Education is not a prerogative of the fortunate who have been born into comfortably well-to-do socioeconomic families or, if deprived, sponsored by goodwill fairylike patrons for splendidly expensive private higher education. It is not a status symbol to distinguish the fortunate from the melee in ostentations display of their supposedly high intelligence, dazzling scholastic aptitude, and a means to continue such expensive education as a symbol of confidence, competence, and cleverness.
But Joshua Angrist, an Israeli-American Nobel laureate in Economics of the year 2021, doesn’t think that way, not least because those who enter expensive elite schools are already brighter than their ordinary or troubled peers. The Nobel-Prized theory of education in the context of the selective admission process has become a concrete, incorruptible credo for the elite academic institutions and enflamed the already swelled up egos of the diploma holders doing well in their lives. When I read about him from today’s newspaper, I had to re-read his saying that “the reason graduates of those schools tend to do well has more to do with selective admission than education.” I understand his intention to demystify social legend that an Ivy-league diploma will guarantee you lifelong flowery roads to financial security and commensurate social status. However, it has more to do with his defense of continuous selective criteria to muster a pool of academically, and usually economically affluent, prospective students than anything else. What he argues is, “Don’t mess with the elite schools’ admission processing, for they select only the smartest ones!” Therefore, his argument calls for changing social agendas for changing such selective admissions to improve public education.
Angrist himself is a product of privileged education that some people wear like fancy hats on their pointed heads. He went to Oberlin College for BA and Princeton University for MA, Ph D. He teaches at Harvard University, which has become the infallibly supreme Ivory Tower in the States and most East Asian countries. Based upon Angrist’s focus on causality and effects on social impacts, it will be natural for him to defend the selective admission process, and I say go for it.
But it irks me to read from the Nobel laureate that supreme education is not for everybody. Since Angrist prides himself in employing real-world empirical evidence in his theory, does he marginalize those who have ambitions and aspirations to receive such quality education but are disadvantaged of the opportunities to learn the skills apt for demonstrating their minds? What about them, and how can he help them to access such opportunities? He’s not a social worker, which I don’t think he will not be pleased to be associated with even, but as an intellectual, he has a social responsibility to answer such vital issues. And if this unequal distribution of privileged educational opportunities is not worth studying, I wonder if those Nobel Prize panels thought his opuses deserve such international recognition. After all, Economics always comes last in the Nobel Prizes, with its being on the criteria most recently in the late sixties mainly begetting Americans.
“I’ll teach you differences,” said King Lear as his motto of philosophical investigations in Shakespeare’s eponymous play. I imagine the ghost of King Lear would utter it again when he deigned to come to our realities of universities in this time. The importance of responsible education to remove the social ills and carbuncles resulting from dissentious political domination has never been more conspicuously called for in our high learning institutions as a recent consequence of the George Floyd incident, and the following the Black Lives Matter movement. However, this doesn’t mean that universities should be a breeding ground for training gladiators equipped with political syllabuses and dogmatic agendas to fight against the public foes. Instead, education should disabuse the ignorance of the unenlightened for our society’s universal betterment.
Professor Benjamin Y. Fong, in his NY Times article “Teaching Racial Justice isn’t Racial Justice,” addressed the issue of education as the fighting tool. It has become fashionable that most American universities have competingly added courses on social injustice to the Black Lives Matter movement. However, the idea of education is to provide students opportunities to learn and actively engage with conflicting thoughts and various real-life issues in a place enriched with knowledge linked with the fellow members of the human race from antiquity. In this environment, a university is a place for education that can improve social conditions in the fight against social, political carbuncles, not for the battle itself, training students for social gladiators.
Many universities are focused on the quantitative quota of educational syllabuses aimed for the universities’ reputations as the most liberal and forward-thinking higher-learning institutions for the socially recognized prestige, not the qualitative aspect of the education of the minds. It is not the textual syllabuses filled with political ideologies and social campaigns. Still, the practical teaching of various conservative and progressive considerations enables students to incorporate the learning to their perspectives. Education serves to articulate ideas based on the standard of reason and taste universal in all human creatures regarding the principles of judgment and sentiment common to all humankind.
Suppose we want our higher learning institutions to remedy the existing ills of our social and political realities by implementing more social justice courses. In that case, we must first understand the fact that education itself is not the fight itself. Neither Plato’s academy nor Aristotle’s lyceum was a place for the battle against the absurdities of Man. Or even the beloved, peripatetic Socrates did not use his open universities in Athens as a place for campaigning against the government hostile to his philosophy. Remember that there is no new thing under the sun as long as we as the collective enterprise called Humanity continue to voyage in the Universe.
Ignorance is the timorous and indolent plight from fear because knowledge is considered to be remotely extensive and inscrutable to be comprehended. It retards the progress of the mind and numbs the sense. Samuel Johnson avers in his weekly essay ‘The Rambler, No. 137’ avers that one remains unenlightened unless he is diligent to search for the origin of wonder with a pause of reason, a sudden cessation of mental progress when confronting the unknown to him. The need for general knowledge, the knowledge that confers Citizenship of the World, is an essential element of human characteristics, and an easy task to fulfill in search of meaning in life.
Johnson’s idea of knowledge is simplicity. It is jettisoned from a concatenation of needless abstrusely sophisticated theories and ideologies. It also chimes the bell with the Renaissance virtuoso Leonard da Vinci’s adage that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication in all principles. However intimidating or formidable the unknown is, the essential feature is simple to understand by way of ‘Divide and Conquer,” a principle that complication is a confederacy of the abstruse that can be broken into parts marked by the gradations from the first agent to the last consequence. The force that breaks the shackle of fear for conquering the unknown huddle is patient diligence armored in confidence. The labor of inquiry for wonder follows natural curiosity and confidence that eclipses the soul’s darkness. It comes to fruition by ceaseless efforts to ascertain the origin of the wonder in simple ways. The English philosopher who also advocated democratic pedagogy, John Locke, affirms that the surest way of thorough comprehension knowledge is to attempt little by way of repetition. For the widest excursions of the mind result from short flights of mental imagery and instant thoughts triggered by neurons fired in our cerebral cortex, which can be transformed into an organization of ideas firmly engraved in the mind.
However, knowledge loses its purpose if it dissipates into the possessor’s cerebral ether or is locked in the mind’s cabinet. It becomes useful and purposeful when put into practice. That is why Johnson gives heed to those who pride themselves in the impressive educational backgrounds and belittle others whose mental capacities they arbitrarily judge ignorable or even ordinary. Knowledge is for share, and it is a duty of a scholar who has a wider variety of knowledge through years of academic endeavors for the common benefits of the world he lives in. As Francis Bacon fittingly concurs, books can never teach the use of books. Generally speaking, it is common for intellectuals, despite their ostensible calls for democracy and justice for all, to live out of touch with the practical realities of life and often regard such matters as trifles. But what is worthy of their glorious learning if it does not accommodate the purpose of life? Johnson criticizes such lofty arrogance of the rarified subset of the general population because they lose their days in unsocial silence and live in the crowd of life without a touch of humanity. It also reminds me of Bacon’s utterance of loneliness in a group as such: “Magna Civitas, Magna solitudo.” In this regard, George Orwell is together with Johnson because they saw the educated’s superciliousness, the intellectuals, who often conferred their knowledge to their honor in the voluntary seclusion.
Upon reading Johnson’s essay, I could not help but wholeheartedly agree with the purpose of knowledge and the idea of sharing it with others for the world’s common good. I was also glad to learn that I was not the only one who thought that people with academic credentials were frequently dismissive of the opinions of what they regarded as the mortals of the ordinary among whom I am. Therefore, I hope that the reader who reads this essay of mine should not belittle the soul attempting to obtain the sunshine of the light of letters to understand the world in a perspicuous way to declare to the world that I also can think and express it cogently. That is my essay on knowledge for the purpose of life.
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