is the problem.

Mark said...

Actually, Mike I sent that in as a submission. The editor chose to insert it into letters to the editor. This is the second time that has happened.

KEvron said...

if yet let what you read sway you, then i'd suggest you give up the habit. reading should simply stimulate the intellect.