I’ve always seen education as important. I know it bestows advantage on those that have it, and this is pretty widely accepted.
But I think I may have been wrong about what gave that advantage.
I, like most others I imagine, would have said that education gives you:
- Basic knowledge of key subjects, such as arithmetic, history, language
- The essential skills to start a rewarding and/or respected career (as opposed to just a job)
- Exposure to different ways of thinking about the important things in life
This is what I thought education was, with emphasis on the first two. Knowledge transfer, basically, to enable one to perform at a higher level than the average. Fine.
But I now think education is infinitely more important than that.
I think education comes down to exposure to ideas and perspectives, and its fundamental benefit is allowing people to see the world differently and to be creative.
This is so much different than knowledge transfer.
I think knowledge transfer happens in the course of this, and it should. The teaching of core knowledge is respectable, but it should be treated like the teaching of footwork in boxing, or flexibility in ballet: they are part of the story, but not the center.
The true benefit of education
Exposure to ideas and perspectives spawns creativity. I have experienced this myself through heavy reading over the last decade. The more I read the more ideas I have. This is anecdotal, but countless creators say the same.
Stated differently, I think (many) people who are exposed to classic literature, the lessons of history, various philosophical concepts, etc., are able to identify patterns in their problems, see trends in events, and innovate in a way that others cannot.
This is infinitely more valuable than having facts and figures that others do not.
And this makes it that much more of a crime for some people to have this exposure while others do not. They’re not missing out on on-the-job training for a desk job; they’re being robbed of the ability to be creative.
And this is what society rewards. Innovation. Creativity. New ideas.
Exposure in all forms
Travel is another way to get this exposure to new things. When you see people living completely differently from how you live, it alters you forever. It destroys barriers in the mind, and remaps connections that enable you to see patterns, similarities, and differences.
And many, if not most, of the world will never have this. They won’t ever read the classics. They won’t ever travel. They won’t hear what the philosophers thought about how the world works.
It is Earth-scale criminal to have some citizens of the planet be granted these gifts, while others are not.
Put another way, the lack of exposure to ideas and perspectives should be seen as the lack of exposure to nutrition or clean water. It produces, quite literally, retardation.
This isn’t to say that people without good educations cannot be creative, or think differently, or any of that. They clearly can. But they are the exceptions.
- Education is not about knowledge transfer, it’s about exposure to ideas and perspectives that are more like vitamins than facts, as they enable the mind to grow into a creative force
- Those that are not exposed to these vitamins are at extreme disadvantage in terms of their ability to create and think differently, not just in their ability to get good jobs
- This raises the necessity to educate everyone, as it’s not about jobs and productivity: it’s about the full development of a human being into what they can become
- Education over the last few decades has arguably become more about supplying the corporate world with good workers than exposing students to new ideas, but that’s another essay.
- Another essay I wrote about Powering Ideas Through Inputs
- Many educations create uncreative people, and many creative people had no formal education. This is known, but it does not refute the main point.
- Thanks to Saša Zdjelar for talking through this with me.