What should we teach?
Second on the list of topics suggested by those who replied to us on what subjects we should tackle in the Daily Paradox is education. Nobody, I imagine, doubts that everyone must be educated throughout their lives. So the question is what should we teach? Traditionally we have taught society’s moral and physical values at primary, cultural and historical practices at secondary and skills and philosophies at tertiary.
Specialisations have followed on entering the workforce and updating and upskilling have been inserted into the working life at suitable points. All very logical and, if assessed by the material and technological progress of the species, highly satisfactory. Despite the current widespread belief that people increasingly are going out of their minds, humanity is now healthier, more comfortable and better equipped than ever before. Numerically – if that is a relevant counter – we have never had so many.
We know how we are here. It’s thanks to our parents’ love-making. We don’t know what we are here for, except survival and our own love-making. We understand that much of what we do is instinctive but have little idea of how to make that behaviour ‘better’ – whatever better means in this context. If it means more peaceful and fairer we can claim some progress but we are not yet far along the highway of coexistence. If it means healthier and longer-lived we have achieved much but, again, with room for improvement. If non-human species were to guide our persistent search for longevity we would all be Ocean Clams by now.
We have learned that our lives are more fulfilled if we establish a particular purpose for ourselves. This is a relatively recent awakening because survival and self-defence have clearly always been the first purposes of the individual. They are now also the primary purposes of every government for its citizens. Protection over and above territorial armed attack is a major issue at elections – or when deciding not to riot if elections are not available. To date, the human species has opted for remaining broadly as we are. Its room for manoeuvre was limited.
Artificial Intelligence challenges us to decide if we want to remain a species of monkey that walks upright or whether we would prefer to be AI-driven automatons living ‘perfect decision-making lives’ without the disturbance of feelings. The Ming Clam lives for many hundred years apparently without revealing any emotions, though passion at great ocean depth may appear differently from that on the creative writers picket line.
AI will quickly develop way beyond its present capability, giving humanity options we are unable to assess at present. Our most important issue as a species is to decide what we want to be. If this seems far enough away today for us to defer any conclusion until the children are grown up, we are falling into the same trap that eliminated the dinosaurs. ‘Mañana’ is but a memory now. AI delivers faster than we do. It is starting to think faster than us, too.
The study of what constitutes a human being and whether that should be preserved, developed or changed is not something that can be left to academics and politicians. Brilliant as these groups are (well, one of them anyway) they are not leading the life of the average citizen in either rich or poor circumstances. Their professed left-wing beliefs often melt like arctic ice when faced with real wealth redistribution. They are basically good people trapped in a survival mode with virtually no flexibility.
You may think that such discussion is beyond the ken of people of limited education and none-too-developed learning. If you do, you make my point about what we should teach. Start from who we want humanity to be, see the need for a strategy to make us what we could become, educate to provide the brains and skills to make it happen and we shall have grasped what we need to teach. The logical progression from this stage – if you are still with me – is to enable, in a more realistic way, the contribution each person will make towards the goal.
Our present systems of selecting who to trust with the sensible development of the world are primitive beyond belief. To drive us to educate better we need the consequences of that education to be more quickly apparent.
How we could do that will be the subject of a later Daily Paradox.
But not too much later, I hope, for obvious reasons.
Prescriptions about what we should teach are dangerous if the purpose of that teaching is not clear and broadly agreed. We would love to hear your views on Education’s purpose for today and tomorrow. Please send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 October 2023