A common meme on social media goes something like this: “Education is irrelevant. Who needs to know anything about polynomial equations?” It has become fashionable in some circles to deride education and specifically public education. Many of the complaints are about how school is not the be all and end all to society. The meme writers evidently do not know civil engineers, or any of the other professionals who use mathematics every day.
“Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself.”–Confucius
A few of my public school teachers said something similar to the Confucius quote. One of my junior high math teachers liked the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” I’m glad he repeated that old saying often, because my mathematics comprehension was horrible. The math portion of my school report card pained my civil engineer father. Math continued to be a weak spot throughout my formal education.
It wasn’t until I decided to take some refresher courses at the local technical school–Northeast Community College–did math take off. I astonished myself with consistent excellent marks. I was not ashamed to calculate algebraic expressions on the blackboard at the instructor’s request.
The A+ in algebra inspired me to go on to study more mathematics courses on my own. I bought used college level textbooks on eBay out of curiosity. Math became sort of a hobby for a couple of years. I didn’t especially need the knowledge, but I’m glad I have a much better understanding of the subject matter.
The point I’m trying to make is that although not all schools are the be all and end all of our education, it is up to us to expand upon what we receive. This is especially the case these days when public school budgets have been slashed to the bone and teachers have to provide learning materials out of their own, personal funds. The politicians who advocate the dumbing down of America have nearly gotten their way. We wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in now, if education and self-education was better advocated.
“I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.–Albert Einstein
The mathematics instructor at Northeast Community College must have had the same educational philosophy as Einstein. He inspired his students to persevere in our studies. He encouraged us to teach ourselves. We didn’t want to disappoint him. Not because he was stern–he wasn’t. We could see that the instructor loved his subject and wanted to share his passion. He did not want us to fear quadratic equations. He wanted us to understand that mathematics is a universal language that can expand our minds.
“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.”–novelist and short story writer, Louis L’Amour
I like Louis L’Amour’s description of self-education. It dovetails with my own philosophy about learning new material. There’s so much interesting stuff to learn and there’s not enough time in life to learn it all.