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Why and How: The value of a formal education

In earlier posts I’ve discussed academic addiction and the things that college and graduate school cannot teach you, but this is not to say that there is no value to higher learning.

Formal education and practical training teach two very different skill sets. What they seem to come down to is a matter of why vs how.

Why: A matter of context

Academic environments allow students the value of peers with differing viewpoints (whether they be other students, instructors or textbooks), and so an environment of argument is created where students can better understanding the context and historical placement of a discussion.

While working on my thesis, I had a professor who described the thesis as this:

You enter a cocktail party, and join a group of people discussing something that interests you, but before you join the conversation there are a few things you must first understand:

  • You must understand the lingo everyone is using.
  • You must know where every participant stands in the argument, and what arguments have already been made.
  • You must understand the accepted truths of the group so as to prove yourself a member.

Just imagine what an ass you’d make of yourself if you started forming arguments before you understood the conversation. Educations helps students to better understand the conversation.

Formally educated students understand why things are the way the are and have been encouraged to ask why do them in the first place?

How: A matter of practical insight

But sometimes why isn’t enough. Field experience teaches the practical insight that schools often cannot offer. They understand how things are done.

While academics stress on theory, those with practical experience are the ones who figure out how. This come down to the difference between being able to talk about something and being able to do it.

Why and How: A matter of Truth

Asking why and how both help us arrive at Truth. Theories do not always translate to reality, and so practical experience is necessary to weed out bad theories. But not all truth is detectable by our senses, and so theory is necessary to arrive at higher consciousness.