Learning and Unlearning…

outhouse“Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.” – B. F. Skinner

There is a strong and resilient tradition of anti-intellectualism in America. It attributes vanity, pride and ignorance to too much learning, and takes pride in a lack of formal learning that avoids ignorance.

American anti-intellectualism is a natural response to the rejection of elitism (that birth or privilege determines value in life and society) and the strong democratic spirit of America’s history. (Yes, it sounds like a topic we’d hear in intellectual circles, and that’s ironic). There is a ‘common sense’ and ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident’ that’s as ordinary as the nose on one’s face.

It’s an everyday ‘smart’ that differs from being book-smart. And it routinely warns that books and education can easily ruin a good and get in the way of common sense. Sometimes.

So a young man went off to the university to study geology. He returned after his first year and warned his dad that the well was too close to the outhouse. The dad replied that the boy didn’t know what he was talking about and insisted that the well was fine where it was. The same thing happened after the boy’s second and third years of studying geology, and the dad said the boy only had ‘book education’ but not ‘life learning’ and said he wouldn’t listen until the boy had accomplished something.

After the boy returned with his degree in hand and made his case, once again – that the well was too close to the outhouse and that the family’s fresh water supply could be polluted by the outhouse – the dad finally relented.

He moved the outhouse and a week later the well dried up.

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A student that didn’t study…

I hated school and loved it
with the best reasons I could imagine
when I was so young,
it was everything I wanted but came
with such a painful price
of learning by unlearning, hearing
what I didn’t know to hear,
my imagination of a world constantly
spinning had to be stopped
to gain what could not be stilled,
all measured by letters and
discouraging questions trying to diagnose
what might be missing
as I failed to live up to my potential
which as they described it
was never much to aspire to,
year after year until
I walked away because I wasn’t ready
to stop the world’s whirl
and every day I missed what I lost,
every moment counted as wasted,
until the undoing of my undoing
began to take shape
and the only thing I had missed
was what I had missed.