The value of education

Jesse Litsinger

I have been attending this university for a week now, and though I much respect and appreciate the labors of my esteemed instructors, by far my most cherished moments have been those spent perusing the wonderful resource that is the campus library. The sheer amount of knowledge and thousands of testaments to human endeavor that lie within that building never fail to leave me feeling inspired. I find it then unsettling that the proportion of students who scan the aisles with me is so low, considering the bustle that takes place but a few feet from its doors. More disturbing still, those few who I do see inside do not hunt the shelves for insight or relish every page they might devour, but rather doggedly resign themselves to work done only because they are forcibly compelled.

And so I am left to ponder: Why is their demeanor so different from what seems natural to me? I suspect the primary cause is a starkly different interpretation of the word education. The prevailing attitude seems to be that education is a means to some end (specifically a degree or career, or more generally personal or material advancement). I adhere rather to the interpretation expounded in John Dewey’s Education and Democracy, that is: “the educational process has no end beyond itself; it is its own end.” I don’t mean that our goals and aspirations do not matter, but rather that achievement of those goals should be looked at as a byproduct rather than the specific intent of the educational process.

The value of education, I would argue, is in fact specifically that it is not merely limited to the scope of our admittedly rather transient personal lives. To participate in the process of learning for learning’s sake is to participate in a great saga that stretches back thousands of years culturally and billions of years biologically. As Dewey explains, learning is an undoubtedly social affair, and it is precisely that communicative basis for understanding that allows us to understand as much as we do. It is well understood that your perception is limited if you close one eye, and see the world from a single viewpoint. Similarly, our ability to understand would be sorely hampered if we were to view the world from a singular, unchanging vantage point. Our entire system of learning is based around our ability to imaginatively empathize with others perspectives. The tremendous value of language lies in its function as a tool that facilitates that imaginative conceptual empathy.

Once education is understood in these terms, it becomes obvious that the ability to extend that empathy to the past via the language stored in books is an enormous boon to the accuracy of our perceptions. By extending our empathic sphere of viewpoints beyond our temporal and spatial localities, we dramatically increase our potential for accurate perception. Oh, how many dramas have unfolded! Oh, how many truths have been uncovered! To deny ourselves the richness of such a resource is to turn our backs on the very thing that makes us what we are, and limit ourselves to a fleeting, uncertain existence in lieu of a nearly timeless legacy of empathy and truth.

Jesse Litsinger is a freshman undergraduate studies major and guest columnist for the Daily Kent Stater.