Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The most useless knowledge in academia

A while ago, I completed my BA in education. It is, by far, one of the least useful degrees imaginable.

Now, don't get me wrong. It's useful in terms of marketable skills, personal growth and insights into the mysteries of being human. All the good jazz you expect from a degree. But.

There is a but.

The thing about education is that everyone has opinions about it. What it should be, how it should be conducted and what the end results of it ought to be. Everyone, from all walks of life, from all political camps, from all everything. Everyone has opinions. Everyone.

The thing about these opinions is that they very rarely are based on any particular knowledge about education. Or, rather, they are based on very particular pieces of knowledge, without much context to support them. Just to keep things in balance, this lack of context is made up for by an overflow of emotion and passion when it comes to discussing the issue.

Just the one, mind. One issue at a time.

The intuitive thing to do when these issues come up is to try to provide some context. Use that education to do some educating about education, as it were. More often than not, however, the passions are such that any attempt to educate will be met with fierce resistance and fiery disagreement. It discourages further attempts on the subject.

Which leads to interesting situations when things like trigger warning, safe spaces and campus politics come up. These things could be used as launch pads for discussions on curricula analysis, pedagogic philosophy or the role of educational institutions in contemporary society. They could be. But they aren't.

The thing is, of course, that these enthusiasts are not willing to learn. That's not the reason they engage in discussions about these issues, nor the reason they want to be seen publicly as engaged in discussions about these issues. Most discussions about education, it turns out, are not actually about education, but about broader issues that just happen to find purchase in popular perceptions about education.

Thus, knowing things about education is pretty much useless in such discussions. It's beside the point. It's like bringing a knife to a gunfight - no matter how fine the point is, it's just not relevant to the situation. And knowing a degree's worth about education is a degree of uselessness.

It does, however, save you from engaging in useless fights with posturing know-nothings. Which is a win in and of itself, no matter the subject.

And you get to brag that your BA thesis was all about how Quintilian's philosophy of education relates to modern day curricula, and the importance of remembering that the role of education is to teach the young ones to actualize themselves as social subjects. Good times all around.