By Roland Watson

In the last article, I concluded that the solutions to the problems of the world lie with us. We cannot trust our leaders to actually lead the way. We will have to do it on our own.

This in turn raises the issue of education. In other words, we're not going to solve anything if we are ignorant.

Education is in fact the core solution. It is absolutely essential. We will not be able to resolve our social and environmental problems without it. Indeed, its importance is supreme, since it is also crucial to your own process of personal growth, where you find a purpose in your life and develop into a unique individual.

The nature of of education

There are many different types of learning, and none are easy. Any serious skill or area of knowledge worth mastering requires discipline and a lot of time: often five or more years of concentrated effort. For example, it took Albert Einstein ten years to complete his General Theory of Relativity.

Of course, education is much broader than any particular skill or area of knowledge. It actually starts with learning about life itself. And, as this suggests, there are two basic sources of education: from experience, and from reading and studying books, which often occurs with the support of a teacher and in the context of a school. Furthermore, the process of education is not simply exposing yourself to new experiences, or to books and schools. It is not passive. You have to interact.

With books and schools, the key is asking questions. But, it is not the answers, the outcome, that are the most important part of this process. You have to challenge yourself, and what you know, by learning how to phrase what you know, and do not yet know, into cogent and meaningful questions. Then, when you get the answers, you have a platform of knowledge constructed on which to add them.

Similarly, with experience, you have to make mistakes. The main way people learn from life, and perhaps the only way its lessons ever really take hold, is by making mistakes, and suffering the consequences. It is the proverbial story of the child who touches a hot stove. "Hot" lacks meaning, until it is experienced.

So, besides understanding how not to get burned, what is it that we want to know?

Existential education

The lessons of life can be broken down into four, somewhat overlapping areas, the first of which I term identity or existential education. This involves learning about the nature of the universe and existence, and of what is involved in the process of living a human life. Also, this covers what you might call "creativity" education, or learning how to express yourself in an original way.

This category of education comprises what are often referred to as the issues, or questions, of philosophy, and which I cover extensively on this website. This education has as its starting point the fact that actions have consequences. In other words, everything you do affects the world, and yourself, and, you are responsible for this. You are not a victim. You can't say it wasn't your fault. You are self-conscious, you have self-knowledge, and because of this you know what you are doing. You are responsible.

Social and environmental education

The second category is social and environmental education. This includes learning how to have good relationships with other people, and about the relationships between individuals and society, and between individuals and society and the natural environment.

For this category, you need to learn the basics of human behavior, which are known as ethics, and which I will cover in its own series of articles. As to your relationship with society, this is of course form, and the social contract. For the natural environment, you need to learn to think of it as an ecology, as a living organism, with interrelated and interdependent parts. Also, of course, your relationships with society and with nature are covered by ethics as well.

Furthermore, for the first two educational categories, they are, of course, the stuff of life. Book knowledge is useful, but it is experience, the accumulation of life experience, including both the good and the bad, that really drives these lessons home.

Practical education

The next category is practical education: the learning that enables you to survive, to satisfy your basic needs. In modern society, this relates largely to "economic" learning, to developing some skill or trade that you can use to generate an income. Practical education is the function of schools, universities, and specialized books. However, much if not most of what you will really need to know, you will learn on the job.

It is worth noting that practical education has not always dominated schools, including universities. Many universities used to pride themselves on offering what they called a liberal arts education, which was much broader and which covered the basic issues of life. Now that the competition in life has so intensified, though, they have become much more focused on career preparation.

Also, for the specific occupation of being a scientist, the first and third categories actually merge. Scientists pursue careers that allow them to explore the intricacies of the nature of the universe, and of life.

Physical education

The final educational category is learning physical skills, for certain types of jobs, for enjoyment, and for good health.

Here is a tip on physical education: In many cases, it can be beneficial to push yourself very hard early on. The reason for this is that even though you won't be very good at the activity, you will be immediately exposed to what is required to develop an advanced level of ability. Your brain, where ultimately all learning takes place, can begin to work on the problem.

This type of approach clearly reveals the ultimate goal. Also, and even more importantly, when you return to the novice and intermediate stages, they won't be as intimidating, and hence they will be easier to learn.

Indeed, this approach is an excellent way to conquer fear, which is a critical factor in learning physical skills that involve risk. It's a type of shock therapy.

Of course, it's only applicable to activities that don't involve extreme danger. Otherwise, you might get yourself killed.

Even more, though, this approach to education is useful for learning more than just physical skills. What I mean by this is that when you are learning any new area or class of ideas, it is best to begin with what is not known. For example, for the subject of physics, which attempts to understand the universe as deeply as any other, you should begin by exposing yourself to the field's unanswered questions. Then, you can proceed to the the history, and the first steps, of what we do know - or believe.

Life's learning cycle

The greatest period of learning for a human is from childhood through to becoming a young adult. During this time the majority of your education is provided by your parents, or other relatives, and by schools.

Considering the different categories, we can say that family is largely responsible for existential and social education, and schools, at least in modern societies, for environmental and practical education. Physical education may - and should - come from either source, and you can also learn it, a physical activity, by yourself.

However, insofar as parents control decisions about schooling, and access to other so-called educational influences, it is the case that, at least for children, they are wholly responsible.

If you are a parent, a critical part of your responsibility is as the "protector" of your child's education. You must protect your children from many negative influences. These include the TV and the Internet, including both the content and the advertising; from inappropriate toys, including such things as toy weapons and computer games; from inadequate and inappropriate schooling; and from peer pressure.

As an aside, the training that we get from society to be materialistic begins when we are children, through wanting toys. As a parent, you need to counter, or at least control, this negative influence.

Indeed, as a parent, you cannot overestimate your importance, particularly when your children are very young. For instance, and as I have already mentioned, research has shown that the number of words an infant hears - just the actual number - spoken to them by a caring and attentive individual - the TV does not count!, is the most important predictor of future intellectual performance and personal contentment. You should talk to your children continuously, especially in their first three years.

Research has also shown - I mentioned this in another article as well - that playing classical music in an infant's environment has a similarly positive effect on his or her intellectual capability. There are highly complex forms of order embedded in classical music, which the infant brain recognizes and adapts to. It reprograms itself, so it is better able to understand them.

The author Dr. Ratey, who I also quote in other series, has discussed this. He said:

"The key to brain development is the rate of early learning - not so much what is prewired but how much of the brain gets interconnected in these first few months and years."

In conclusion, all of this begs the question, how does one learn? How do we learn anything? I am going to consider this question in an entire series, on how the brain works. In the next article, though, I will explore in more detail just what exactly it means, to learn.

© Roland Watson 2014