Rebirth of Reason

The Good Life

The Self-Educated Soul
by Matthew Graybosch

Labor Day has just passed here in the United States. Among other things, this means that children across the nation are returning to school for another year of "education". It is another year wasted; the schools attempt to accomplish the impossible by force-feeding knowledge to children unwilling to think while denying knowledge to children to whom thought is as natural and life-giving a process as breathing.

I have noticed, from conversations with my family and co-workers, that to most people "education" is a package-deal that consists mainly of marching off to an ugly building without anything resembling sane temperature control, sitting in uncomfortable little chairs in neat little ranks and files, and listening to a teacher lecture for an hour or so. The end of the hour is signalled by a harsh bell, and students then march off to another little room filled with uncomfortable little chairs in neat little ranks and files.

While doing my time in the public schools, I wondered what the school hoped to accomplish by trying to stuff knowledge into me as if I were a bottle on a conveyor belt to be filled. I did not understand why I could not indulge my curiosity and learn what I felt I needed to know. In history classes I would chafe. I cared nothing for the civilisations of ancient Africa; I wanted to explore the parallels between medieval Europe and Japan under the Tokugawa shogunate. Nor was that all I wanted to know.

However, I did not get what I wanted from the school, a place that was supposed to be a place where knowledge could be found. Instead, I received facts in disjointed piles -- a heap of broken images that I must reassemble in order to use. I did not get what I wanted; I got what the school wanted me to have: not a true education, but schooling.

Fortunately, I had access to a large lending library. I would spend my weekends at the library, browsing through the adults' section for books that interested me. The factual knowledge I obtained was often jumbled; I had tried, for example, to understand Einstein before I fully understood Newton. However, I had grasped a much more fundamental lesson: knowledge was available for the taking, and all I needed to do was find the right book, read it, and apply the knowledge I had gained.

Ayn Rand wrote in "Philosophy and Sense of Life", from The Romantic Manifesto, that "Man is a being of self-made soul..." She wrote of the various conclusions a man makes regarding which principles he accepts and applies. However, there is more to it. Man is not only a being of self-made soul, he is also a self-educated soul.

I have heard it said in humorous context that one "can lead a man to knowledge, but you can't make him think". This is true, and goes double for learning. You can place a child in a library that would dwarf that which once stood in Alexandria, but he will remain ignorant if he refuses to seek out the knowledge around him.

I think that not only is a man is the sum of the principles he has accepted as important and the choices he has made over the course of his life, but he is also the sum of the knowledge he has sought over the course of his life. Just as the soul of a hero is vastly different from the soul of a savage, so is the soul of a man who has read Newton and Aristotle different from that of a man who has heard of neither.

The soul of an educated person is different from the soul of an ignoramus. But schooling cannot educate a man; he must find knowledge on his own and make the effort to absorb and apply it. A person who wants to understand the world around him cannot seek schooling from others; he must walk the steeper path and educate himself. I think, as I consider what I have read of Stephen Wolfram's A New Kind of Science that the steeper path is a more rewarding path, and that the price is worth paying.

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