Monday, April 28, 2014

Day 266 of 365: The State of Education

As part of my yoga training, I've been taking a few online courses. The primary one has been on yoga anatomy, which I cannot praise enough. Anything that breaks the movements down into hard science and uses that to say, "There's a lot of bullshit things yoga teachers say. This is why you shouldn't say them," is a-okay with me.

But I've also been taking a few supplementary classes -- free courses that are "highly recommended" but not required. Of course, the required courses aren't free, but, hey, such is life. One of these courses is through Princeton University, called "Buddhism and Evolutionary Psychology". I finished the last lecture last week and have been dragging ass on doing the final. But don't let my procrastination fool you: this class was incredible and I'm a bit sad to see it end. The class affirmed a lot of the stuff I've been saying for years about the human mind (but had nothing scientific to actually back it up). It was also net as all getout to learn a little more about Buddhism, as my yoga training tends to eschew any religious connections or affiliations (because, for all of the criticism that yoga has become too "western", people still assume you have to practice Hinduism or Buddhism in order to actually do yoga).

Another course is on the brain and the neurobiology of everyday life, through the University of Chicago. Again, I love when I'm given empirical data -- this situation creates this reaction and a release of this chemical -- when talking about things like yoga. Show me the lobes of the brain that get activated during certain breathing techniques. Tell me more about what sets off the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system. Let's have a nice long chat on operant conditioning and synaptic connections and neural pathways. Give me this shit, because like hell if my hypothetical students will care if I prattle about chakras and third eyes.

A lot of schools have been doing this, posting courses online for free, allowing unlimited downloads of lecture slides. In the age of information, a lot of these schools -- especially the top tier, supposedly exclusive universities -- are going, "No, y'all need to learn some shit."

It got me thinking about the state of education right now. There's this really weird dichotomy in place now: thanks to the internet, you can learn downright anything. If you're curious, there's a tutorial, an essay, a free course -- anything. Granted, the self-learning comes with the lack of someone to tell you when you're veering off course, but that piece of information doesn't seem to bad when you look at the other side of this coin. There, you find what I call McBachelor's -- schools that bring in and churn out students like a factory. These kids go through a high school career with an inefficient education and inflated grades and then put into whatever college will take them to get that necessary bachelor's. Classes that are taught by professors who barely speak English, papers that are graded by overworked TAs who just want to get the damn thing done. Suddenly, you're essentially teaching yourself, only with the added bonus of not knowing what grade you'll get (because we've all had the professor/TA who grades inconsistently and arbitrarily, and you genuinely don't know if you got them on a good day or a bad day).

Obviously there's a good amount of middle ground between the two, but it's still worth noting that, in a world saturated with college education, the emphasis seems less on "education" and more on "college". Can you take some tests, apply for student loans, and hold onto a piece of paper that will do nothing more than keep your résumé out of the trash bin for 5 more minutes? Who cares about what you've actually learned; who cares if your professors actually cared about enriching your brain or if you got a McEducation.

I could rant forever about McBachelor's and the state of learning these days, but this post is long-winded enough. Besides, there's a final exam that I desperately need to do and it's about time I actually did it.

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