user page: 3229
Major: liberal arts
School: St. John's College, Annapolis, MD
a recent thread about education styles
This discussion is one of the few non-political threads about which I've become truly passionate. For one, my college choice is quite unconventional. All students do at St. John's is read the Great Books of western civilization and discuss them. To learn math, they read Newton and Descartes. Chemistry, Lavoisier. To learn about their own convictions, they read about other great thinkers' convictions and appropriate what works for them. The school is also tiny; 500 students at each of two campuses, one in Maryland, one in New Mexico. The size affords a better situation in which to learn from your peers.
But this is not my college admission essay. In this thread, I defended the Sudbury Valley school because it felt like a personal attack. I have friends going to community colleges, I have friends going to Stanford, but we all have one thing in common: we all chose our schools and will defend them fiercely. I personally would never attend an Ivy League school, but that by no means implies that no one should, or that I'm any less happy for my friends who will be attending said schools next year. Education is all about personal choice because everyone learns and lives differently.
The 'lives' portion of that statement, however, is the even deeper motivation behind my post. I have gotten quite sick of people saying precisely what others need to learn. I work at Kmart after school and on weekends to earn money, and at first I had a rather superior attitude about it. After all, one doesn't exactly think of Kmart as a repository of knowledge. I kept to myself and was generally very quiet. I just didn't feel like I fit in, and I certainly didn't feel like I had anything to add to the conversation.
I'll have been there two years come July, and in those two years, I've opened up a bit and even had a relationship with a coworker. As soon as I started talking to people, I realized exactly how wrong I had been. Yes, I got strange looks when I did calc homework in the break room. But these people are not stupid. You don't have to be stupid to not know calc. I realized that most of them were happy with their lives. I noticed how much more they talked about their families than people I was used to being around. I realized that happiness was far more important than education.
However, this thread made me amend my conclusion. I had begun to take a "learn what you want" approach to education, and while I still believe in that philosophy, Kindall's comment about growing up ignorant jarred me a bit. I know it was a rather self-evident statement, but it did make me think a little harder about my philosophies. Surely we can't all just go running around knowing only about the things that interest us.
So I amended my philosophy. I think the only education that is truly necessary to a successful life is the ability to reason critically. If you know how to think critically about things, you will almost always be successful. I may not agree with the position you take, but if you have arrived at it through a legitimate process, I will respect it.
...Which leads me to another point. One thing I have discovered about discourse on Metafilter is that the nature of these conversations is benign in nature, regardless of the outcome. Even when they degenerate into pedantic squabbles (to which I have been a party to, admittedly), they are usually based on the idea of trying to understand each other. Why else would I waste fifteen minutes of my day asking aaron questions about his relatively conservative standpoint? I certainly don't expect to ever change his mind. What drives discussion is the desire to understand. I want to know why he thinks what he does. Perhaps he's right. The only way I'll ever know is to ask and to keep myself open-minded enough to accept when someone with whom I previously disagreed has made a good point. I don't always do the best job of it, but I always feel so good when I finally accept it.
In this case, I'm not sure my post really influenced the discussion. I think I added some personal insight from a side that hadn't been particularly active in the conversation (that of a student about to attend an alternative-type school), but I'm sure I didn't rock anyone's world. I believe I have influenced discussions in the past, but this is one of the only threads anywhere online that has ever influenced any part of my personal philosophy, and I was so struck by the power of that discussion that I felt it more important than my own powers of influence. Metafilter is truly a powerful tool, but I think that power stems from the maturity and intelligence of its users. There's always a bad apple, but we have so few! My favorite part of Metafilter is that if people read this essay, they will probably already know all of the things I'm saying about effective discourse. This will not be ground-shaking. And that is truly admirable.
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