Recently, I read an entirely horrifying article on a conservative Catholic website arguing that women do not need a college education. After venting my religious spleen about it in the post titled "Kingdom Come?" on my other blog transforming common days, I started contemplating what a difference higher education has made in my life. How has it shaped who I am and directed me to where I am and guided how I think about, well, pretty much everything?
We'd need a really long bullet list to cover this subject fully, so for this post, I'm going to share just a few random observations celebrating how education changed my life, and then you are invited to share your own.
*Education lifted me up. In my teens, when depression was eating my soul, I found amazing comfort in textbooks. Every time a book opened in front of me, an adventure awaited that would take me out of my misery and into places I could make my own. The world of Math taught me the certainty of numbers and formulas, the Pythagorean theorem that always gives the right answer, the joy of tangents, and the calculus needed to find the area under a curve.
The world of Chemistry gave me a glimpse into the secrets of matter and a healthy understanding of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle...a principle that applies to a lot more than just electrons, actually. Being in the world of Chemistry also taught me the value of clean beakers, Bunsen burners, ventilation hoods, and sniffing very carefully so as not to burn your sinuses.
The world of Literature gave me human truth in the form of story and verse. It showed me how people relate to one another and how and why those relationships go wrong, get made right, grow, change, end. It showed me how other people think, the value and strength of humility, the high price of arrogance, and the consequences of actions and words. It showed me human dignity, human dignity denied, and human dignity recovered. I learned that bawdy millers tell better stories than squires with fancy footwear, that boarding schools can be dangerous places, and that killing your brother and marrying his wife might sound like a good idea at the time, but it can only end badly for you and everyone else, too.
The world of History gave me my past, our past, our collective story of triumph and despair, nobility and nastiness, evolution and devolution. In that world, I saw how the pharaohs built the pyramids and how hieroglyphics worked and how a hooked tool could remove brains through a nose during mummification. I learned how important leadership is and how important trust, honesty, loyalty, and common goals are. I learned why it's important to vote and why the words life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are more than just words.
The world of Biology gave me an understanding of complex systems and showed me the miracle of life in all its diverse forms should never, ever be taken for granted. It showed me that there's a universe in a single drop of pond water and therefore never to assume what I see is ever the whole picture. Biology showed me how muscles contract at the molecular level and how the health of a reef on the other side of the world matters to me here in Ohio. It taught me that even if you name your fetal pig after a perfume, it will still smell like formaldehyde, but that doesn't make it any less fascinating.
How can anyone get bored or stay depressed in such worlds as these?
*Education humbled me. The more I learn, the more I know that I know nothing. Socrates said that first. He was right. Every time I think I have a full grasp of something, new perspectives pop up, new ways of looking at the thing. Just think how biologists used to believe that animals didn't have feelings until they looked at animal brains using functional MRI and discovered they do. Just think how astronomy has changed now that we know how to look for planets orbiting other suns. New information, new ways of seeing, are constantly being developed and change what we think we know.
I will never know everything about anything...and this is wonderful! It means I will never, ever run out of stuff to learn. Which brings me to another point.
*Education turned me into a lifetime learner. Let's just say I have skillz. Put me in a library--the local public library or a major university research facility--and I will find stuff out. No, I'm not a library science expert, but I know how to use the resources available to me to find an article from 1823 on microfiche or rummage the stacks in the 398's in a Dewey library or the PT's in a Library of Congress system and find a copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales. I scan indexes like a boss and effortlessly charm librarians to help me find out anything at all.
I also know enough, thanks to higher education, to know I can't trust anything I read on the Internet, or in a magazine, or a book. In fact, all information is subject to bias and slant and spin. Words can and do manipulate us daily. Being aware of this makes for better critical thinking skills and alerts us in the first sentence or two that the forwarded email is an urban myth.
There's a process to educated thought and learning, and it's pretty simple to explain. Collect evidence from multiple sources and points of view, apply reason and critical thinking skills to the mess, draw your own conclusions...and always, always, always keep in mind that more information might just change your mind.
That is how higher education taught me to be a lifetime learner.
*Education turned me into a writer. Some of you might be wishing it hadn't at this point. Thank you for staying with me this long.
Now it is your turn. What does your education mean to you? Did life somehow deny you a formal higher education that you wanted? What did that do to you? Did you happily end your formal education or do you yearn for more? Have you found your experiences as a lifetime learner more or less satisfying than formal education? Do you wish you were more of a lifetime learner? If so, how could you be?