Pat, Actor, CA
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?
I hope they are employed in something that is sustaining and not miserable, even if they’re not getting paid to do their very favorite thing. Hopefully it’s a nice mix between typical job stuff and something that gives them a sense of fulfillment. I guess as it pertains to education, I’d hope they’re still learning on their own time and doing things that enrich them. Whether its reading or writing or hiking—they’re continuing to elucidate and gain a wider perspective. I would hope they are happy and healthy, and still have more yet to achieve, whether in their career or personal artistic pursuits. I would hope they are not just coasting, that there’s something to move forward toward.
I think about what “happy” means all the time. For me with any type of artistic stuff, whether its helping my career or not, if its something I feel is fulfilling… I guess that’s what I mean by happiness. A sense of purpose. When I’m at my least happy, I feel like I don’t have a sense of purpose, or that my purpose is being thwarted.
What role do you think schooling should play in achieving that ideal good life?
I think there’s two branches to it. One branch is expanding your mind, your horizons… making you a more culturally, politically, historically philosophically educated human being. Sort of the Socratic wisdom of learning how much you don’t know and learning to respect other perspectives. In an abstract sense it doesn’t have anything to do with getting a job or making money. For lack of a better word, becoming a smarter—a broader—human. Learning about socialism even if you’re a die-hard capitalist. Knowing these things because you can’t know your positions in life until you know the opposite of it. So that’s one branch—totally immutable, philosophical development.
On the other hand, I think people can and probably should be very pragmatic in learning how to live the life they want to live. I’m thinking of trade school being the most obvious example, when you literally learn to weld. I’m thinking of learning to do your taxes. There should be some element of learning to do skills that help you get by in life, and that having to do with some sort of vocation.
It’s like there should be two schools you go to: brain school and hand school. But I feel like it can be a challenge to combine those things. I don’t know that school has to be the place you learn your trade, but it is an important part of a human’ education overall.
Do you think schools are currently playing that role/doing what they should (for you/your child and for everyone)?
I don’t think it keeps it real enough. This might just be out of necessity, because school has to make a unified system for millions of people and do the least harm that it can, so I don’t really know how valid my complaints are because of the pragmatics of the situation. But my point is, school doesn’t keep it real with you. It needs more philosophy—not necessarily reading f***ing old philosophers, but talking about things from a young age. What makes you happy, what’s important, why is it important? Right now it’s too focused on the image of the American dream. It’s not inclusive enough of the ambiguity of the human experience.
It’s almost like there’s a perfect standard we’re all measuring ourselves against and failing in different ways, which is why everyone in public school, at least everyone I remember, felt like somewhat of a misfit. They didn’t meet the athletic, social, academic expectation. The perfect student was some type of Aryan ubermensch, and everyone felt imperfect, when in reality none of that matters. This kid I knew in high school named Jimmy, who was on stage crew, is now working for the traveling circus making good money, and he’s traveling all around, and he has a cool life. Now, should he have been feeling inadequate because he wasn’t quarterback valedictorian? No! He doesn’t care about that! He’s rigging the lights for some talking tiger and that’s what he was born for. This is all starting to sound kumbaya, and I’m putting a lot of words in people’s mouth, but I feel like Jimmy probably spent at least some time feeling inadequate in high school, when really being on stage crew and taking tech classes at community college got him exactly where he needed to go. And if he is happy and feels fulfilled, that’s just as impressive as going to Princeton and being head of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins. Those are equally virtuous uses of your time.
Do you think everyone agrees with you about the role of schooling?
Some people do. I feel like there’s some contention between the followers of brain school and hand school. Most people probably think one is more important. So they might disagree that the combination of both is important. They might disagree with my contention it’s important to get the 19th century German writer’s view on education as well, but that is going to affect how you think, how you vote, how you create. When you talk about low information voters, which I think is probably most people—even people who I would agree with politically—they have no idea. They haven’t read the arguments of the smartest people on the other side.
Book learning makes us a more healthy society, gives us a broader collective consciousness. It’s a civic duty. It defines where you fit in contributing to the needs of society. It’s easy to pull one over on an uneducated populace, especially if they’re uneducated in that book-learning regard.