Confusing Ignorance With Illiteracy

By Ayman Abd El Monem Amer. Ayman, 24, is a business owner living in Bagour, Menoufia, Egypt. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below. *Shortlisted for the NUHA Blogging Prize 2011*

I think one of the most common assumptions that should no longer be accepted is that ignorance and illiteracy are actually the same thing, or that ignorance is just a result of the inability to read or write, for the concept of “not knowing” oneself is mystical and does not really mean anything.

For example, when you describe someone as an “ignorant  person”, you certainly do not mean that his mind is all empty and does not contain any kind of thoughts or information, but you might by referring to the fact that his mind is storing obsolete, wrong, or even funny information compared to the quality of information today. But how do you think this ignorant someone could have heard this funny information unless someone else had “read” it in front of him which indicates that “the reader” is sharing the same obsolete, wrong or funny information?!

Reading is only a learning technique, inability to read means missing only one learning (or gaining knowledge) tool.

Thus, it is not about whether you are able to read or not, it is about the quality of the demanded knowledge, and yet we make an unforgiving mistake confusing ignorance (not knowing) with illiteracy just by judging the external look.

As a result of this understanding, one cannot really escape the trap of ignorance just by possessing this learning technique called “reading”, because again it is not about how much you can read, it is all about the quality of what you read and how relevant it is to the truth, and we should not be concerned about how many illiterates we have, but we should be more concerned about  the kind of knowledge we are all missing, because if all what we have in books is a combination of stupidity and nonsense then there is no use at all of encouraging more people to go to school: that would be like teaching people how to read, so they can read the nonsense by themselves instead of just hearing it!  You cannot really get rid of ignorance by finding its “readers”.

Learning is a continuous process from cradle to grave, however this seems to be a totally unknown concept in developing countries and the Middle East. This is the sort of statement you might hear: “Are you kidding me?! Education stops when you are 21 years old and have a college degree (as if it was ever started before) then you look for a job with the good salary and get married!” This is the most common accepted prescription for success and happiness for most people, it is not about “what you learn” or about you being able to decide what is important, valuable and useful in life. There is only the sacred quest for “the right career”, the social approval and how much you can make every year; this is the outcome of a system that was originally fashioned by social filters (governmental authorities, biased media companies and large corporations).

The learning process cannot be continued unless you start it from the first place: you first need to learn how to learn then you will be able to start, pause or even stop learning anytime you want.

You cannot encourage or motivate people to do something they don’t know anything about. You will be fooling yourself and them if you expected any results from preaching people about how critical it is to continue their “learning process” if you did not make any effort to introduce them to the idea of learning itself.

Learning to Unlearn

It is very surprising that so much of what we currently know is just getting to be wrong, many things we used to look at as facts now are proven to be nonsense. The globe was initially believed to be flat. But the subsequent learning confirmed that the globe is round.

Therefore the question of unlearning is becoming more important than the question of learning, and it turns out that it is a lot trickier to learn to unlearn than a lot of us might think at first. Fortunately by having a firm and flexible mindset that you are still learning and evolving can make it a lot easier, and of course in addition to not taking your learning for granted, accepting that what you learn during your life may be subject to change.

Finally, the burning passion for learning must be the same as for unlearning and relearning. If it is not coming from the core of your heart, then you should get busy doing something else, but don’t forget to do it with burning passion as well.

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