Watch me on YouTube Fine me on LinkedIn Friend me on Facebook Follow me on Twitter

Josh Manning's Thoughts of Higher Education Part Two

You won't come away from school knowing lots of new and unique information, but hopefully somewhere along in the process you learned how to think critically.

Well, since I've first posted this subject, I had a few of you write in and say I was just plain wrong on this point.

Clinton from Alabama wrote, "I did learn lots of new and unique information! I think that a person doesn't really realize it when they do it, because it sort of becomes second nature... I find myself feeling that any school child should know that the rationals are dense in the reals, but once I think about it, I only learned that after over a year in college."

I see, and concede, this point. However, I still want to stick by my original statement. What I meant was the overall purpose of going to school should not necessarily be learning lots of new and unique information. Yeah, you will probably pick up a few things, but more importantly, you need to pick up what to do with that new information!!

Back in seventh grade, I had a teacher named Rick Evans who taught our Bible class. The class was a study on Proverbs - the book of wisdom. One of the questions he asked in that class was, "What is the difference between knowledge and wisdom?"

Can anyone guess what the difference is?

The way he explained it, and I'm pretty sure this is the accepted definition, is knowledge is a bunch of "stuff" that you can learn - a lot of facts and figures and dense rationals and Herman Melville and lipids and comma splices, etc. But wisdom is how we are able to apply that knowledge.

I think we can all think of some people who have a lot of knowledge but who can't figure out how to apply it. I know people who like to ask big questions and try to be smarter than everyone in the room. Just because they can ask a question I can't answer, though - just because they have more 'knowledge' in a particular area - does that necessarily make them a wise individual?

For example, I took a class on Nazi Germany. Now, I've got some head knowledge on Hitler and Nazi Germany. I probably know more than most of my readers on this subject. However, if I can't take what I learned about this and apply it to my life in a tangible way, then what is the good of it? If I can only stand here and talk about the gas chambers and the brownshirts and the SS, but can't tell you why it is important for me to know this, then I'm a failure.

Taking all these classes, however, I learned something about myself that was much more important that what was taught in the classroom. I learned how to think critically and how to teach myself. I learned how to pick up a book and digest the information. While I still don't think Herman Melville adds up to a hill of beans, I learned how to research information about him and then explain his life to my professor. What I appreciate from my education isn't necessarily what I learned but how I learned it.

I made a girl in my Lit theory class mad at me one day. She was telling us English majors how her Mass Communication degree would prepare her more for a job in journalism then my English degree would for me. I told her though, and she wasn't too happy, that while she might be getting instruction in that one particular area, I was getting much broader instruction in how to write, read, analyze texts and pull meaning from them. She wasn't too happy (though my teacher did agree with me). In fact, looking back at some of the people that have come from our journalism department, though not all of them, I can gladly stand firm and say I am much more satisfied with my degree than they may be with theirs.

So, yeah, Clinton, you guys are right. You will come away from college learning a lot of information. But, if you haven't developed your mind to the point of being able to think critically and putting that info to use for you, then you've wasted a whole lot of time and energy.