The Sky Is Blue. Except When It’s Not:
“All essential knowledge relates
to existence, or only such knowledge as has an essential
relationship to existence is essential knowledge.”
~ Soren Kierkegaard
Knowledge of this or that author’s works is another concept that is highly dependent on the culture in which you were born. And whenever this topic is raised, I can’t but think of an anecdote a friend of mine told when returning from a year of schooling abroad in the States: one of the students asked her (a Belgian girl) if we too have famous authors like they have Shakespeare. Notably, the U.S. formal school system isn’t that great at teaching children about this or that author either (nor are they about geography as another student asked her if Belgium was the capital of Brussels).
Now if all of these topics are covered and uncovered as trivial, arbitrary, and highly regional, it is most likely that the opposition will throw their last stones: the Holy Trinity of Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. Surely, these are essential parts of knowledge one must have in order to survive in the modern world. And next to the claim that they are indispensable, they also have to be acquired at or before a certain, yet again arbitrary, age.
“Actually, all education is self-education. A teacher is only a guide, to point out the way, and no school, no matter how excellent, can give you education. What you receive is like the outlines in a child’s coloring book. You must fill in the colors yourself.” ~Louis L’ Amour
When one claims that this trinity is imperative, they are pushing aside the fact that millions of people all over the world grow up with knowledge of none of these topics and, yet, continue to thrive and even have jobs! So what they are telling you is that not only are all people in developing nations, all people who are illiterate or can’t count to ten, ignorant imbeciles, they are basically suggesting that the Western model of life is the only one of virtue and clearly the one we should all aspire to. And often this suggestion goes by without a grasp of the richness of analphabetic cultures; after all they’re savages, right?
All in all, it’s about your chances of survival in the Western dominion.
This, in itself, demonstrates that the critic of life learning who is uttering these remarks knows very little of unschooling, for isn’t unschooling also a movement that wants to change Western society as we know it? But even if we look at the topics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, we see that our opponent has little grasp of the essence of unschooling. Unschooling or life learning understands that a person will learn what they need, when they need it, if only the opportunity is there. And even though unschooling parents are often depicted as lazy nitwits who leave their children to run wild while they are enjoying cocktails while lying in a recliner on their lawn, most life learning parents are very keen on creating a fruitful environment in which their children can thrive. Why, most of us are even very literate and intelligent ourselves! We must be to have considered such a radically different approach to education.
Ergo, when a child grows up in a reading, writing, counting environment, especially an electronically driven society such as ours, he will one day find the need to pick up all these skills, at least as much as he needs them. Does it matter that he might not learn functions? Not if he’ll never use them. I, for one, have finished a Master’s degree without ever using functions once, even though they were an essential part of my math education in secondary school.
Nevertheless, I am a big fan of knowledge and I find it neat to “know things.” But I have met many a person who went through university flawlessly but didn’t know what an antelope is or who thinks “Je te Flouff” is French for I love you. They are highly functioning, respected citizens with Masters degrees (both examples hold even multiple Masters). So even for academic studies, the knowledge of such topics isn’t required.
Aside from the very rudimentary, there is no Basic Knowledge All Must Know. So why not fill your head with things you actually need and things you are actually interested in, no matter if anyone thinks you are just a nitwit? Simply because of our different interests, there will always be someone who thinks your knowledge is less than theirs, mostly because they don’t understand or don’t care about what you’re interested in. But that is their loss, not yours.
Education is power, yes, but when it comes to formal schooling, this power is often misunderstood. The power does not lie with the recipient, but with the creator. Surely, the person who decides what you should and should not know has more power than the empty vessels the schooling system sees its students for. There is no better person to decide what you should know than yourself.
After studying communication sciences in Brussels, Laura Schuerwegen escaped Western life to tend to her family in Sub-Saharan Africa. She writes at Authentic Parenting www.authenticparenting.info.