The supreme lesson of education is to think for yourself

Real education creates revolutionaries rather than suppressing them. At the very heart of every revolution is the free flow of information. Lifelong learning is like a never ending personal revolution.


Photo by Jenni Young on the set of her movie.

An important part of revolution is thinking for oneself and diversifying sources of information and education. Defiance and creativity go hand-in-hand. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said over and over, the world is in dire need of an "International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment." Much of education today focuses on obedience skills rather than critical thinking skills. This is because if you teach a child true critical thinking skills, you potentially create a problem for the system, because the system is profoundly nonsensical, and the child is likely to challenge or reject the system. Young adult students possessing true critical thinking skills are unmanageable, and therefore undesirable to many schools.

Too many people have been cut off from their own self-knowledge and critical thinking abilities. They are cocooned by the comfort of assumptions in a type of developmental stasis. They exist in an obedient, placated "status quo" or autopilot mode of existence. Their growth is stymied, effectively encasing their untapped and unique brilliance in a psychological tumor. Such is the bigot, the misogynist, the xenophobe, the common corporate drone, the academic elitist, the auto-piloted housewife vacuuming her way to heaven, the zealot nationalist whose extreme patriotism includes a feeling of superiority over other countries, and the modern-day vapid college graduate, who has only been readied for obedient submission to a life of mediocrity and corporate servitude.

There can be no revolution without an overthrow of the institutions of education. Centralized authority in education, which is simply a hierarchical, state-controlled institution of government imposed homogenization and "equality," is simply another form of social oppression, where unique individualism is being replaced with institutionalized faux "excellence." It is yet another example of how social monocultures suppress the wild growth that is possible in the untamed forest of innovation without limits. We should move away from its commercial, corporate, consumerist orientation, and instead move toward a goal of helping individuals attain inner maturity, balance and a deeply rewarding sense of fulfillment. We should support and foster building organic relationships among all educational disciplines. This would allow each person to develop their own unique calling in society through a wider spectrum of experiences.

When education is decentralized and set free, there is more room for less restrictive apprenticeships and mentoring. Because of the diversity of learning opportunities—a more accommodating system of peer-review and validation can exist. We need to be more open minded about education, and especially there needs to be more acceptance of critical thinking, including toward the system itself. What is the current path and platform for auto-didactics, revolutionaries, trendsetters, misfits, rebels, innovators, people who ask why, alternative thinkers, radical reformers, cultural icons, mould-breakers, geniuses and critical thinkers? Real education is about revolution.

Does society drive revolutionaries underground into isolation, or openly celebrate their uniqueness? The answer appears to be both. The word celebrity comes from our celebration of those who conquer fear and dare to be different. Originality is coveted by society, yet it is also subject to society's judgment, fear and impulse to identify and pick-at things that are different. From an early age children quickly and naturally identify and pay attention to what is different. This tendency can also be observed in nature, when an animal with odd markings, features or behaviors is killed or rejected by the other members of its species, pack or clan. This is why leading-edge people and sometimes so-called celebrities are the subject of both criticism and adoration. We all know it takes courage to put yourself out there, and we respect people who take that bold and sometimes dangerous risk for us, when perhaps our social fears keep us frozen in our place. Those fears and concerns are legitimate, because being different sometimes comes with real risks. But difference is worth the risk, and may even be a coveted characteristic because those genetic, mental or social aberrations could actually lead to entirely new species, knowledge disciplines or social structures that make the subject of that variation stronger. But at the same time the unknown is feared and what is new is certainly unknown. Yet, real education must be about discovering the unknown, and whenever education becomes a system of conformity it is no longer useful.

In 1998, Apple, Inc. won an Emmy Award for Best Commercial, and also won the 2000 Grand Effie Award for their ad campaign which—no matter its corporate source—deeply resonated with the respect we all have for those who dare to think and act differently:

"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do."  — Apple Commercial

Rebellious and adventurous souls have a way of leading us off the edge of the map, where the dragons are, to confront those dark beasts of our fear and ignorance. The spirit of discovery cannot be cultivated on an assembly line of desks in classrooms. We must question the seats of authority, especially in education, and seek to understand what "valid" is and where authority originates. By breaking down the monocultures in education and building individualized community learning networks for all ages, we can go beyond the bureaucratic limitations of graded classrooms, standardized curricula, reductionist testing and mandatory attendance in isolated buildings called "schools."

Certainly not all schools and universities are "bad," and many are wonderful, but they are not the only sources of legitimate learning which should be recognized. Many of today's universities are run like diploma mills, turning out tens of thousands of students who paid huge sums of money for their piece of paper, and who are entirely unprepared to meet life's real challenges, and most importantly, to meet them with vigor and brilliance as original contributors to human knowledge and wisdom. Much of the educational system is a broken relic, a symbol of shortsightedness and corporate greed. The Department of Education and the accreditation agencies have become monopolistic bureaucracies that have killed the diversity in education. Real freedom does not need permission to teach or to learn. In a free society a full spectrum of education providers are free to meet the diverse needs of its learners. The adage buyer beware is the test of any assertion of value. It is incumbent upon all literate and free people to investigate and evaluate the worth and validity of any educational institution's assertion of value upon its students, faculty and programs. Licensing and accreditation monopolies arguably harm education more than they help. But knowledge truly is power. Real knowledge and truth cannot be invalidated. Knowledge changes things, even if that knowledge does not have a seal of approval from the power structures. This concept is revolution in action. Real education is valuable, no matter where it comes from: an ivy league school, a public library or your grandmother. Real education needs no official validation, it is validated by its usefulness and integrity, which are currencies universally accepted.

No one owns exclusive control of free minds, mutual consent of association, words, ideas, creativity, philosophies, beliefs or opinions. The revolution of real education is in understanding that education is about ideas! You cannot regulate or control an idea. Ideas do not submit to, or acknowledge any jurisdiction other than the jurisdictions of creativity and the mutual consent of peers. This is why revolution happens, because ideas have a life of their own, and the new generations eventually supplant the old ideas with their own. Young people do not need a "traditional" education, they ARE the education. The young will teach the old the new ways, and the old will adapt or perish. The essential lesson the student needs to know is they do not need anything because the path to their future is already written into the fabric of their being. As you blossom, your sweet gift is the literal future of society through the unique imprint of your innovations, ideas and contributions. The crumbling establishment needs fertile young minds more than young people need the establishment. When you ask "why," and defy the system, and poke at what seems broken, you become the revolution by spurring the transformation from what is—into what will be.

Apple's CEO, Steve Jobs, who ordered the creation of the previously mentioned Think Different campaign, said in an interview for the 1994 PBS documentary, One Last Thing:

"When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That's a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is—everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That's maybe the most important thing. It's to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you're just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it. I think that's very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you'll want to change life and make it better, cause it's kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you'll never be the same again."  — Steve Jobs, Apple, Inc.

Real education creates revolutionaries rather than suppressing them. At the very heart of every revolution is the free flow of information. Lifelong learning is like a never ending personal revolution. Why not make that revolution of enlightenment available to everyone at all times? We should open the floodgates of availability to open and free learning for all people. Any community would benefit from having more literate, critical thinkers among its population. When knowledge becomes a profit center, guards and bars must be placed around the vault of wisdom, and educators and administrators become knowledge profiteers in the war against ignorance. They become information bankers, holding knowledge ransom for a fee, which is a self-destructive enterprise to any forward-seeking society.

The truly astute master teacher has learned the lesson of humility. True education seeks to set its students free, not to hold them captive to antiquated standards, or to ensnare them in debt. The student always becomes the master, and such is the revolutionary transition of power between generations. Young people are the future, and we must believe in them. Anyone who resists revolution or pooh-poohs an emerging revolution is grossly ignorant of the fact that life without evolution is extinction. And while every revolution may not be forward moving, all forward movement is revolutionary. We must therefore at least give serious consideration to the messages of those on the front lines of change. The supreme lesson of any education should be to think for yourself and to be yourself; absent this attainment, education creates dangerous, stupefying conformity.

The supreme lesson of education is to think for yourself; absent this attainment, education creates dangerous, stupefying conformity.