Don’t Let Your Education Become Arrogance

This morning my attention was grabbed by a post on social media wherein the person posting claimed that his view of a particular event was more accurate than other views being shared and when asked why he felt his was more accurate, his response was, “Because my level of education is higher than yours, therefore I understand the intricacies better.” The interaction made me stop and think. What I ultimately came away with was 1) the question I’m trying to answer, and 2) the outlook I find value in.

Before either, I’d like to share some past experiences that made me wonder about the actual value of a formal education or what is commonly called “book smarts.” I had the benefit of going to a private high school that was (and remains) well known for the quality of education it delivered to students. While I felt I was an intelligent individual, there were students in the school with far more innate intelligence than I. I’m talking about high school freshmen who were going to the nearby university for their math classes because they’d already finished Calculus III (differential equations) and needed a place to take the next level up course. One thing I observed about those students was that, in spite of their obviously greater level of intelligence in a particular discipline (in this case, mathematics), they sometimes didn’t have enough common sense to tie their shoes or close car doors when they got out. Seeing such behaviors, on a pretty regular basis, made me wonder about the balance of book smarts versus common sense. Then I realized that it wasn’t the education to be blamed; it was the student’s focus and placement of priorities.

Those students prioritized their education so much that they simply didn’t pay attention to some day-to-day matters in life. I always felt that they should pay more attention to the day-to-day things. After all, neglecting some of them might cause harm, damage or get you killed. Things like forgetting to turn off the stove, leaving your doors unlocked or not checking for traffic before you cross the street. I later read a quote credited to Albert Einstein, unarguably one of history’s most intelligent people, that said: “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” I had to think about that one for a while before I came to the understanding that perhaps Einstein meant education is a good foundation so that you can learn from your experiences in life. It serves as a filter as you continue to learn and THAT is true education.  Maybe?

As I moved through life after high school, my career took me into contact with thousands of people I’d never previously met, usually not under the best of circumstances. At every opportunity I tried to learn something whether it was from the people, the encounter, the situation or the outcome. I always viewed constant learning as proof of life. I once commented that people don’t start to die until they stop learning. It stroked my own ego in a big way when I found this quote, also credited to Albert Einstein. “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” I took notice of the fact that he didn’t specify “educational growth,” but intellectual growth instead. I had to go look up the definition of “intellect” so I could insure my understanding of his statement.

According to dictionary.com: “Intellect” – the power or faculty of the mind by which one knows or understands, as distinguished from that by which one feels and that by which one wills; the understanding; the faculty of thinking and acquiring knowledge.

So, if I understand Einstein correctly, we should start learning the day we’re born and not stop until the day we die. Got it. Cool. But then I found this quote from him and was confused. “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.” I had always believed that education was two things: the process by which you learned AND the overall content of what you had learned. It took me quite some time and quite a bit of thought, looking at other quotes (like that first one above) from the genius Einstein before I realized what I think he meant. All too often, what we’re taught in school is taught as concrete; inflexible; inviolate. It’s taught as the end-all be-all fact of the way something is and there’s little to no encouragement to look beyond it and see what could be. If anything, Einstein is surely known for his work on what could be.

And having become famous for his work/theories on what could be, Einstein commented, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” He fed his curiosity by continuing to learn, but he did so viewing his basic education as a foundation to build upon and not a structure to contain his thought process.  Interesting.

Now, let me go back to where I started: This morning my attention was grabbed by a post on social media wherein the person posting claimed that his view of a particular event was more accurate than other views being shared and when asked why he felt his was more accurate, his response was, “Because my level of education is higher than yours, therefore I understand the intricacies better.” The interaction made me stop and think.

In this case, the posts were part political opinion and part (allegedly) factual discussion. The person who claimed the opinion of higher value due to higher education made two assumptions that I find quite dangerous. First, he obviously assumed he held the higher education. In the world of social media wherein someone might be having a discussion with a total stranger from a different country on a different continent, that’s far from a safe assumption. Second, he assumed that holding a higher education automatically delivered a greater value to the opinion he offered. That too is a dangerous and inaccurate belief to hold. Even Einstein and Stephen Hawking would have disagreed on a few things. A higher level of education; a greater level of intellect… neither affords an automatic increase in value of personal opinion.

As I pondered that I came to realize that there are a great many people, in my experience, who believe that having a higher level of education gives their opinion greater value or validity. As I continued to ponder it I realized that other people seem to believe that their opinion is of greater value because they are “of higher enlightenment” based on where they live, what they do for a living, what cultural background they are of, or whatever. For some reason, they think of themselves as more enlightened and they look down on those who disagree with them; referring to those people as “less enlightened,” or “incapable of understanding.”

Such arrogance in the face of a differing opinion seems to me to be indicative of a weak mind. If you voice an opinion, you should be able to support it with more than (essentially), “I’m smarter than you therefore I’m right.” I hate to be the one to tell folks this, but even the idea that you’re smarter than someone else is your opinion. One of the dangers of higher education is the arrogance that can accompany it if our ego isn’t kept in check.

It’s just a thought…

 

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