Sunday, December 12, 2010

Layer 401 . . . Religion, Awe and Wonder, Spiritual Intelligence, Academia, the Nature of Study, Universities, Elite Education and Enlightenment

The cringe at the heart of Christmas

This is a strange article, and one that's difficult to respond to.

The birth of a baby - any baby - is awesome. The gift of life is awesome. The universe itself is awesome. You don't have to be a Christian to appreciate these things, and you don't have to believe in a God who's 'out there'. The Nativity is a metaphor for the miraculous birth of each and every one of us. Nobody, and no particular sect or religion, has a monopoly on spiritual intelligence. Those who think they 'understand' the divine and the nature of the creative force in the universe definitely do not understand it.


Higher Education?

It's surely a good thing that a debate's taking place about our university system.

One part of the debate concerns the funding of the system, and where the funding comes from. Another concerns whether students should 'pay as you go', to what extent they should be subsidised,  and how soon they should pay for their tuition after landing a decent job.

Leaving aside the funding issue, there's now a debate about how many universities there should be, plus how many tutors, whether lectures could be accessed via the Internet, whether certain courses should be offered and publicly funded, and how many students and graduates might be an 'optimum' number.

Yet another area of debate concerns who sets the curriculum, how learning is assessed, and the very nature of study itself. Could I, for example, as an autodidact, set about learning everything there is to know about a particular topic or subject, using libraries and the Internet, and then go along to a testing centre or examination hall and ask to be assessed on my knowledge - in order to earn myself some credits towards an academic award?

I've already learnt how to write essays and write answers to timed examination questions - so why would I want to pay for a university course in order to further my knowledge , especially if the majority of the academic tutors were dullards and bores? Personally I'd much prefer to get my lectures online from professors who are known for the brilliance of their perception and their lecturing, and not run of the mill plodders who really haven't a clue how to teach. I want access to original thinkers and inspirational speakers like Ken Robinson.

The things I retain from my undergraduate days are the things I found out for myself, from the books I found and bought myself on the topics I was really interested in - which were not necessarily those I was meant to be studying. And yet there's no way I'll get any 'credit' for those hours of reading and note-making.

Quite frankly, many more students ought to ask themselves why on earth they go to university, apart from the fact that their teachers and parents urged them to, in order to prepare themselves for highly-paid careers - hopefully. Obviously the lifestyle's a big attraction for many - but a lot less so if they're having to do crappy jobs in order to pay their way. The increased levels of debt they'll now have hanging over them will be a further deterrent, especially for those from non-affluent backgrounds, and those who have no clear idea what they really want to do with their lives and no great confidence that they'll succeed in entering a particular career when they're in competiton with those with better connections, sharper elbows, and higher levels of personal confidence, plus the 'right' accent.


Back in the early days of the Internet, before most people had even heard of it, let alone owned a personal computer, I had a friend who was fascinated by the Second World War. In particular he wanted to know about certain bomber squadrons of the American air force, and about tank battles. The Russian T34 tank was a thing of enormous and intense interest. He already knew a great deal, and he'd even paid a professional researcher to gather information for him.

Imagine his expression when I explained to him about the Internet and showed him how to use a PC to do an online search for information on his subjects. He literally couldn't believe the pages of information that were freely accessible.The first thing he wanted to do was get a loan for a computer and start scouring the 'net for every morsel of information he could find. This is someone who's never been on any kind of college course, and probably never will. His writing skills are near zero, and he has zero tolerance for being bored.

Another interesting thing about my friend is that he can repair virtually anything, can figure out solutions to virtually any practical problem, and can tackle virtually any physical and practical task. He'll never get 'credits' for any of those things either, even though they make him a far more useful citizen than the vast majority of the 'highly educated'.

Where am I going with this blog? I've no idea. Like Socrates I'm only interested in exploring subjects I find fascinating, and through acquiring and exchanging ideas raise my levels of awareness in order to become more enlightened. The journey itself is worthwhile, and if I do get anywhere near my goal I'll expect no credit or reward.


To be continued later with some stuff from the papers. Y'all come back now.

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