"Better to be damned for doing something right, than damned for doing nothing right."

Insight and Critical Thinking

Knowledge should be based on individual findings. Memorization doesn't help students understand the material.
by Philly CheeseStake

I've grown up to the teaching of "get a good grade, go to good college, get a great job, be happy" speech. Repeated over and over again, it's almost impossible to talk about the reason for getting good grades without even touching upon it. Every time I score badly on a test, the vision of unhappiness suddenly pops into mind. Why is that? Why is it that we don't allow our selves to fail (at the very least, why is it that I don't allow myself to fail)? People fail all the time, people make mistakes all the time, if we don't make mistakes, then shouldn't humans be classified as "computers"? When one score badly on a test, shouldn't one just dismiss it? What does a test have anything to do with your life? Go ahead and ask your relatives. Ask your dad whether his career flourished because of that A+ he got in Chemistry twenty years ago. Ask your uncle whether his career failed because of that F he got on Biology thirty years ago. Heck, even ask your older brother whether his grades in senior year affected his current life at all.

Call me an idealist, but I believe that knowledge should be based on individual findings. Isn't that what critical thinking is? Isn't that what insights are supposed to be? Insights aren't something you memorize out of the textbook; no, they are other people's insights. Insight only comes whenever you synthesis what YOU know and understand and rearrange new and old information to piece them together like a puzzle. That is insight. Schools today are killing the insights we would've gotten if we explored the subjects ourselves. I'm not saying all schools are bad, but from what I've seen, rote learning is prevalent among schools. Take the SAT for example! Colleges require you to submit your SAT scores. Why? Because it makes submission process easier? But what can SAT tell you about your wisdom, your intelligence, your intuition, your insights, or even your learning method? Pssh. If Einstein took the SATs, I bet you he wouldn't be one of the top scoring ones.

Crazy, now that I think back upon everything I've seen in school. Isn't school supposed to be an "educational institution"? Isn't it supposed to make you able to make informed decisions or use critical thinking to evaluate issues around us? I don't think their definition of "education" is even close to mine. My definition of "education" is learning. Their definition of "education" is more like memorizing without consent from students. My education consists of drawing, practicing on my guitar, performing magic, analyzing other song artists, and, overall, creation. Can their "education" even match that of mine? Memorizing lines from Emerson or Thoreau might make you sound smart, but if you don't even understand a word of what they are saying, are you actually learning? Are you actually understanding Emerson or Thoreau in any bit if you memorize their writings? "Foolish consistency is a hobgoblin of little minds." Sure, I recite lines, but I do so at my pleasure, the pleasure of showing the school system that my method of learning allows me to transcend their method by memorizing AND understanding the concept.

Sure, I'm not saying we should trash memorizing completely (you sure as hell wouldn't want a doctor that can't tell a liver from a pancreas to operate on you), but I'm saying that the current system uses too much of memorization, especially of things we will never use again in the future. Take this short quiz (for non chemistry lovers): what is sublimation? What does a catalyst for a chemical reaction do? What is the difference between a solution and a colloid? Okay, so I cheated because I'm taking Chemistry right now, but all of you juniors, seniors, graduates, did you remember the answer for all three? Two? One? None? Did the lack of this knowledge affect your personal life in anyway? Okay, now back to you chemistry-lovers. Most of you probably don't even know the answers to all of it. But the reason you remember the answer is either you understood the section, or that it is related to something you love to do. Learning should be based on doing something you love to do.

From the book "The World is Flat," it says that the world is now expanding rapidly, so fast that our old ideas will become obsolete sooner than you think. It says to retain that passion and curiosity when learning. Why? Because passion and curiosity is the only way one can really learn. Now let's bring it back to the discussion. Do the words ‘passion' or ‘curiosity' appear instantly when I say the word ‘school'? If it does, well, congratulations, you're at a proper educational institution. To the rest of you (or I should say everyone), think about why passion and curiosity aren't the first things you think of when I say ‘school'? Maybe it's their teaching of subject you abhor and hate, maybe it's the homework you are forced to do every day after school, maybe it's their restriction on your own learning, maybe it's everything I said. In my idealistic world, school is supposed to be a place where passion and curiosity guides everyone's education, instead of a huge stack of paper work that someone arbitrarily assigned you to do.

I'm one of the lucky ones that have enough strength after school to begin our own learning. In those rare days of no homework, you can often see me drawing, or practicing my various musical instruments. But don't just follow me, follow yourself. Begin your own education, your own learning. School doesn't prepare you for the real world, the real world where the college you go do doesn't amount to anything. It is skills and abilities that employers are looking for, and it is also skills and abilities that leaders need to, say, start a successful company, or a great career. I was lucky to have parents that encourage me to proceed with my own learning. If you aren't that lucky, you don't have to be discouraged by your parents that shout "grades are more important," because deep down, you KNOW what matters to you.

We have homework that can be done by referring directly to the textbook, we have homework that don't require us to even think, we have school work that is all about compliance, and what else? Oh right, tests that tell us crap about our own learning. Think about it this way: Take a thing you love to do, for this example I'm going to using cooking. If you wanted to learn how to cook a dish, would you memorize the cook book or would you actually cook that dish? If you wanted to be a great cook, do you follow cookbooks or do you try out different ways of cooking a particular dish? If you wanted to test yourself, would you see how much of the cookbook you have memorized or would you ask your relatives to see how good the food you good is?

And when you think about it, what is the intention of schooling? According to the articles all over this site, I've found that schooling is supposed to make good people, to make good citizens, and to make each person his or her own personal best. Allow me to ask you what America means as a country? Isn't it the land of freedom? Isn't American the land where you can expand in every direction as a person? Well, with grades and tests, it's very hard for us to expand on our own, to expand in every direction (other than ‘academics'). I laugh at the ‘good citizens' that schools try to make us into. America is supposed to have freedom of speech, where democracy prevails and voices of anyone can be heard! What happened to that ideal? The only ‘good citizen' the schools are trying to make us into are the compliant, non-complaining citizens that give their power to act to the government. Lastly, "to make each person his or her own personal best" really isn't working in the school system, especially with the curriculum the school tries to superimpose onto your own education system.

As a final word, I implore you to read everything on this site and combine it with the information you have been given before (by parents, teachers, etc.). This synthesis is your insight, this synthesis is your critical thinking. Become informed, be aware of all the possible biases of the teachers, parents, and even this site. Don't follow anyone but yourself (that doesn't mean you should rebel against everyone).

Written by: Philly CheeseStake
9 May 2009

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