Education, Essays, Philosophy.

Life, education, and life-long learning

We each are given a precious life and can choose to do with it what we will. We can act in our natural self-interest and seek safety, material wealth and pleasure, or we can act outside of our direct interests, enriching our lives through the consideration of others. Our lives are most meaningful and worthwhile when we love others. The elements of life to be savored most are those that are founded on the humble idea that we are all human beings who are worthy of consideration.

To the extent that we are able to go beyond self-interest, our spouses and children, our families and friends, our communities and that ever expanding circle that makes up the world the around us, all gainsay some of our consideration; without this, our lives would be empty. We are each but an insignificant part of the vast family of human beings, past, present and future, yet that is no reason to despair.  Whatever life’s harsh realities and its concomitant despairs, we each have the capacity to see that "our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything."(As You Like It, Act 2, Sc 1, William Shakespeare)  Our lives on earth do not end until the moment we die, and this obvious fact allows us to acknowledge our weaknesses and failures, and allows us to seek improvement and contribution during the entirety of our lives.

We are by nature intensely curious and we are thereby compelled to undertake a life-long journey of discovery.  We passionately seek to understand ourselves and the world we live in; at its most pure, this passion is not one of desiring to conquer knowledge, but one of deeply enjoying its pursuit. Humans have a limited ability to understand their world and themselves, and in this obvious and deep limitation lies the mystery of life; as Einstein noted, in its structure and workings, in its sheer beauty and complexity the physical world provides intimations of the divine. Within these constraints the pursuit of understanding has its place, as it provides the means to build strategies for our survival, and helps to slake our thirst to understand ourselves and our mortality.

This constant search for understanding is addressed via the institution of education; formal or informal, education is much more than a production line for modern workers: it is the furnace in which the effective citizen is forged, such a one who is steeled in the discipline of critical thought, discourse and debate, who respects the contribution of others, and who plays a role in shaping the future with fellow citizens; at its best it is a vibrant conduit through which people’s inborn curiosities are cultivated, and in which momentary failures are seen as that, momentary, to be overcome in the unflagging life-long quest for learning.

The difficult balancing point in education is to provide a foundation for the critical thinking needed to cope with an ever changing and unpredictable future, while supporting the sometimes conflicting notions that man’s ability to understand his world is bounded, and that life has meaning. To do so, education should be as free as possible of one-sided cant, and should allow full debate on important topics. A difficult example is the ongoing debate over whether evolution and creationism should be taught side by side. Biologists do not want to have creationism debated in their classrooms, not unreasonably so, because they find it un-testable and therefore unscientific. The solution may be to debate the topic in a religion or philosophy class; while the theory of evolution is scientifically viable and testable in the main, the biological theories of the origin of life, or abiogenesis, where evolution and creationism abut, are weak, generally untestable (note 1) and shouldn’t be taught in biology classes either.

Education encompasses the development of the whole person; the best education exposes the intangibles of beauty and the mysteries of the spirit, frankly underscores the frailty of facts and the limited nature of human understanding, sometimes outlines the extremes of absurdity, irrationality, cruelty and despair, all without sacrificing reason, rhetoric, and the rational balance needed to act.  While first training the effective citizen, at its best education also sustains a person’s fierce and life-long desire to inquire into the nature of the world, and supports their innate curiosity to understand why they were put on this earth, and how they should then live.

 

Notes



Life Itself, by Francis Crick

1. For a particularly egregious example of a weak biological origin of life theory, see the book Life Itself, by Francis Crick, an otherwise brilliant molecular biologist.

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