Friday
Aug052011

« Edumacation Aint What It Used-ta Was »

I went to Mesa College the other day to get a report on what classes I need to be a transfer-ready student. My dreaded math and science classes are all that stand in my way. As if my four years and one semester of algebra was for naught (see my progress reports and other docs in Skool Daze gallery), I get to do algebra AGAIN if I am to get on with my studies. And this algebra class is just as a prerequisite for another class that might be more mercifully realized as statistics, which elicits a less dreaded response in me. I have two science classes to take, one of which needs to have a lab associated with it. 

Thanks to idiocy at every level of society, the financial picture is weaker than ever at the state level, so there are notices all over the campus and website that resources are strained. And for me, right now, I see that damn near every class I am looking for is closed or wait list only. I'm torn. I like the feeling of victoriously finishing a class, probably having learned something, and usually getting excellent grades too. But like in the fall of 2006, I am on unemployment again, and to go to school during the day is to forfeit that, which is risky because there are no prospects except shitty jobs that I'd prefer not to apply to, some paying less than the unemployment anyway! 

I could say that I feel trapped. But in more ways than just not having an education. There is that. Sometimes I guess there are opportunities that I'm missing. But remember, even in 1993 when I took a semester, a year, a decade off from school, there were plenty of stories about college grads who were still flipping burgers. It was hardly an incentive to rush through school. These days, the economy is in the shitter more than ever, and there is a dawning realization from the oh-so-well-educated classes that people are... generally overeducated for the work that needs doing. Duh! 

Our global irony is that all our problems can be laid at the feet of people with education and ambition. If that solved the problems of our human existence, I might wager that by sheer volume and weight, we have more well educated and ambitious people than ever. The factory-schools have pumped them out quite well. But then why are we at a global situation that fills some with dread? It wasn't the peasants and the meek that brought the atomic age, the computer, the transportation system, the genetically modified crop, or the financial rackets that wrecked the economy. It wasn't the peasants and meek who thought that stuff up and implemented it at market scale. We have more brain power than ever, but less soul to guide it! We can discern the comings and goings of things in the natural world, but we can't figure out how to live within it as if we are integral to it and it to us. What century before us honestly could worry that humankind could destroy not only the town/city/state/nation, but ultimately the biosphere too? It would be insanity. You don't need a fucking Ph.D. in anything to realize that, but now we have more and more people educated at levels that seem to elevate people off the ground of reality. All that was supposed to alleviate the trials of life, but education, when partnered to serve corporations and technology, is just part of the machine that is going to be our undoing.

I fancy myself more of a liberal arts learner, rooted in the model that learning is good. For the sake of learning itself, or for personal improvement to develop an open mind ready for civic and social engagement. I feel that I've pursued that despite being off the official academic coursework for more time than I have been on it. In that, I've come to regard all my life as my classroom, all my trials as my teachers and assigments. I do sometimes lament not having done things according to the typical post-high school plan, but then I also admit that while I might have done that, I was quite wet behind the ears in many other ways that took an educational path that schools don't/won't/can't provide. I recognized in 1993 that I could go through the school process, essentially spinning my wheels learning stuff without knowing really why I needed or wanted to know it. 

In the men's work that I do, everything is regarded as a teacher. It all belongs. That alone, learned in a new way at 36, was a huge thing to pick up, particularly at the level it hit me last year. I've even learned lessons from dogs that surpass the teachings of bosses and mentors and others. Tomatoes in August left an indelible mark on me that high school teachers wish they had the power to leave upon a person. A shoot of a tree branch sticking through a field of concrete says what pastors can't say so efficiently and eloquently.

More and more, the world is going to need people who forget all they learned so that they can learn what needs to be conveyed from the planet and its inhabitants for the genuine well being of all who make the daily spin on this planet which makes its yearly lap around the sun. It isn't that education itself is bad. It isn't. But what has to be cut off is the absence of reverence. I'm sort of conflating my former pastor's words with the Urantia Book, but the purposes of education and learning in the Western world have generally morphed from the Hebrews' desire to learn about and reverence God, to the Greek's desire to understand the beauty inherent in all things, including oneself. But both seemed content to enjoy the pursuit, the means, and not to seek to control the ends. We now seek knowledge to use, to manipulate, to control. Think about it: just about any breakthrough is not exciting in the pure joy of knowing something new. Almost immediately, minds are enlisted to figure out how to turn it into a patentable product, a process, or something of use to commerce or government, or worse still, combat. We figured out how the sun worked and made a miniature version with our atomic development. A new species is discovered and not long later, it is seen as the basis for a new drug or food additive. The best university minds aren't discoverers in the old medieval sense; they are the raw materials for industrial development. A Buddhist or Christian or Muslim mystic can study things at a level like a scientist, but their training also instructs them in reverence for what is witnessed, aka, to leave it alone and appreciate it as it is. The layers of wisdom wrapped around any observation-based knowledge says that it is not their place to go tampering. That is the domain of the divine. For a mystic, it would be enough to glimpse the divine, not to try to unpack it all and control it and make it do new tricks, guided by a pathetically limited consciousness.

Reading Richard Heinberg's book, The End of Growth, it is again on my mind that my lifetime will play out differently than any other as we face the consequences of an overeducated, overambitious society of people who have missed or discarded reverence as part of knowing things. A team of brilliant doctors and reattach and reconstruct body parts, but cannot make life meaningful. The dark side of their craft is that all their gizmos take industrial infrastructure that is now on unstable ground. Their educations are expensive, and the debt that allows it to happen is incompatible with a post-growth era. That alone will reduce many a college enrollment number, which of course will make it less possible for most people to pursue higher education that perpetuates the division of knowledge without a concomitant increase in wisdom. Maybe the days of heroic medical interventions are drifting away. I'd like to think that a quality of life we don't now enjoy is something to look forward to.

If anything, there needs to be a return to vocational occupations where people actually do the kinds of work that isn't offshorable and downsizeable. It seems backwards, and it is, but it was a stupid thing to abandon it in the rush to one side of the boat—higher education for all, whether it was a good idea or not, whether folks could afford it or not. A post-industrial future that has to face up to that very fact will not be able to send people learning stuff that is of no practical use. But I hope that in addition to whatever practical skills people have to learn as apprentices, there are opportunities to get a larger picture of life and how that serves people at a fundamental level. There really is only so much work that needs to go on for survival. It is rather attainable, and sustainable. Maybe once the obsession with growth is seen for the stupid and empty pursuit it is, people could reprioritize and place some value on the personal goals of spiritual and emotional improvement that the industrial age has failed to allow us to pursue. It hardly has to be structures. It just needs to be guided. One pretty much needs time to breathe and see a world at a human pace and a human scale again. 

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