The Impossibility of Learnin’ the Whole Day Through

Respect the Classics, Man!” – Fillmore (George Carlin) from the Pixar/Disney Movie Cars.

Full disclosure: my parents are both teachers, and I am the eldest of five children. I am old enough to have been tested, prodded and tracked through preschool and K-12. It was mandatory to read “classic” literature in both junior high school and high school.  In addition (pun intended), the math, science and social studies / history tracks weren’t to be trifled with either.

So, at the end of the day, did I leave high school smarter than my sons, 30 years later? Perhaps not smarter, but surely better prepared.  

Here’s why: 

My education (and parents) constantly taught me that because I was literate, there was nothing except lack of effort to get in the way of learning anything I wished to learn. Period.

Author and New Yorker columnist Malcolm Gladwell has his theory of 10,000 hours to be really good at anything.  Add the two together and voila! With literacy and effort, the world should be anyone’s oyster.   At least anyone who is highly motivated.   Therein lies the rub, I think.  So many are satisfied with being less than majorly motivated.  And why shouldn’t they be? I mean, the backstops are nearly endless in contemporary society and for at least a few generations, we have socialized a great many to believe that everyone wins, and to be entitled—to just about anything.

All of this hugely comes from thirty years of modern education.  And now, with 1:1 initiatives (every kid gets a laptop or pad computer) and electronic support in nearly every classroom, there’s even more diversion.

Where is the drive to compete…at the very least with ones self?

Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of a smart classroom… one bristling with nearly unlimited options for the intake of information…but without the formation of process and without many years of structured context, what does it matter? I have commented before in this blog about the unfortunate under-utilization (or at least miss utilization) of information technologies. But it is now getting beyond serious and seriously expensive.  Case in point… my State of Vermont had two high profile technical black eyes in 2012: information systems were contracted for, planned and paid for by two state agencies, the Department of Motor Vehicles and Judiciary (Courts) Systems and neither worked. $10M in taxpayer monies!  Where is the public outcry?  How is it possible that the State of Vermont didn’t have folks on staff with enough technical knowledge to properly evaluate the original contractor(s) and monitor ongoing developments. Further, why wasn’t payment based upon the successful completion of project? Really? I can only believe that ignorance won the day. 

Which brings me back to structure context:  the ability to see the forest for the trees, to know that gravity is the law, and simple physics makes driving while sending text messages or yacking on a cell phone beyond risky.

There isn’t a single day of my entire life that I haven’t learned at least one thing. Most days, I learn a pant load.  Okay, good for me.   But, I know a huge pile of friends and associates that have the same perspective and carefully evaluate and filter through the noise—and constantly evaluate (adding and subtracting as updated information is acquired) their own conclusions!  

Not many are under 30 years of age, however.  If I were a card carrying conspiracy theorist, I’d be thinking this was the plan all along.  The gentle herding of populations into a narrow-spectrum, filtered media, fantasy world—with cheap ass burgers and fries and the most fabulous object in the world, available at your nearest WalMart.  Since I was a teenager, I have heard the whispers of shadow governments, the Rothschild networks, Illuminati, etc., etc.   Blah Blah Blah.  Haven’t we all.   If only world history and each day’s passing could be qualified and quantified with such simplicity.

I believe the place to start in education is to realize what made the greatest inroads to world literacy in the history of the world: the classics (and the British Empire…Queen Victoria did have a solid understanding of exporting the Queen’s English).   I have read many accounts that put the highest percentage of world population who could read and write in the early 20th century.

What, so we have LESS literacy now?

Yes. Movies. Radio. Television. Internet. We move content (note I am careful to not say ideas, because so much content doesn’t merit such an illustrious noun) around the planet instantaneously and indiscriminately.  And it seems so very few know how to EVALUATE any of it. 

This is what the classics (and my parents) taught me:  consideration, evaluation and a certain amount of empathy. You can’t read Les Miserables thoroughly without feeling something.  And, you can’t understand the difference of dropping a car or a human being out of the tail of a C-130 cargo aircraft if you haven’t dropped a penny and feather in a vacuum tube.

And, yes, you do want fries with that.


About pbwilder

Over halfway to 100 years old. Finally have enough perspective on life to start pontificating, mostly for my own amusement. If folks find ideas of interest, send money. No, seriously, join in. Life without ideas is like milk without Toll House cookies. - PBW
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