Like many of my friends and fellow classmates, I experienced 13 years of education (including kindergarten) before graduating from Burlington High School in Burlington, IA back in 1965. That is to say, after 18 years of living, I’d spent over 66% of my life in the process of being educated – learning my ABC’s, learning to read, learning my multiplication tables, and most importantly learning how to fit myself, mold myself, squeeze myself into the society generally known as “school.”
During those 13 years of education I experienced classes in history, social studies, geography, English, algebra, geometry, science, chemistry, physics, and Spanish, just to name a few. And when I finally walked across the stage and accepted my high school diploma I was considered to be educated by the Mississippi River community in which I grew up. But for some reason I didn’t feel educated. I didn’t feel like I really understood all the things I’d been taught. The world around me was still pretty much a mystery.
College Will Save the Day
So I decided to attend college in order to further my education. Actually I had an opportunity to play football at Northern Illinois University and I took it because it was cool to be an athlete in school. And like everyone else, I wanted to be cool. During those four years of undergrad work I had classes in all the basic stuff that I’d taken in high school. Apparently the decision makers at NIU thought I needed to learn more than I’d learned the first time around, and they were probably right in that regard.
The last two years at NIU I was allowed to concentrate on my area of specialization. In this case, I was Physical Education major who minored in Journalism. I graduated in 1970 having played three years of varsity football, taken four more years of classes, this time at the collegiate level. But I still felt less than fully educated. The world around me was still more of a mystery than it should have been for someone who had just graduated from college with a degree in education.
Graduate Studies Will Save the Day
Regardless, in the wake of graduation, I took a conventional teaching job in my home town and began making a conventional living for myself and my now beautiful better half Pam and our soon to be kids. I discovered that in order to make more money in the teaching racket I had to go back to school again and get a Masters degree. So with money as my motivator I began doing Masters work at Western Illinois University in Macomb. Surely with an advanced college degree in hand, I would finally feel educated.
Then it Happened
That’s when it happened. About 75% of the way through my Masters degree I signed up for a class in the history and philosophy of sport. For the first time in my life I encountered characters like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Berkley, Hobbs, Rousseau, Locke, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Sartre. I was stunned! It was like I’d been run over by a Mack Truck.
For the first time in two decades worth of education I was encountering people who were asking serious questions about the meaning of human life. They were giving these questions serious thought, and answering with serious answers. I was shocked.
It’s Colored Everything
That was almost 35 years ago now and ever since encountering these serious thinkers the experience has colored everything about my life. Suddenly all those things that seemed disconnected, without context, direction or meaning were beginning to make sense. Suddenly I began to feel as though education was making sense.
From that point on, philosophy has influenced everything about the way I’ve lived my life, from the way I interacted with my wife, raised my kids, how I addressed my work as well as my leisure time. Looking back on that life altering experience I feel as though up to then I’d been “less than fully educated” despite all the time I’d spent in school becoming conventionally educated. Philosophy gave everything else the context, meaning, and the direction that all my previous experiences in education had lacked.
Philosophy Represents One Great Void in Modern Education
Ironically however, today in the age of technology, when science and math dominate the conversation in almost all educational circles, I almost never hear the experts or the educational reformers mention philosophy. Students today experience decades of education and never encounter Socrates, never encounter Plato, Aristotle, or any of these figures who quite literally brought education to life for me. Kids today almost never encounter the experiences that to me have come to define education.
And as I’ve confessed, my own introduction to philosophy was an accident. If I’d chosen to take something other than the history and philosophy of sport I would still feel less than fully educated. The world would still feel disconnected and shallow. It would still lack context, meaning, purpose, and direction.
Unfortunately though, when I look back I don’t believe that American education has ever valued what I’ve come to see as real education...the kind that causes you to think seriously about serious questions, think critically, and to live accordingly.
I finally came to the conclusion that Philosophy and real thinking are threats to members of the status quo including the corporations, the legislators they purchase, the school boards, the administrators, and yes the teachers themselves who with very few exceptions are financially and emotionally locked into the system. They are all staunch guardians of conventionality. And conventionality doesn’t take kindly to being threatened. Just ask Socrates, Jesus, or Gandhi about that one.
With that said, let’s all hail the emperor’s splendid new wardrobe. Science and math? Absolutely! Philosophy? No way!