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I THINK THEREFORE I'M DANGEROUS!

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This Paper and other "unreasonable" acts got me permanently expelled from Empire State College in New York State:

My and Five Others' Views on the Primary Purposes of Education

When I think about what the primary purposes of education (schooling, Kindergarten through 12th Grade) are, I think of what they often seem to me to actually be in contrast to what I think, feel, and believe, respectively, they should be. The primary purposes of education seem to be presently to babysit, and to inculcate the majority's acceptable social mores of American society. The latter consist of obedience to authority (first and foremost) and thereby to allow others to control one's destiny instead of oneself controlling one's own destiny. Further, schools expect people to follow convention and conventional wisdom in all its forms. It seems that schooling does not even succeed with these (unworthy) purposes.

What I think should be the purposes of education (and schooling) are to allow students to learn self-direction in most things, and so to learn to know when to question authority, rather than simply obeying in all or most things without question. To thereby gain the ability to truly think for themselves apart from what society might say is "right" and "good," even perhaps to learn to better understand what people generally consider "wrong" and/or "bad" both within themselves and the world around them. For, the "wrong" and "bad," if we tell the unvarnished truth about ourselves, are ineradicable parts of each and all of us, as well as the "good" and "right," which we discover very early on, mostly to our individual and collective dismay. To then help students discern if these designations of "right" and "good," "wrong," and "bad" are realties in and of themselves, applicable in some situations, but not others, or outright fallacies.

For instance, I am taking another class at Empire State College called "Thinking about Race, Gender and Class." The first premise one of the textbooks presents is the notion that there is no such reality in any physical sense of separate races among humans at all. I am open-minded in the extreme, and I found this utterly shocking. So, how must others who are much more circumspect and conventional in their thinking react to such scientific evidence?

Most likely, they will do what I did at first, and dispute this with vigor and tenacity (and even much heat!) Unlike me, however, I get the impression that because of a majority's lack of schooling (and life education) in how to actually think logically and systematically, and how to revise deeply (and dearly!) held opinions when they receive new evidence to the contrary, they will not change their opinions to conform to the new information they got.

Most probably won't even understand such statements (as I, at first, didn't until I read further and thought more about them). Finally, the majority of people in whatever social context would not encourage such thought processes. Such thought processes make people too difficult to get along with, disturb the peace of mind of those who were at ease with the old (often mistaken) lines of reasoning, and make for much discomfort, both for the original thinker and her/his interlocutor.

Another example of the last sentence in the previous paragraph is the notion of mental illness that the majority of persons hold in America, and perhaps all over the world, for all I know. There are still psychological professionals (some with impeccable credentials and much scientific evidence to back them up) who argue that such concepts as schizophrenia, bi-polar "disease," and other diagnoses found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that psychological professionals of all stripes use to determine whether people are "mentally ill," are mere social constructs, and like the social construct of race, have no physical or other reality than social. Every single person I have ever asked about the reality of so-called mental illness has stridently affirmed its reality outside of people strongly believing it to be real!

I would now like to move yet further into the social sphere through the topic of this paper and say that I was surprised at the viewpoints of my interviewees. They are all people I have been associating with for years, although rather loosely in two cases, and only for one year in one case. I thought I knew what to expect from these individuals in response to the question, "What do you think, feel, believe, are the primary purposes of education?"

With the consensus of thought that I perceive that our society encourages, whether covertly, overtly, intentionally, or unintentionally, I was sure that I would get the same high-minded response from all my interlocutors. I thought that they would all say something to the effect that the primary purposes of education are to teach people how to think for themselves. In fact only one of my interviewees said this. He is a traditional Episcopal Minister at the Church which owns the apartment building I live in. He has a 9 year old daughter who attends a private "religious" school, as he himself characterized it. In addition to believing that schools should teach people how to think for themselves, he agreed that they don't often achieve that goal.

Another thing that surprised me in my interviewees' responses, was their willingness to respond at all. No one demurred from responding by saying that s/he didn't have an opinion. Also, all responses, even of a retired public elementary school principal, with at least one grown daughter of her own, struck me as vague. The retired principal stated that she felt that the primary purposes of education were to help people live better in all aspects of life, e.g., morally, financially, and socially. I found this vague because, taking on just the departments of life she mentioned, one could very easily debate what "better" means in those contexts.

For instance, is morally better, "blowing the whistle" on something you know to be detrimental that people you have a vested interest with are doing, e.g., the company you work for, your government, other authorities, people you feel emotionally close to and/or beholden to, responsible for, etc. even though you could lose a great deal that you value very highly in the bargain? Does it mean following one's own conscience in the way of the early Christians or blacks during the Civil Rights Movement, when you're in a despised minority and know that you could lose your very life for doing so?

Does living "better" financially mean helping others less fortunate with whatever amount of money one has, or does it mean making as much money as one can and then doing philanthropical things with it, if at all. How about socially? Does it mean moving only in "better" social circles? What does that consist of? Does it consist of people with money, "culture" (whose culture?), high moral standards (which brings us back to our original question) or what? All these things, my retired elementary school principal did not elucidate upon. I think she felt that all "right thinking (feeling, believing)" people would know what she meant, and that common sense would dictate the specifics. However, I'm not so sure about that, as I hope I have made plain in all of the above.

Two other surprising interviewees were a blue (pink) collar school worker and a white collar professional who is the manager of my apartment building. Although there were shades of difference in their responses, I think their responses were basically alike. Their responses were also alike in their being utilitarian in their approach, much like my retired elementary school principal's was, rather than schooling for schooling's sake.

The pink collar school worker stated that the primary purpose of education is to impart knowledge (again, rather vague, i.e., what/which knowledge?) and so that one can pursue one's chosen profession. I tried to make my interviewees understand that we were talking about schooling of children from Kindergarten through 12th grade. However, they did not revise their opinions once they understood this.

The white collar professional manager of my apartment building stated something to the effect that the primary purpose of education is to afford greater social and financial opportunities. Again, this is rather vague. Does education afford a "better," e.g., more stable, fruitful, and fulfilling marriage (it hasn't for me!), "better," e.g., more loyal, trustworthy, helpful, friends and associates, etc.

Finally, I asked a very successful entrepreneur associate of mine, who has four children, what he thought the primary purposes of education are. He seconded me, only in the negative, or present, primary purposes. He said that he believed that the present primary purposes of education are to teach obedience, and how to be a follower instead of a leader, and to learn to let others control one rather than controlling one's own destiny.

I would say that, in the main, from my interviewees' responses, many people have never really thought very deeply about the philosophical aspects of schooling, even the retired elementary school principal, but take as their own, the conventional wisdom about schooling that our society would have us believe. I was surprised at the Episcopal Minister's thought that the primary purpose of education is to teach people to think for themselves because, I don't think, feel, or believe that Christianity, in general, teaches people to think; rather, it teaches people to believe blindly.

As for the entrepreneur, who agreed with me (although in the negative), we are both very strong-willed people who have our own thoughts on how to do things and hence have had our share of clashes in the past. However, we do agree on many things and have kept a friendly demeanor toward each other over many years, in spite of our clashes. So, I was not surprised to hear him agreeing with me.

In summary, I will say that from my interviewees, it seems that two possible reasons for the vagueness of their answers are: 1) many people (no matter how well schooled) do not think very deeply about education (or much of anything else, for that matter), mainly, I believe, because society does not encourage it; or 2) my interviewees simply did not express themselves clearly under the duress of my spontaneous question. The white collar professional manager of my building did originally say that she would like to give me her answer the next day, but emphatically stuck with her original position after I asked her near the end of our conversation if she would like to respond the next day.

As Socrates discovered in ancient Athens, at the cost of his life, most people do not question their assumptions and are violently opposed to anyone asking them to. This Socrates life proved all that long time ago, and mine proves today!

Donna Lee avataress@msn.com