Crafting an Education

Education. I think it’s appropriate to be at least a little dismayed by your education. I certainly am.

Education should give you the keys to escape your unique prison-maze of the mind. Much of what you endure as “education” will not serve you and will only lead you deeper into the maze. Fortunately, in my education I suffered very little direct indoctrination. The one time I did, in a critical theory class, I didn’t really understand what was happening, just that I needed to quit, and that goes hard with a kid (and at twenty I was very much a kid) who holds it as a core value that ducking any intellectual challenge is weakness and copping out.

I will circle back around to the topic of “important things that we do not generally talk about” again and again. This is one. For me, it might be _the one_, because getting educated practically equates to my purpose in life. It’s taken me almost fifty years to reach some clarity for myself about its value and how to pursue it.

You will read many articles, especially in right-wing media, decrying the worthlessness of liberal arts education, often in connection with the topic of publicly funded higher education. A few of my right-wing friends will concede that we should subsidize STEM education, because it leads to jobs that serve basic human needs, but will argue that we shouldn’t be paying for expensive education in the humanities. I have sympathy for their perspective, but my beef with the humanities, as a computer programmer with a degree in English, with more training in the humanities than in tech, isn’t so much that they don’t train one in practical skill, but that they neglect concerns of artistic craft and fill the void with political rhetoric that bewilders and misdirects. The walls of the maze are concretized by politics. Yes, you need the cooperation of other people to accomplish important social goals, but you do not need ideology. Seek to build a coherent philosophy for yourself, but reject a coherent politics, or sooner or later you will come to an angsty pass where you must choose between your values and your “allies.” Politics is not a substitute for philosophy.

So why do humanities departments neglect craft in favor of rhetoric? To me, this is a very important question. I suspect because craft in the humanities is extremely hard. Linguistics is so hard that after you’ve learned a few different languages and taken apart their grammar (hard), you really need to do a deep, cross-disciplinary study in neurology and information science to be said to tackle it. Writing is hard. Drawing is hard. Critical theory is not just hard; it’s impossible — so impossible that if you scrub the politics and rhetorical word-salad out of it, you’re left with linguistics, philosophy, and psychology. I realized in my senior year of college that I’d made a grave mistake in my chosen course of study when I got up and interrogated my fellow students during class and found that they did not know basic English grammar. (What an asshole thing to do, right?)

The disingenuous value proposition of rhetoric teachers enamored of critical theory is they will teach you to better express yourself. They will do the _opposite._ I don’t really want to argue this admittedly political point. I’ll let Steven Pinker do it for me. Read the first few chapters of The Sense of Style.

So how can education help us free ourselves and what should we be teaching and learning, and where should we seek instruction?

About robertpkruger

Writer, editor, and software developer. Former president of ElectricStory.com.
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