Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Foucault's Revenge?

When undergoing the process of education, we are often confronted with new concepts that undermine our creativity. Instead of being asked, at this point, what direction we wish to go, we are again guided by the fatherly hand of the educational system. While there is nothing inherently wrong with assistance – one would imagine as the student reaches the maturing age of 18, they may be capable of some form of autonomy. That is – can’t we begin to make our own choices? Can we begin to be taken seriously?

And to elaborate, I wish to make a difference between two fundamentally different points of view. I am not saying: Let us do what we want! Why? Because we can! I am saying, we are able now to make independent, rational decisions. After our k-12 education, what have we learned? What are we informed about? If this is a step toward some form of maturity, should we not be able to follow our own passion? Our own talent? And secondly, do these institutions in which we trust to impart knowledge to us on livelihood, actually live up to their end of the bargain? If they do not help us gain some form of independence and creativity- or even self knowledge, what on earth are we learning?

There is a major flaw in our schools today. They are not inherently wrong, nor are they necessarily failing to understand how to impart knowledge and discipline. That is, at a particular level. What the educational system may be lacking is the ability to identify diversity of intelligence. I may be book smart, but am I socially inept? What are my strengths and weaknesses? Am I creative, logical, or both? Which is my strongest point, and which passion will drive me to succeed happily in my given field?

When we absorb ourselves in knowledge, I think it is very important not to forget the very nature of what we are doing. The accumulation of information, like a computer or database, or library of any sort – does not necessarily bring understanding or even self-knowledge. Our schools, it seems, appear to be very skilled in downloading large amounts of data into our minds, teaching us how to apply these crafts in tests. We become a kind of automaton. The more we open ourselves to the crafters, the more we resonate with their preferred attitudes, beliefs and knowledge. All the while, we believe are inheriting some form of individuality.

Yet, such an action, when it comes down to what is really going on, can be likened to a game of collectors. Everyone is given as much “stuff” as they can fit into their heads – piling it all up as uniquely and cleverly as possible. And the institution encourages this behavior, so when you’ve got quite a lot of “stuff” and have piled it as efficiently as the professor can judge, you are rewarded! In other words, you say, “My stuff is piled the best!” And argue your point.

Yet, if anyone asked: “That’s all well and good ‘stuff,’ but show me YOU.”

I’m afraid that the pile would only come crumbling down – and what would you be left with? The “student,” is itself just a label, another piece of “stuff” that the rest of the pile is tagged with. So, when someone asks you: Who are you? Are you going to give them another title, another bit of ‘stuff,’ or will you be able to answer them dynamically and authentically?

The answer of course, would be no, we are not asked to discover who we are. We are expected to decide what we wish to become. Instead, like some sort of magnet, we are expected to roll around in the bountiful knowledge they have given us and form some kind of coherent picture. There is a reason for this, and it is embedded deep in our culture: We feel the need to achieve, to gain, to become. We are not satisfied with leaving things as they are. It is considered immoral, lazy and inept. Yet, we must ask ourselves: Is this what we truly believe? Or is this all we know? Maybe there is a completely different way to grow as a human being.

Essentially, our schools work for “becoming,” but reject “being,” when in fact both are necessary parts of our existence.

The Yin-Yang symbol in America has become an icon for alternative thought. But I wonder, do we understand this symbol in its entirety, or have we ever compared its meaning to our own symbology? In eastern philosophy, yin-yang is an inseparable dynamic of both doing and being, day and night, action and passivity. It is the contraction and expansion of the cosmos in their entirety, swirling together in one dynamic whole. What our culture seems to be enchanted with is one half of the circle, seeing the world in a very specific way.

We might find it surprising to realize that the very action of “becoming,” has made a mess of our civilization. We wonder why our suicide rate is so high in the U.S., why we have a failing educational system and continuously fragmented political system. We have yet to, for a moment, sit back and observe things as they are. The tags have never been left on the table for a moment while we take in the whole picture. The importance of listening has all but been forgotten, an in its place we are shouting, quite loudly, through the process of analytical thinking and rationalization, idealization. We see through a world of labels, forgetting that all such terms are in fact created. We need them to communicate and navigate, but equally we need the value of silence – in order to listen and connect. The yang must be balanced with the yin. It is in humanity’s best interest that it learns one of the most important skills of all – silence.


Bob said...

Hindsight being twenty-twenty, I can say that I learned very little of lasting value in highschool and college, aside from social lessons and how to live on my own. In fact, I remember next to nothing of my course work, my high grades being little more than displays of mental gymnastics.

Graduate school (at the very impractical and unconventional California Institute of Integral Studies) was the first time I was encouraged to think and experience things for myself, the first time I was free to follow my own instincts and passions.

With access to information being what it is these days, I seriously wonder if it wouldn't be better to set kids free from compulsory education as soon as they learn to read, think critically, do basic math skills, and use the internet.

Who knows? Perhaps my total disillusionment with academia and the status quo was a necessary step in my own process of intellectual development. In any event, Shaman Sun, keep inquiring and expressing yourself authentically (like you've been doing on this blog) and your life will get very interesting, regardless of what you do.

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