Education at a Crossroads

Alan Cai

August 12, 2022

Long gone are the days of one-room schoolhouses with the whole community’s children learning under the same roof. Even more archaic are the ages when education consisted of either apprentice learning a craft under a master or pupils listening to long lectures from renowned philosophers. Today’s methods of enlightening one’s mind consist of level-based education infused with standardized curriculums and technology. Herbert Spencer, a philosopher who coined “survival of the fittest,” also observed that “the great aim of education is not knowledge but action.” This short paper aims to explore whether modern education has truly fulfilled its basic purpose and whether its modern version is indeed properly functional.

From many perspectives, specific subjects from grade school through graduate school are fundamentally inconsequential. Of history, philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel noted, “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” This is clearly conspicuous as decision-making at any level of society consists of either primitive human needs or, as Dale Carnegie cleverly observed, a necessity for being important or great. Perhaps the only field in which history has a powerful judgment bind is the judiciary(specifically those operating under common law). Math and physics additionally have limited use outside of technology-related fields. Even industries that superficially seem mathematics-heavy (e.g. insurance or accounting), do not require deeper material than basic algebra. To a certain extent, even literature itself does not benefit, in a practical sense, beyond limited improvements to communication norms. In general, the overall purpose for all of these subjects is relatively limited.

Globally, education appears to be drifting toward technology dependence. In many classrooms, books are replaced with film, the text is transcribed in audio, and classrooms are (occasionally) brought online. Although dynamic and undoubtedly easier to use, these two factors do not necessarily benefit education. It should be no surprise that education is regarded as more of an unwanted liability than a benefactor by an astonishing number of individuals. An opportunity to learn about the world must be cherished. Thus, simplicity, greater access to material, and broader fields do not necessarily suit all of the beneficiaries.

As the formalization of the transition of knowledge to the next generation widens, both in scope and in depth, the value it brings for each individual inevitably decreases. The solution to this unspoken dilemma is yet to be discovered, but the answer as Hegel would put it can certainly be found in history.