A Need For Patches

Brick-Moji Thinking face by Ochre Jelly on Flickr - public domain Aug 4 2022Yesterday I was just sitting around and thinking about a bunch of sentient beings on a moon of some planet way off in imaginary-land and ended up thinking a bit about education. I don’t think it was profound, really, but I think it might be of use when we think about society and how it pushes and pulls based on the bias of what we consider to be intelligent, and what we consider to be educated.

Those of us who have truly explored our world and the minds in it understand that an educated mind isn’t necessarily intelligent, and that an intelligent mind doesn’t necessarily have to be educated. Even then, we can’t decide if there is a bias in testing – some say yes, there is a bias, and some say no. Now here’s where it gets warped: The people that made it through the education system are the ones considered to be experts, saying that if there is bias, it’s negligible because other people who made it through an education system say so. I’m not an expert and won’t pretend to be, but my experience in my life shows me that there is bias, and not just of the educational system but of the systems that feed into the educational systems. It’s complex.

Spoiler: I don’t know the answer, and given my own experience I’ll say that there is room for a lot of thinking about it beyond what is said by either side of that debate.

In my mind, it’s perfectly fine to entertain more than one side of a conversation. It doesn’t mean that I have to charge off and defend arguments on one side or the other, it means I should be tearing them apart and trying to see what’s wrong with what everyone is saying and figure it out myself so that I can have an opinion on my own. That, I think, is what learning should be, and by extension I think that’s what education should prepare use to do – not recite memorized things to pass tests.

In an age of social media, where everyone is snapping off witty one liners and dropping to ad hominem attacks when they don’t work, I think we forget that we should be thinking more and typing less.

Oddly enough, my Twitter feed provided me with, “Thoughts Without a Thinker: Cognitive decline in an age of brilliance“. John Nosta writes of the Medieval era when there was a Trivium that consisted of Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric. From there, the Quadvrium, or ‘subects’, were taught:

“…Each of the three part play an important role in a student’s educational foundation. Grammar helped students to understand the structure of language and how it worked. Dialectic helped them to ask questions and probe beneath the surface of things. And Rhetoric helped them to express their understanding in a clear and persuasive way. In a very basic way, the Trivium taught students how assimilate and process information — in other words, how to think!…”

It’s something I didn’t know and thus a pleasure to read.

My comparisons are generally with the German University because I’d read, “Academic Freedom in the Age of the University” (Walter Metzger, 1961), where Metzger wrote quite a bit about Lehrfreiheit (freedom to teach) and Lehrnefreheite (freedom to learn), which are not quite the same but I imagine built from the Trivium and Quadvrium and inherited from it. Perhaps some scholar will correct me, I look forward to that.

In the days of the Trivium, things were a bit simpler. There weren’t things like atoms, or software. In fact, calculus wasn’t around til Leibniz and Newton came up with it at the same time independently. The world was about observation and interpretation. Education was simpler because there was less to learn, and what we learn at this point by the end of a secondary school education likely exceeded a full education in that period, which took significantly more time.

In the last century alone, the leaps and bounds we have made in science alone are mind-boggling. Consider that Penicillin, invented by Alexander Fleming, in 1928. That’s less than 100 years ago, and now we’ve not only treated infections, we have created vaccinations that protect us from various diseases. We know so much more. Granted, we may not learn this stuff in secondary school, but we probably should. 

But this leads us to the education system itself. Consider what Yuval Noah Harari writes in Sapiens (2018):

“…You also educate people thoroughly. From the moment they are born, you constantly remind them of the principles of the imagined order, which are incorporated into anything and everything. They are incorporated into fairy tales, dramas, paintings, songs, etiquette, political propaganda, architecture, recipes and fashions…”

In Medieval times, the Trivium would have gone with the imagined order of the class divisions, the Church (likely Catholic in that period), and so on. In modern America, it would be the freedom, individuality, and so on – derived from, oddly enough, the Church where all souls were considered equal, and thus we get from the Declaration of Independence:

“…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

Harare takes that apart and rebuilds it in his book in an interesting and some may think disturbing way, but the point is that there is a change in that imagined order. There’s nothing wrong with the imagined order, but we have to understand that these are all imagined orders of the way things are that, unless we have had some part in changing the imagined order, it was the way it was. In the same breath, we can talk about how that Declaration of Independence didn’t apply to former slaves of African descent, and how how Malcolm X pointed out that, “We did not land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us.” 

That imagined order where slavery was permissible in the United States went away. Educational segregation went away in an uproar with young Linda Brown at the center. And the imagined order changed.

In 1920, women in the United States were recognized as having the right to vote through the 19th Amendment. Again, the imagined order changed.

That’s just the big stuff. There’s a lot in between that happened as well, and all the while, the 1920s saw the beginnings of AM radio broadcasting, the 1930s began FM broadcasting (which your radio likely still uses), television was beginning in parallel… no longer did one have to wait for updates on the world through newspapers. Personal letters may still travel by ship, since the first commercial airplane flights were happening about 100 years ago as well…

Our imagined order of things has shifted significantly. And in all of this, with the advent of social media in the last few decades, we have a generation growing up with a lot of different ‘imagined orders’ around the world competing. In fact right now, the biggest issue seems to be between authoritarian and democratic systems, but there are plenty of other things based on religion and culture as well.

In all of this – all of this – it comes back to what John Nosta wrote within his last paragraph, which I encourage you to read:

“Thoughts are the fabric of society.”

My friends, I do believe we need to patch a few things.