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The Spirit of Wisdom (Part 1)

Meditations on the Education of Youths

"Why concern ourselves so much with beans for seed, and not be concerned about a new generation of men?" -Henry David Thoreau

(This article is one part of a continuing series, prior reading of earlier entries is recommended for a complete picture of the arguments and points being made.)

To really rework the education system in the United States, it is imperative that we begin as early as possible in the lives of children. This point is generally agreed upon amongst educators, but the next statement that I make will be somewhat controversial. The main focus of the early years of education should not be the teaching of core academic skills, such as arithmetic, grammar, or early sciences, but on cultivating a framework of inquisitiveness within their minds. (The exception to this would of course be reading ability and reading comprehension, as reading is a gateway to all the other sources of knowledge.) The central reason for ignoring early academic skills at the youngest ages is not so that those skills may not be learned by the students, but so that they will be learned better after the framework of inquisitiveness is established. Now what do I mean by "framework of inquisitiveness"? To put it simply, the framework of inquisitiveness is a structured expansion of the natural curiosity that children already have for the outside world. To apply this practically, an education environment should be focusing on instilling the disciplines analytical methodology into children, and then introducing them to valuable sources of information. Do not teach children science. Teach children the scientific method, and then create an environment for them to practice it. This attacks a major and consistent problem plaguing the current system, which is the disillusionment with curiosity. Schools today are so much more focused on cramming information into resistant and unwilling minds, than cultivating the mind to hunger for knowledge itself. Children are born with this hunger, it is our job to sustain it. If we supply them with the tools to correctly seek out truth then the children themselves will complete much of the work for us. And isn't that the end goal? So many schools and academic institutes claim to be building "lifelong learners," but is our system optimized to complete that objective? The early years of education is a critical step in the development of a child's character. If they are not equipped with the tools to be academically literate, then all later stages of the academic process will be hindered with resistance and resentment. I am by no means saying that this will be an easier task than simply teaching them basic information at a young age. If anything, it will be much more difficult, and it will require the highest forms of discipline from the educator as well as the child. But the earlier the discipline is instilled, the earlier it might bear fruit. It will take constant personal guidance to show children the proper methodology of examining science, history, philosophy, mathematics, and the arts, less they slip into methods of inaccurate examination and propagate further dangerous ignorance. But this rigorous instillment of analytical parameters will encourage the natural pursuit of truth children already practice. Children already posses the raw power of seeking, we only need to guide it. 

It is also very important to note early on in this series another pervasive issue which arises constantly in the world of academics. It is one that is not a direct concern of children starting their academic careers, but has a profound influence on what they are taught and how they are taught. This is the problem of income. If one would ask a student currently enrolled in any college across the United States, "What is the purpose of pursuing an education?" they would reply something along the lines of "To be able to compete in the current market, and be able to make enough money to live comfortably." Now, (and I apologize for my heavy use of classical philosophers in the past two articles), if you were somehow able to question Aristotle on the purpose of pursuing an education, he would reply something along the lines of "To rid oneself of ignorances and better ones own condition and understanding of life." Now I realize that Aristotle and the average college student live in two very different worlds, but the discrepancy rings clear. To really liberate ourselves and obtain a higher practice of education, it is critical that we rid ourselves of the notion that the filling of the mind is a pure utilitarian route to acquire wealth. A system that promotes wisdom and truth in all things cannot grow out of this root. Now I am not advocating that every one of us become infinitely wise beggars, but I do want to point out that our schooling system as it stands is run in practice to solely to acquire income, and students are motivated out of the fear of not acquiring that income. This problem is one that has naturally resulted from the market ecosystem of our country, but in order to progress, it must be eradicated. 

I hope the two central points I have made in this entry opens the door for questioning and discussion. I by no means claim infallibility, and encourage the dissection and critique of my arguments. But it is my view that these two problems are the hinderance to the growth and flourishing of young minds. The following articles will continue to provide possible improvements to the early, middle, and late stages of institutionalized academics. 

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