Walking composition

Education and being human

“We have to stop trying to make our children fit into the world that they find themselves in, and start creating a world that fits them.” —Sherrie Mitchell, Sacred Instructions

Yesterday one of my kids asked me what kind of college degree I thought would be useful for their future. It was an unexpected question. Despite coming from generations of people who have revered higher education above almost all other achievements, I haven’t drilled college into my kids. That is, I haven’t drilled university and degrees as a high ideal in the way that my family—on both sides—thought of it. It feels odd not to revere higher education. Both of my grandmothers had degrees and worked in their fields in a time when very few American women went to university; education in my family is almost a religion.

I’ve been in a years-long conversation with our local school board about what the priorities of our school district should be, mostly because I was increasingly alarmed and disappointed at the emphasis on testing scores and computerized learning. It’s sobering how many people take the “promote STEM learning and groom future programmers” as an unquestionable truth for elementary through high school education right now (when STEAM is mentioned, it’s not generally given much room or understanding). My own argument at school board meetings is generally that, by holding firm to these strategies, we’re preparing our children for the jobs from 20 or 30 years ago (this thought occurred to me one night, but I’m not the first one to express it).

Communication skills, I told my kid. Being able to understand people’s needs and emotions, and to express your own ideas in ways that large numbers of other people can understand and sympathize with them.

I don’t know that it’s right, but it certainly seems more useful than preparing for a job like programming that has a high chance of being almost exclusively automated. I’m not the first person to express this idea, either, but it seems to me that as the future becomes more digital, the skills that will stand out are the ones that tap ever deeper into what makes us most human. Part of that is having greater respect for the life all around us, and part is having more respect and understanding of one another.

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Some thoughtfulness and uplift:

  • Alan Watts on wonder, sent by someone here through the gift of online connection.

  • Dirk Philipsen, author of The Little Big Number on how GDP rules and corrupts life, writing in Aeon on the supremacy of the private and how we can reclaim the commons: “To own was always less about protection of the self than it was about exclusion of others.”

  • What if there is life on Venus? Anthropologist Gideon Lasco examines our exploration of space in the context of Earth-based colonialism for Sapiens magazine.

  • In his article, Lasco mentions Chinese author Cixin Liu’s enormous and bestselling sci-fi trilogy (he refers to it as Remembrance of Earth’s Past; I think of it as The Dark Forest trilogy), which I am never sure whether to recommend or not, but if someone does or has read it and can explain to me the process by which a particle is unfolded in different dimensions to spy on Earth, I’d be grateful. I read it several times and never got it.

  • A fantastic must-read: Melissa L. Sevigny’s amazing piece “The Wild Ones,” published in The Atavist last year, about botanists Lois Jotter and Elzada Clover running the Colorado River for their own scientific expedition in 1938: “Jotter smiled at the journalist who asked the question. ‘Just because the only other woman who ever attempted this trip was drowned,’ she replied, ‘is no reason women have any more to fear than men.’”