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The Humility Needed for Real Education

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Photo by Vanessa Garcia on Pexels.com

According to research, the more educated (in academia) someone becomes, the more liberal they become. Or perhaps I should put it this way: there is a higher percentage of highly educated people who identify as liberal. Check out this article from the Pew Research Center if you want to see a few more details.

Education has an effect, sometimes dramatic, on one’s political beliefs.

I’m consistently arguing that there is a dire need for more education in America. I contend that Americans are grossly uneducated when it comes to politics, government, political theory and the like.

But education means a lot of different things. So, in this article, I’m going to clarify what I mean by “education”.

Education Is Not Simply a Higher Academic Degree

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When I say that Americans need to be educated, I don’t necessarily mean that Americans need to be simply “educated”. It’s one thing to have a liberal arts degree, a degree in a trade, or any other academic/trade oriented degree (and these are fine and good), but it’s entirely different thing to be educated about one’s government and to be humble enough to recognize that one needs education. Simple broad education is not what I mean when I say education.

Education can literally mean anything, right? Someone can be educated on the nuance of Lord of the Rings, on the history of the Playstation, on the personal lives of every president, on how to build a house, on how to manage money. Education is merely the “the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.”

The issue with modern public education is that it creates intellectual bigots and intellectual pride. It creates a false sense of superiority over others. “You only have a high school degree and I have my masters…”. It’s a sort of class mindset of the intellect. The “your opinions don’t matter to me since I have a BA and you didn’t finish grade school” mindset.

Public education exalts the mind above all else and reinforces the idea that our minds, our intellect and our understandings are the ultimate source of authority. As René Descartes said: “I think, therefore I am”.

Increasingly, education produces a monolith of thought. In other words, when the majority of one’s education teaches one perspective only, people are pigeonholed into one mindset and unable to open themselves up to the mere possibility that they may, in fact, be wrong. No matter one’s political or personal ideology, education should no be a monolith of intellectual thought. Every academic would agree with this statement when applied his or her own subfield (how does science, literature, art, etc progress without differing perspectives and understandings that push the field to grow and better itself?) but can’t seem to wrap their heads around it for the world of academia at large.

Such homogeneous thought produces individuals who are out of touch with opposing perspectives (and this can be in anything, not just politics) and can’t wrap their heads around anyone believing anything different than what they believe (about any subject).

Humility Always Precedes and Proceeds Education

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The basis of all education is the assumption that you don’t know something. It’s the willingness to say: “I don’t know, will you teach me?”

Right?

How many of us would be motivated to learn or educate ourselves if we already knew everything?

True education requires the humility to admit that one needs education. And with that comes the openness of mind to learn and subsequently hear opposing perspectives.

I’ve always been told and now tell my students, you can never adequately defend your own argument about something until you can argue for and defend the argument of the opposition first. But, this requires humility and empathy. Humility and empathy are critical to real education.

Education should be humbling. The more truly educated people become, the more they should realize just how much they don’t know.

That is real education. Education that challenges the mind, challenges beliefs and encourages one to dig deeper and deeper because there is so much left to learn. Education is built upon the students’ acknowledgement of their own need of education and their willingness to put aside their beliefs and understandings of something in order to learn what the experts have to say about that “something”.

I’m staying vague here because this applies to all areas of education, all topics.

Americans Must Face How Little They Actually Know About Government

So, when I say education, I’m assuming everything I said above. If someone wants to learn about government, the founding, the Constitution, how laws are made, etc then presumably they are willing to humbly admit that they don’t know. That means all their presuppositions, opinions, emotions and the like that are attached to these political concepts must be put on hold so that they can truly digest and learn what they don’t know.

When I say Americans need to be educated, this is what I mean. American’s need to first face how little they actually know about their government, their government’s founding, their laws, their Constitution, their state governments, their local governments, their political parties, their ideologies, their own beliefs, and their oppositions perspectives.

This acknowledgement allows people to actually learn and is quite different than what most higher education institutions today do. Today, higher education allows students to keep their standing beliefs and understandings while puffing them up with more information to support the belief that no one can challenge their beliefs. When it comes to government, no one will be able to truly learn if this is the way they approach being educated.

Further, opinions shouldn’t be formed on partially completed information. And if they are formed, the opinion holder should acknowledge that his opinion is based on incomplete information.

woman in black long sleeve dress standing on brown concrete pathway

No amount of public education is going to provide Americans with the core virtue needed to learn: humility.

When it comes to the specifics of government and politics, humility is almost never more needed. How different would our conversations be with each other if we were actually willing to see each other as fellow humans who may know something that we do not? How different would it be if people on the right and left both fought to understand each other’s perspectives before fighting for their own because they knew that their education wouldn’t be complete without such an understanding?

How different would it be if Americans accepted that there are facts and there are absolutes? There are absolutes about the U.S. government and the Constitution and our feelings, opinions, thoughts, arguments etc don’t change these absolutes.

So, when I say that Americans need to be educated about their government, I don’t mean all Americans need to go back to college and get a political science degree (although it would help if some of the basics and absolutes that do exist in American politics were taught in school today). I mean that Americans need to have the hunger and humility to realize that they don’t know everything about government but that they need to know.

We, the collective of America, need to be hungry and humble. We need to acknowledge that we’ve alienated our opposition just as much as they’ve alienated us. We need to pause and see our government, with all its flaws and virtues, and realize that the government is the creation of its master, and we’re the masters.

We need to acknowledge that maybe we don’t know what we’re doing. We aren’t all that. We aren’t enlightened, woke or whatever word is used today.

We’re just as much in the dark as every other generation ever was. Until we face that, we’ll never really want to be educated, and therefore we never will be educated.

Conclusion

The public education of the modern era is predicated on anything but humility. So, no, I don’t mean “more public education” when I say Americans need to be educated.

I mean the mere acknowledgment by Americans that their political beliefs might be wrong and that they do need education on the American government. I mean the humility for Americans to face what they don’t know about the government, to face the monster of government they’ve created.

“On education all our lives depend. And few to that, too few, with care attend.” – Benjamin Franklin

The Liberty Belle

1 thought on “The Humility Needed for Real Education”

  1. Unfortunately social media, the internet and opinionated media offer too many in todays society to profess to be expounding facts when it is only inflammatory rhetoric and opinion masked as education. Others in the public eye bend their opinion with the wind for monetary gains, notoriety, help re-election chances, or media hacks pandering to stay relevant like too many right wing politicians and networks we have seen do recently. Lastly the American public have the attention span of a flea and can’t be bothered to read beyond 180 characters.

    “Political conversation I really dislike, and therefore avoid where I can without affection. But when urged by others, I have never conceived to belie my sentiments, or even conceal them. When I am led by conversation to express them I do it with the same independence here which I have practiced everywhere, and which is inseparable from my nature.”………………………….Thomas Jefferson letter to George Washington 19th of June 1796

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