11 July 2007

Heinlein's School for Life

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Those words were written by Robert Heinlein, one of the true giants of science fiction. In it, Heinlein distills the crux of modern education: The transition from specialization--knowing more and more about less and less to increase your value--versus generalization--the development of skills and abilities to meet the ever-increasing pace of change, thus increasing your value.

Reread the list above and note how many you can do. You know what you can and can't do. Now look at what the list covers and ask yourself: How many of these are taught in schools?

The obvious ones jump out at you: Design a building, program a computer and set a bone, for example. There are others that come from life experiences, such as butcher a hog, pitch manure, change a diaper, give and take orders and build a wall. But beyond all that, where do you go to learn how to comfort the dying, to cooperate, to act alone and to die gallantly?

What Heinlein did was encapsulate the obvious notion that a human being is a sum of his or her parts and that by narrowing that person's potential--what "modern" education does--the system actually reduces that human being's overall value.

But also, by extension, Heinlein is saying that no school, no single educational system, is best for preparing and actuating a human being's full potential. I learned to cook becaue My mom insisted I learn at her side. I learned to act alone because I was alone, family and friends 2,400 miles away from Me. I learned to give and take orders by painful exposure to My own drives and rules I often chose to ignore. I learned to comfort the dying out of fear of what the loss would mean to Me, so I actually learned to turn Fear into Love and give it away. None of this I ever learned in school.

On the other hand, balance accounts, analyze a problem and write a sonnet I--didn't--learn in school either. Of Heinlein's list, all I learned in school was to solve equations and start learning how to act alone. Maybe a little about cooperation and a useless surfeit of taking orders.

I'm not the typical student, but then again, neither are you. There are no "typical" students, only students, would-be learners, candidates of potential and for realization. Humor Me by going over the list one more time and tell Me: Would you rather go to Heinlein's "school" or what We call school now?

I already gave you My answer.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

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