Broad Or Bust

By Rishi Banerjee. Rishi lives in Dehli, India. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

The time for choosing education as a means to an end is over. We have little choice but to employ education as a means to broaden the minds of students. In the context of this discussion, the term ‘education’ refers to the process of giving and receiving systematic instruction, especially in a school or university setting. The secondary definition of education as ‘an enlightening experience’ will not be explored. The term ‘broad-minded’ will also denote an acceptance of ideas that are ethically sound, lest it becomes confused with acceptance of differences, whether good or bad. For example, it is not broad-minded to be accepting of slavery merely because it is acceptable within certain cultural contexts. It is just plain and simply abhorrent. Finally, ‘working life’ is identified here as being synonymous with holding down a job, along with its concomitant set of rules and regulations, good and bad. With these in mind, let us explore why it is imperative for education to gear towards creating a more critically thinking population.

It has been the broad-minded, critically reasoned arguments that have saved the world, time and again, often against the conventions imposed upon by the job sector. The act of a single man – Stanislav Petrov – on the night of 28 September 1983, prevented a nuclear war between the US and USSR. Contrary to his job expectations as a Soviet Air Defense personnel, he chose to reject his duty of launching a Soviet nuclear counter-attack when given (what later turned out to be false) information of an imminent nuclear attack against his own country. Where would the world be if Petrov had done his ‘job’? Furthermore, entire classes of jobs associated with Bio- and Chemical- weapons has been eliminated, thanks to the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions. Again, it was the broad-minded approach to preventing the annihilation of our species that prompted these constraints. In both these circumstances, a purely job-centered role of education would have resulted in catastrophic consequences, if bereft of ethical reasoning. In the case of Petrov, while the information turned out to be false, its consequences would have been real enough to end the world. And yes, there is a distinction between information and knowledge, but one has far less liberty with semantics when the world is literally at stake. It is in moments like these that we are most clearly able to witness the distinction between working a job, and acting with responsibility. Without the application of human reasoning, a job is likely to strip away our humanity, and in time, humanity itself. Our education, therefore, must accommodate broad approaches lest our minds remain forever captive to the diktat of employment.

Aristotle remarked that, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Alas, as we look around, fewer and fewer people are adept at even having an original thought. For most of us, our education system has failed us. Ask yourself; is there any reason to go to college, except to earn a fatter paycheck? If the answer is yes: Bravo! You are one lucky person. For the rest: Thanks for joining the club.

We have been conditioned, socially brainwashed into thinking that education is the key to a better future, enshrined in the golden lettering of our stenciled nameplate and the Visa Black no-limit credit card. What a bunch of crock. Yet, automaton-like we wake-up at the crack of dawn to go somewhere we don’t really want to, to do something we actively detest, and to walk away with a paper degree which means that a poor tree gave its life for our vain hope. The sad reality is that often, ‘Student Success Comes Down to Zip Code’ (Huffington Post). To put it bluntly, the rich are pre-selected for success under the current education system.

Education system has not really changed, ever. For thousands of years, since the development of hieroglyphs and cuneiform, education was the domain of the wealthy and the lucky. We know of the verbal calisthenics of Rome’s rhetoricians Cicero, Quintillian and Cato the Younger – not because of their genius, but because they were wealthy, powerful and well educated. For Rome, education was, as a rule, meant for the rulers. Even when greater numbers did receive some form of learning, such as the Qing dynasty China, only the select few could use it to advance their career by clearing the Imperial Civil Service Examination. A selection so tough, that death was common. Needless to say, the wealthier your family was, the greater your chances of success; for that would allow for the hiring of tutors. But most important of all, the system was not designed to serve society, but to pick the best of available minds to serve the Emperor alone. Even when education brings one out of poverty, the job-centric nature makes the individual captive to the whims of an employer. Like Thomas Cromwell, the greatest statesman in the employ of King Henry VIII, who instituted the King’s will against the people of England; his job bought him a fortune, but the fickle nature of his boss’ temperament had him executed under the false charges of treason. The boss is not always good.

Change the ‘King’ to ‘CEO’ and you have today. We serve the interests of a firm, at the expense of everyone else. We pollute, deforest, cause global warming, et al, through thousands of our actions at the expense of our children and ourselves. All because it is a way to live. We live by unconsciously planning to die. A job-centered, narrow approach to education has brought us to the precipice of auto-genocide, and hope is our only salve. We have to broaden the minds of our populace that it is time to unite behind our common goal once more – like the Weapons Ban – to save the world. As technology catches up with human endeavor, our time is running out.

With the dawn of Artificial Intelligence, the time for utilizing education as a springboard for jobs is becoming passé. Proliferation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and increased automation, are making ever more jobs redundant. From the replacement of pilots with drones, to the use of ATMs in lieu of a bank teller, no job is safe from it. And here’s the kicker – we can do nothing about it. For a business the choice between a worker, and an automaton, is no choice at all. The latter will always win, for it seeks neither a paycheck nor sick days. The common refrain that ‘new jobs will emerge’ sounds more like marketing tactic than anything else. If autonomous hardware and software concretions can learn to fly planes and perform surgeries by themselves, is it really imaginable that human counterparts can keep up with them through continuous skilling-up? Will Joe, the factory worker suddenly become a neural network researcher by going back to school? Will the machines not learn it before Joe gradates?

Tech-leading countries such Finland are already preparing test runs of ‘Basic Universal Income Schemes’; even Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, for all his detractors, is pushing for the idea. The writing is clear on the wall, for better or worse, we are just awaiting replacement by machines; some sooner than others. With the carrot of a better job gone, what’s left? I don’t know, but it will inevitably take a broad-minded approach to answering it. Let us hope our education is up to it.

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Sources

(Elgart, 2016); Student Success Comes Down To Zip Code; Huffington Post; May 26, 2016.
Ichisada Miyazaki. China’s Examination Hell: The Civil Service Examinations of Imperial China. (New York: Weatherhill, 1976. ISBN 083480103, pp. 18-25

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