Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Why Education is Useless

“Tradition encourages us to think that those who are book smart are lacking in street smarts. We are inclined to think that even if [intellectuals] hearts[s] are in the right place, their heads are in the clouds.” Daniel Cottom

I was researching and wandering the aisles at the library downtown Cleveland Public Library Branch on yet another cold, rainy Saturday afternoon when a homeless man at a nearby table woke from his nap with a start. “Where am I?” he asked, looking around.

I doubt that he viewed that as an existential question, but if he had looked at me he might have seen through my reading glasses a precise reflection of the same emotion, lost as I was in a forest of pedagogy. In fact, we might have engaged in some discourse around the topic of “where am I” except his head promptly dropped back into the cave of his arms, sound asleep. I know this posture, I’ve seen it in many classrooms.

Shelves of books on learning and teaching strategies boasting advanced degrees on their spines inhabit this well-lit library. I say inhabit because frankly, they don’t get out much. From the Idiot’s Guide to Home Schooling (doesn’t one preclude the other?) to graphs and scientific studies written by the well-educated and well-intentioned, it appears that the paths between and around student desks are well-traveled, mapped by educators dating back to Aristotle.

I looked from the shelves back to the homeless man and thought, what do all these high-minded words have to do with the reality of that man’s life? Beyond that, with the reality of the lives of the grocery store clerks, police officers, parents and gum popping teenagers of the world? Some of these authors are icons of their field, famous among teachers, but unknown to the (can I say it?) real world. These educators are never on MTV, the cover of People Magazine or My Space. As Frank McCourt pointed out during an appearance on Leno, he never would have been invited to the Tonight Show when he was just a teacher. Teachers don’t get that much media attention unless they behave in a manner that forces their districts to urge them to seek other career opportunities. Not only do most regular folks not know these pedagogical pundits, they are frankly suspicious of them. Bunch of “effete intellectual snobs,” to quote former Vice President Spiro T. Agnew.

My eyes scanned the shelves in my own practiced brand of researching that I call, Random Meandering, the most evident characteristic of which is its inefficiency, and I picked up a book titled Why Education is Useless, by some college professor named Daniel Cotton. I don’t know him, but he is a university type, therefore I’m suspicious. I sat down with the book expecting him to be pompous and me to be bored. How’s that for prejudice? I mention this to show how pervasive the hostility toward the educated really is. I felt it and I’m an educator. Good grief.

But I have to say, the Introduction of Why Education is Useless is worth checking out at your own library. It provides a classic example of motivation through opposing argument and is helpful if you have ever lifted your head up to look around and wondered (bellowed?) “Where am I?”

It is also very quotable and well-documented -- an excellent research find. It is just this kind of random success that encourages me to keep wandering aisles. Not sure if that is good or bad, but it is certainly more rewarding AND time consuming than shopping databases.

4 comments:

Jill said...

Sara - I arrived here via Brewed Fresh Daily. I really love this entry and your work and attitude are very fun. Thanks for keeping our blog spot.

Danesh said...

In my view the educated people(as they say) are the most idiots in the planet because they are following theories and regulations which someone has recommended. Isn’t it better to be free of other’s prescriptions than following them blindly?

mala said...

I totally agree with you. If one uses his time wasted in education in something productive, he can be a rich man at age of 40. Education takes too long and it is useless unless you can be a doctor.

Anonymous said...

My limited experience in the belly of the beast has confused me. My experience is as a shop teacher who's kids produced volumes of work. I was distrusted because I was good with my hands, and because I was too literate. My principal mumbled to me one day "you must read an awful lot." I was teaching in a Native American school. We were there to save the poor Indians. Every time I went to the book store I saw Natives Americans browsing. NEVER have I seen a school administrator in a book store. We white folks in the school looked down on the Indians but in most ways they were smarter than us. The Indians are smart calm focused non materialistic. We were a bunch of ADHD and caffeine addled Americans who thought way too much of ourselves. Most of us couldn't butcher an animal to save our lives couldn't fix a car, couldn't work with our hands.
I wonder were we there to lift the Indians up or to hold them down under the weight of formal education. I found kids who were considered unsuccessful students to be geniuses in shop class.
How could we be so wrong about a people and so many students. Get this my principal didn't know who Russel Means was. Administrators in an Indian school with NO knowledge of Indian history.
Why are these "literate" people so illiterate?