The Fetishization of Ignorance

What is the purpose of education? Why do we devote such significant portions of our lives to schooling?

Theoretically, the purpose of primary and secondary education is to prepare children with the basic skills necessary to function as adults in contemporary society (and hopefully not just to subsist but to succeed).

… Unless you’re a member of the Texas state GOP, in which case, the purpose of education seems to be to keep kids busy until they’re old enough to enter the workforce and to reinforce any preexisting beliefs they may have learned from their parents. Go get yourself some headache medicine, because you’re about to need it.

We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

So this is a “serious” political party arguing that critical thinking skills are bad. It specifically says that students’ fixed beliefs should not be challenged. Maintaining parental authority is apparently more important for education than teaching kids how to think.

I’m sorry, but what?

* * *

What is a “fixed” belief, and why the fuck should it not be challenged? If you “complete” your education with exactly the same set of beliefs and ideas you had coming in, that education system has failed you entirely. The purpose of education is to populate your mind with true things and to impart upon you the methodology necessary to discover further true things. Who gives a damn what your “beliefs” are if they don’t correspond with reality? If you have some “fixed” belief that Paris is a city in Antarctica populated by chartreuse baboons who rely on jetpacks as their primary mode of transportation, a system whose goal is education is functionally obligated to disabuse you of that notion.

If “parental authority” is in some way contradicted by reality, then undermine it! Being able to create offspring is no guarantee of a person’s ability to raise a well-rounded child. All it demonstrates is that two people know how to screw, not how to create the safe environment necessary for healthy physical and mental development. I don’t see why the state should be obligated to stand aside while parents endanger the well-being of their children by teaching them patently untrue things. An argument could be made for forbidding teachers to directly tell their students that their parents are  wrong about certain things, but this in absolutely no way means that teachers should be obligated never to contradict parental teachings. If parents would rather be seen as unfailingly authoritative than have their children educated about the world, those parents have a serious problem, and teachers are not obligated to enable them.

Additionally, anyone who expects a teacher not to correct a student who believes obvious nonsense isn’t qualified to hold public office. Put them in the asshole category and deny them the pleasure of your further consideration.

I’m sure the Texas GOP’s statement was intended to deter teachers from discussing religion with their students—err wait, no… only to discourage them from denigrating religion, a key distinction—but there’s already a pretty important law that covers this. It’s called the First Amendment. Maybe they’ve heard of it?

Fixed beliefs. Feh. The Texas Republicans are off their rockers. If you want to experience a sad combination of laughter, anger, and misery, take a look at the rest of their platform. (Or if you’re less inclined toward masochism, you could just look at a sample of the crazy.)

This kind of shortsighted utilitarianism is so prevalent, and I find it hard to grok the mindset. There is a very common trope against higher education that goes something like this:

A liberal arts requirement at the university level is a waste of time and a scam engineered to take more of your money. People go to college with a specific goal in mind: to get a job. The only purpose of higher education is to make it easier for graduates to get good jobs. Because these extra classes take up valuable time and cost so much money without helping prepare students for their future jobs, they should be eliminated.

This attitude seems to stem from the same mentality that brought us the Texas GOP platform: there is no value in knowledge. You do not need to learn how to learn things. You must only pursue goals that directly enhance your economic viability.

It’s a rather uninspired premise, and I reject it. Even if you accept it, however, the notion that courses outside of your chosen field of study won’t benefit you even in this narrow context is the product of a delusional mind. In the job market, a candidate who has a diverse background is obviously preferable to one who does not. It’s possible that an inexperienced candidate is capable of performing quite admirably, but an employee who’s familiar with how the world works will be better equipped to handle unforeseen circumstances, so why gamble on an unknown?

In attending this kind of university, is there any guarantee that your additional academic responsibilities will increase your marketability? Of course not, but there are no guarantees about anything in life (except death, of course). How many schools offer no flexibility in their curricula? Is it appropriate to blame the system if you choose not to learn anything from your classes?

While I was an undergraduate, I wasn’t overly fond of my university’s liberal arts requirements. I might even have agreed with the above-mentioned trope. Now that I’m a bit more grown, however, I realize how often I have drawn upon skills and knowledge I picked up in these classes. I can scarcely imagine myself as a functioning adult without these experiences.

Well, no, I can picture myself fairly well. I’d be a complete moron. I believed a lot of terminally stupid things before college, but the social and academic experiences I gained taught me how to recognize when I’m being foolish and work to minimize my idiocy.*

I’d also be trying to get by on just above minimum wage. My current career path was only available to me because of those supposed wastes of time and money, and I’m not the only one. In the current job market, only half of all college graduates manage to find work in their chosen fields. When most students end up needing skills unrelated to their majors, what could be a better economic strategy than to prepare them for a wide variety of potential jobs?

Ultimately, I reject the notion that education is only worthwhile to the extent that it increases your long-term monetary worth. Statistics of lifelong earning are often cited to note how a college education increases the average sum of money a person earns in their lifetime, but so what? Knowing how to distinguish truth from fiction is a vital skill, and the desire to improve oneself and the world at large is perhaps the noblest of all pursuits. Even if education were entirely divorced from income potential, it would still be absolutely necessary for the well-being of a healthy society.

Learning is cool, learning is valuable, and learning is fun. Anyone who tells you otherwise is an asshole.

* I just wish the Texas GOP had learned these lessons too.

One response to “The Fetishization of Ignorance

  1. Excellent post. There is no such thing as too much knowledge. Are these fools planning to turn universities into trade schools? Learning just for the hell of it makes us better persons.

    “The biggest threat on America today is not communism, its moving America towards a Fascist Theocracy”

    Frank Zappa

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