Mike, Radiologist, MI

It’s that thing Chesterton always says—the democracy of the dead. There are so many things that have been written and studied in history by people before us that have found insights into human nature, and we don’t tend to respect them as much as we could. But it’s all there for the taking.

Imagine your child (or one you care about deeply) is now in their 30s – out of school and starting into adult life.  What do you hope for them about their life?  What would make it a ‘good’ life?

A good life is an honest life, it’s a thoughtful life, it’s a life that grows. It’s present and generous. I think that you would be open-minded and thoughtful, and broadly educated. And that you would be kind and considerate and generous, and appreciate the beauty of our lives. I think that takes openness and honesty, and work. There’s so many things you need to understand. Everyone says “there’s so many bad people out there,” and that’s true—you need to be able to understand the negative dynamics of the world. But on the other hand, there’s so much beauty and good. Being broadly educated allows you to understand the whole spectrum.

We don’t tend to judge our predicaments very intelligently, you know. We’re inundated with decision biases; the heuristics of our decision-making are based on past experiences, but our experiences our limited. We need to be more open and unbiased in our decisions. Decision-making and observer performance in radiology, for example. People tend to limit their diagnoses to what they know and what they’re comfortable with. They don’t open decisions up do what thy don’t know because its hard and exhausting. But the truth is, every decision is analytical, and if you don’t consider every option, you’re cheating the patient. That holds for everyone—we tend to come to decisions that we’re comfortable with, but they’re not always the best decisions. That’s why I find cognitive psychology so fascinating. We make so many of our decisions irrationally.

What role do you think schooling should play in achieving that ideal good life?

Schools should help us understand the world in a very diverse and broad way. Every time you take a course, you’re learning about another culture, or a historical perspective, or something you never thought could happen.

I think teaching kids to read, to want to read, is probably the biggest secret in education. If they read a lot, they do well. People have said that for ages, and I think it’s just true. It’s less to do with your experience in school than it is the fact that you read. You learn to read and be educated, but education never stops. It’s not like you learn that much in school; it teaches you to learn. That’s what I think school should do—teach you how to learn, to want to learn. Some people who are brilliant don’t need that, but most of us need someone to teach us how to learn.

Do you think schools are currently playing that role/doing what they should (for you/your child and for everyone)?

I don’t know. I don’t think so. I think parents teach more than schools do. I think schools are teaching kids to pass tests, but not how to learn. They’re goal- and test-oriented.

When you hire for a job, most people aren’t trying to reward achievement; they’re trying to find people who will do a good job. I always talk about good protoplasm when I hire people—you want people who are good people willing to work hard, and have a good foundational education. But grades—everyone talks about medicine as though it’s so cutthroat. But when we hire people, we don’t care about grades. We want people with good common sense who will work well with other people.

Do you think everyone agrees with you about the role of schooling?

No. I think most people think it should be to get a job, or be directed toward a particular goal. It is geared toward economics, not toward life satisfaction. Education should be for both things. There are important economic aspects, but its way more than that. It’s like sports—they’re always talking about the fundamentals. I was jut watching a documentary on Lombardi. He was coaching high school football, and he taught it like he taught a class. He threw away the ball for the first two weeks of practice and just focused on the basics. That’s where schools should start.