May 16, 1991

Education for Mediocrity

I never let my schooling interfere with my education.

Mark Twain

If you know people who do things exceptionally well, whether it be in writing, athletics, music, science or anything else, you know that one of the main reasons that they do it so well is that they do it all the time --it's a passion with them. They like what they're doing and don't want to be interrupted.

Yet, our schooling and our parents tell us that you're not supposed to do one thing most of the time. If a kid gets interested in a book, someone is sure to tell him that he should go out and play. If he gets interested in a game, the same thing happens --he should be reading a book.

How can you ever get to be good at anything if you're rarely allowed to do it steadily?

The only thing that you're allowed to complete is watching a TV program: "Gee, mom, it'll be over in half an hour!". Even people with good concentration spans are encouraged to only concentrate for two hours -the length of a TV movie. This training, to do everything for a maximum of two hours, suits you for only one thing -watching TV! There aren't many real jobs that fit that two-hour specification.

The method of instruction where the teacher talks and the student listens has been around for some time. Socrates didn't use it, but most teachers who came after him did. I assume that the 50 minute period was invented because you couldn't reasonably expect anyone to sit through more than an hour of a dull lecture. Is it possible to learn things by listening? Yes, it is --but not very much!

Occasionally, you find a kid who refuses to allow his schooling to interfere with his education. That kid is going to succeed! Maybe he'll get lousy grades, maybe he'll drop out of school, but, by gosh, he'll accomplish something!

The kid who gets good grades and then goes on to college and professional school will also succeed if he gets involved and excited by his field. If he doesn't get involved and continues jumping through hoops, he will join that group of professionals who are a menace to the public, because they just don't know or care what they're doing.

Sigmund Freud was enthusiastic about biology; particularly the nervous system. But he had to earn a living, so he went to medical school. He was gifted with an eidetic memory and was able to both do his research and pass his medical exams. He did medical school in his spare time and his research full time.

It is only when a medical student gets his M.D. and starts his internship or specialty residence that his training becomes truly relevant and, incidentally, focused. He does nothing but work in his field of specialization --no classes, no exams to cram for. Then there is one qualifying exam if he wants the advanced credential.

Graduate school can also be be interesting and focused, but what ridiculous hoops you have to jump through in order to get there. We can't just have any brilliant and industrious slob getting a doctorate, can we?

It's like the good old days when knighthood was in flower. It wasn't enough to just love a woman; you had to prove it by swimming a moat in full armor. Many a competent and loving knight was eliminated by the trial, to the advantage of a rival whose only virtue was buoyancy.

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