The Limits of Our Education System

Functioning in Flatland

By: - Nov 07, 2014

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Adapting to life in the US went well thanks to special care from my adopted family. America is a vast country with lots of room to contemplate and develop new ideas. There is something inside that makes me want to scream, I am happy!

While I am haunted by the fact that my ancestors and the island I came from are no longer there, I am beginning to feel something I have never experienced before. Apia, the beautiful brown girl I mentioned earlier, is back in town.

I was sitting on the bank of the pond; my eyes fixed on the tiny waves caressing the shore. Apia said that in ancient time there were people contemplating the nature of reality. They believed that everything is constantly changing; “you cannot step twice into the same stream.” The waves are getting more assertive and closer to my toes Apia going to show up I wondered.

She is quite a thinker. She said to me once “the map should fit the territory.”  Yes, She opened my eyes to the fact that words are abstract symbols with vague meanings attached to them—meanings that are open to interpretation. Maybe she meant that when we are talking about facts, they should correspond to reality. Yes, I think she is right; otherwise words can be no more than empty symbols. Here is an example that might make you see what I mean: some guy told his friend that his wife is having an affair with Mr. X. Well, the friend believed the story, and guess what he did: he got so enraged he lost control and proceeded to kill Mr. X. He killed without examining the facts. Words are not real.  

Well, well, and when it comes to art she can get emotional and very critical. For instance, a month ago we went to an exhibit by multimedia artists-environmental-activist. I appreciate the environmental activists, but the art is another story, she said. The art in this show could have been made by many other artists, and no one would have noticed the difference.  She thought it was naïve on their part to think that titles or slogans can enhance the quality of their art works. She really disliked those slogans that promoted self-righteousness with no regard to the artworks.

Here is an example of their declaration: “the space between Nature and Culture” or “reexamine the idea of 'nature' as something outside ourselves.” Or “making space to welcome the radical, transformative otherness of our bio-diverse Earth.” Well, I agreed that words alone will not provide any justification for bad or good art.  Of course, after the show everyone, including the artists, went back home and continued with their lives as usual.

Apia walked toward me in slow motion, as if in a dream.  She hitched up her skirt unabashedly, took her shoes off and dipped into the water. Not a minute went before she beckoned me, look, a huge turtle! Then she looked straight at me and said I was thinking, I came to talk to you. As you might guess, my heart was pounding—I was trying hard to rein in my feelings for her.

It’s not just artists I have issues with, she continued, it is the way society goes about its business. We are divided into different groups: scientists, intellectuals, working people, and others. It is mind boggling to see how similar they are, but they believe with absolute certainty that they are unique. They are all stanch proponents of their own beliefs and will not listen to one another. The differences between these self-proclaimed socially divided groups are mere illusions, I added.  “They live in their isolated private world,” she uttered with her beautiful voice. Normal nowadays means mediocrity everywhere you turn your head.

She emerged from the water and sat next to me. The horizon glowed with red, orange, and purple, just like my island’s amazing sunsets, I thought. The beautiful light was fast diminishing as the day came to a close.

On the way home I told her about some friends accusing me of talking about the importance of acquiring knowledge without offering any solutions.  Well, she said, it’s a copout; it is incumbent on every individual to harrow the grounds of knowledge so as to clear away misconceptions, preconceived ideas, blindness, and moral depravity. Then she interjected, do you remember telling me about that teacher who said there is no more authoritative discourse or meaningful dialogues in our society? Yes, I remember him saying, the goal of this course is to foster awareness of the processes that make creativity possible. He actually introduced a new way of teaching.

We had to teach ourselves and share what we learned with the rest of the class. The main idea was to circumvent the lectures format, which is limited in scope, and let every student teach a topic instead. This way, ten students can each research a topic and then introduce it to the class. The topics were art, literature, visual perception, behavioral psychology, artistic social pressures, historical examples, and science.  I remember him saying, in order to achieve any understanding of these complex processes, we need to share knowledge, one lecturer cannot tackle the enormous amount of data needed to be fully informed responsible human being. Society is forcing you to be a conventional idiots, he kept on saying.  

Anyway, we spent a great deal of time discussing each of our research papers. We learned about many subjects we otherwise wouldn’t have the time to cram into one semester. For me this was a driving force towards exploring the larger picture of the world we live in.

At the end of the course, we compiled our research papers into a booklet, titled, Fields of Knowledge, which was then sold and distributed by the school store.

The art and ideas class was like a living organism, ever alive and evolving.