On Learning & Education

One of our biggest problems today is we’ve believed in our own greatness and infallibility.  We believe that we are the enlightened ones, the rational ones, the modern ones, the progressive ones, the right ones.  Our worst enemy is often our outrageous hubris.  We are the most literate, educated generation in history.  We live in the time in which PhDs are a dime-a-dozen.  We think that we really know what’s what, because we’ve studied political theory and social psychology and we’ve learned a bunch of impressive five-dollar-words.

And yet.  I am shocked at the number of ‘educated people’ who won’t read something, anything, that doesn’t simply reinforce their own opinions.  I am shocked at how often educated people will immediately scoff at something they know nearly nothing about.  I am shocked at the number of times I’ve attempted to have honest conversations with educated people about things that matter which abruptly end, not with arguments, but with parroted prejudices and ‘party lines.’

We’ve trusted in the sacredness of our academic institutions, believing that they are holy and beyond error.  So if they taught it and we learned it, then we must be right.  But we’ve so often learned ideology, conformity, elitism, and right-prejudice instead of critical thinking and honest inquiry.  Indoctrination has frequently been equated with learning, conformity with critical thought, learned contempt with open inquiry, empty vanity with real intelligence.  But the worst part is we’ve learned this confused curriculum while also assuming that we are critical thinkers and honest inquirers.  Hopefully we haven’t become so tangled up in our beloved incoherence that we cannot escape from the mess we’ve made.  But escaping would first require us to want to—and what would motivate us to really want to untangle our cherished pretenses and self-deceits?

What’s most ridiculous is how common it is to be a member of the most ‘learned generation’ and to not have a real passion for learning.  I want to know how this came to be.  I want to know how it became possible to be ‘smart’ without having a sense of curiosity, a real hunger for inquiry.