Monday, June 10, 2013

Was my education a waste? - II

All man's unhappiness derives from just one thing, not being able to stay quietly in a room. - Blaise Pascal 

Emily Dickinson  said that 'Hope' is the thing with feathers. But if you cling to it for too long,  you will fritter away your life chasing mirages. I came across the following passage in this post:
Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi, the story of a young, lone survivor of a shipwreck, beautifully captures how Americans should face our political reality:
“I had to stop hoping so much that a ship would rescue me. I should not count on outside help. Survival had to start with me. In my experience, a castaway’s worst mistake is to hope too much and do too little. Survival starts by paying attention to what is close at hand and immediate. To look out with idle hope is tantamount to dreaming one’s life away.”
Thankfully I was a victim of a college education which ensured that I did not fall for the sweet talk of various quacks and gurus selling snake oil quoting scriptures. It is amazing what all fairy tales people will believe when there is a complicated illness in the family. I got interested in reading various things that I didn't know about earlier and decided that I would rather waste my time this way  'while memory holds a seat In this distracted globe'. (Here is a touching story about a man who has lost his memory.)

I had mentioned earlier that the mother of all outlets for frustration is the process of writing this blog. The books and blogs that I read have helped me to tell my story and I have enjoyed the process of writing it. It would not have been half as interesting for me if it were not for the reading which is a direct result of my education. (It is true that education doesn't guarantee that you won't fall for gas. Something about the wiring of my brain helped me to avoid this trap.)

Come to think of it, I would not have been able to enjoy a Wodehouse were it not for the kind of education I received. He refers to Biblical stories, poetry, nursery rhymes, etc. to make his wisecracks.  I had teachers who would occasionally tell such stories and encouraged reading books unrelated to the syllabus. Were they wasting time by doing this? No. In this TED talk, J.P.Rangaswami says that information is like food. By this criterion, I am a foodie suffering from the book lovers dilemma. My sentiment is the same as that of Jefferson when he wrote to Preistley:
I thank on my knees, him who directed my early education, for having put into my possession this rich source of delight; and I would not exchange it for anything which I could then have acquired, & have not since acquired.
One of the aims of education is to equip students to keep learning after their formal education is over. I don't read about anything I studied after Std. XII but that doesn't mean that those years were wasted. I read quite a  bit about evolutionary theory which uses concepts like cost benefit analysis, utility function, path dependent process, maximising an objective function,etc. Since I was already familiar with these concepts, I could grasp the arguments quickly which sustained my interest in the topic. (Here is Paul Krugman about the similarities between evolutionary and economic theories.)

Aristotle said, "Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity." At present I am little more than a 'brain in a vat' and it is my education that has kept it from dissolving away. (I read somewhere that a brain is a terrible thing to waste and it is my education that has prevented this from happening.)The institutions that I have studied in have given me what Robert Krulwich calls 'The Chumbawamba Principle' in this speech which has helped me to stay in the game.

In the absence of the kind of education I received, I would have moped around the house thinking of sad songs which would not have helped anybody. And regarding the quote at the beginning of this post, education helps to address the problem. To a significant degree, you are the sum of the stories you tell yourself about yourself.

Education is not just about creating what Anthony Grayling called 'clones for a job'. In this debate, Richard Dawkins compares science to music. I think the same analogy can be used to compare education and music: a good education is like good music - it is about much more than merely giving exercise to the violinists' hands.

No comments:

Post a Comment