Why we believe in what we believe in

Over the last few years that I have spent engaging with children and exploring the education system, I have come to a very broad categorization of the educational institutes that exist in our society. This categorization is based on two parameters as follows:

Dimension 1: Dimension of “Teaching Style”

The two extremes of this dimensions are occupied by the following kind of educational institutes:

  • At one end of this dimension lie the educational institutes who “just” share with children what mankind believes in. So, for e.g. in a Physics class a child will be told that mankind believes in the theory of Gravity. The teacher will give definition, examples, formulas, problems etc. to impress on the kid that Gravity is an uncontestable fact of nature. In simple words, these institutes are based on sharing facts, that can’t be questioned.
    • At the other end of this dimension lie the educational institutes who not only do share with children what mankind believes in but also allow the child to explore/experiment/experience the force of Gravity. In simple words, these institutes are ‘fact + experience’ based.

Dimension 2: Dimension of “Engaging Style”

The two extremes of this dimensions are occupied by the following kind of educational institutes:

  • At one end of this dimension lie the educational institutes where children have no or limited freedom to ask questions in order to appreciate or absorb what has been taught as facts of nature. In simple words, these institutes are not designed around the curiosity of students.
    • At other end of this dimension lie the educational institutes where children have reasonable or significant freedom to ask questions, so as to appreciate or absorb what has been taught as facts of nature. In simple words, these institutes are structured around the curiosity of students.

Now I can take these two dimensions and club them into a chart as follow: (I have to do it after all at some point I did MBA😊)

Broadly all the educational setups that I have seen or explored (government schools, private schools based on Indian boards, private schools based on international boards, and homeschooling setups) typically fit somewhere in the above chart. People typically classify schools lying at the bottom left-hand corner as “Not-so-good” schools while those lying as top right-hand corner as “Good” schools.

In my view this is a mistaken/faulty approach to evaluating an education system. In our modern education system, curiosity and exploration are either not encouraged OR if encouraged then the intent is to let the children appreciate and absorb what we know. Well nothing wrong with this kind of curiosity i.e. curiosity designed to understand what we know. But for the progress of our specie we need something more and that something more is curiosity and exploration that questions the existence of what we know itself. When we teach our children, (whether in an interesting or boring manner) to approach knowledge from a perspective that what we know is a fact, or in other words, what we know is an unquestionable reality of nature, we create adults who when faced with a question/situation, run or seek help of some authority (books/teachers/google/bosses/experts/etc.) for answers because they grow up believing that solving a problem is all about finding a right answer that already exists or finding an authority with the so-called right answer. In short, by doing so we ensure that the significance of human ingenuity in solving problems that has, over time, brought us so far is completely lost to our children. I have now lost count of the number of times, when in the initial classes of my Science course, children/parents have asked me, in different different words, as to why do I first work to establish wrong theories and then work to prove them wrong – what’s the point of wasting so much time – why don’t I just explain them the theories that we accept as correct today? The only satisfaction I have, after so many years, is that eventually by the time we finish the journey, those who stick around are able to appreciate, and in some cases enjoy, the journey we jointly undertake. For me clearly a good education system focuses on teaching children why we believe in what we believe in (and not only that what we believe in is a truth). It is only when we engage in a manner that allows children to question the validity of all that we know, we create an education system that fosters the retention and growth of independent thinking and empathy in them. It’s our independent thinking and empathy that truly makes us human (and educated).

“When we know that what we know is just an approximate answer, and not a fact, we always explore for better answers thereby remaining open to alternate viewpoints. In other words, we always remain independent thinkers with an empathetic approach to life.”

To sum up – A Good education system cannot be one which just makes the subjects interesting for the children and lets them asks questions with the intent to appreciate or absorb a known answer – a good education system gives children the ability to question authority i.e. the freedom to question the known answers and create new answers. In other words, a good education system lets children make independent thinking and empathy an integral part of their lives. It is in this freedom to question authority lies the future of our specie because all our problems of today are an outcome of our unquestionable belief in authorities. It is in this ability to question authority lies our ability to not become fanatics.

Given this, I believe a proper analysis of educational institutes should be done as follows:

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