Attending institutions of higher education is often considered a mandatory requisite to the unfolding of one’s “success” in life. Go to college and get a degree, and you will land a job that will provide financial security in a field that you enjoy. This is the conditioned truth.
While it is blatantly evident that college graduates do gain an edge in the job market over the less “educated”, what is not readily deducible is whether the aforementioned conditioned notion of financial success contains an epistemology of what education is all about.
Can earning a piece of paper from a 2 or 4 year institution stand as evidence that an individual is more “educated” than a commoner that studies independently at a public library? What is it exactly that is gained by attending and laboring through collegiate level coursework? Whatever it is, can it be attained without going to college? If it can be attained without attending college, why do colleges exist? As a person who has attended three higher education institutions (a community college and two universities), I have the experience that may help answer these questions. Before I share my experience though, there is one question that bears fundamental significance to the whole idea of college: What is education?
Training Men as Animals
The word ‘education’ has some interesting etymological roots. The term originates from the latin educare which means to ‘draw out’, which is why some contend that education originally meant the development of one’s mind. The transitive verb educare, informs the noun education, which first appeared in the 1530’s as a term signifying ‘training’, and ‘rearing’ (as with raising a child). An earlier beginning of the word, arriving from the French tongue around the 14th century, has an association with the ‘training of animals’. It can be attested then, that the term originally meant “training” of some sort.
This definition comports well with the contemporary usage of the word. When we go to college, an educational institution, we are trained.
The verb train etymologically means “to discipline, teach, bring to a desired state by means of instruction,” or to “draw out and manipulate in order to bring to a desired form”. Therefore a deeper understanding of the term education must include the purpose or intent of one’s training.
The Educative Method of College
By what method does educative training take place in college? Pulling from my own college experience, education proceeds in the following manner:
The student purchases books, is assigned chapters to read of said books, is given a lecture by a professor of the subject, may or may not perform physical tasks or complete preliminary paper assignments associated with the course material, and is then required to take a standardized (multiple choice or essay format) test that supposedly assesses the student’s grasp of the material.
There are a number of problems with this method of teaching.
First of all, the student must assume the course textbooks are accurate and unbiased. Second, the student assumes the professor is either aware of dissonant truths that impact the veracity of the course material, or will divulge the nature of errors to the student as they are identified. Thirdly, the student is compelled to assimilate the specified course material in order to pass the standardized tests, despite any fallacious, distorted, or outright biased content the course material may cover. These problems will be addressed in their respective order.
1.Supposing that a full-time student has the time to dissect and a verify each source cited in support of the conclusions of say, a textbook on Minorities and Criminal Justice, it is unlikely that any spurious reasoning the student identifies in the text will contribute to changing the standardized test items. The simple truth is, students who concern themselves with getting a good grade do not have the time to assess the truth of what they are compelled to read. In other words, the veracity of the course material is taken on faith (is college a faith-based institution?).
This is not meant to suggest that all coursework is spurious. I merely suggest that the possibility exists that students may be mislead by what they are taught. Discovery of fallacy depends on the thinking of the student, but again, the regimented training of the student does not permit much time for this.
2. I have personally experienced how cognitive bias of the professor can contradict what is taught in the book curriculum.
Once, a few years ago, I attended a prestigious medical university to get a Baccalaureate degree in Nursing. One of the classes required for this degree was termed ‘Evidence Based Practice’. Because the care process is more and more predicated on existing scientific research, this class was purposed to train the student on how to distinguish between highly reliable (meta-analysis) medical studies and those that were hardly reliable at all (i.e. survey studies).
Over and over the professor repeated how meta-analysis was the gold standard of medical research, and that nurses should use this study type in construction of care plans for their patients. One day i came across a meta-analysis respecting research into whether fluoride compounds affected brain development of children. This study was not only a meta-analysis and systematic review of some 27 epidemiological studies which queried the relation between fluoride exposure and the developing brain, but was performed by members of the Department of Health in conjunction with Harvard University. The clear conclusion of the study read, “our results support the possibility of adverse effects of fluoride exposures on children’s neurodevelopment.” I held on to the study until the next class period, when I would observe the professor’s arrogance.
I do not remember the exact details of how I presented the study to my professor other than I was responding to a question she asked about levels of reliability relating to medical literature. I asked her if the study I had come across vindicated a choice to disavow fluoride treatments until further research was conducted. “You mean fluoride drops given to kids?” She scoffed at me, despite the fact it was she who had taught us to respect meta-analysis as the highest standard of research. Here she was catering to an exalted paradigm of “truth” that down-played anything that rendered her authority and the paradigm itself suspicious.
3. If I wanted to get a good grade (and I got quite a few with a 3.7 GPA over some 90 credits), I knew I had to tell the professor what he/she wanted to hear by memorizing the truths they advised. I remember all the huddles of students hunched over index cards, their lips moving in silent iteration of each recorded point. This sort of behavior is hardly conducive to freeing the human mind, but rather could be construed as a form propagandizing the self.
Don’t get me wrong, this educative method does evince truths and produce ‘professionals’, but you would be wrong in thinking that college graduates are free-thinking. Quite the opposite, they are conditioned to not think outside the parameters of their specified role in society.
A Free Mind or a Trained Mind?
Just by argument of the term’s etymology, it can be asserted that education historically meant to train one’s mind for a specific purpose.
Can it be assumed that ‘educators’ wish to train minds to think freely? Possibly, depending on who teaches. But using a run-of-the-mill college as an experimental model, it may be observed that its curriculum seems to de-emphasize counter-cultural/revolutionary/innovative (however defined) motifs in favor of training an individual to serve the purposes specified by the society, for if this were not so, we could expect to observe students taking courses on deviant things such as radicalism, anarchism, Felon Techniques 101, and other anti-national subjects.
A college curriculum keeps pace with the needs of society. Rather than requiring students to learn astrology or basket-weaving as core components to the general coursework, any respectable college expects the student to learn and display proficiency in rudimentary subjects that have contributed to the development of the existing scientific paradigm (i.e. mathematics, reading, etc.). The student, then, is not being trained to think freely but to think in accord with the paradigm that serves the society. The student is inculcated with truths that enable him/her to become a “part” of the national machine; a manufactured functionary of the modern world.
A free mind contrasts with the trained mind in that it is characterized by an unmitigated pursuit of any intellective that volition warrants. A free mind does not necessarily support the existing social structure or economic prerogative. It nurtures the capacity to question it. A free mind is not ‘fitted’ to a functionary role in the “productive” machine. It willfully examines the parts and studies the logic of its mechanics.
I knew i could not do this within the invisible confines of collegiate study.
To be continued…