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One of the strongest memories of my childhood is playing in my yard. I would scramble around in the dirt, finding all sorts of hiding places under shrubs, catching numerous types of animals from toads to insects to birds. I was amazed by the variety of life and the emotions that each clearly felt. The hungry toad. The frightened robin. The sly fox.
I would sit in the classroom all day, boiling in stale air, yearning to breathe free. My eyes fixated on the swaying grass, feeling the incredible life of the outdoors instead of hearing the interminable drone of the in.
Organized education is a very recent development in human society. We’ve been around as a species for around 5,000,000 years and the oldest universities were founded around 1,000 AD. That means that our brains, in their current form, have only been subjected to the endless droning of teachers for about 0.02% of their entire lifespan. For the vast majority of us, education was not a reality until the last fifty years, and college, not to mention grad school, for even less. Realistically, our brains have barely experienced education at all as it stands today. It’s a tiny atom on the head of a pin on the head of a sledgehammer on the head of an elephant of the history of our species.
How, exactly, did we manage to survive before we finally saw the light of education?
Well, let’s think about it. Applying Occam’s razor, we flourished because we don’t actually survive via conscious thought. But education is all about training your mind. Giving it tools to think consciously. Rules of math and geometry. History of the world. Names of states. Great stories with metaphor to apply to your life.
But all of that, all of it, only applies if you expect to live in an organized society.
We learn rules so that we know the law. We learn names of states so that we can send mail. We learn history so that we can govern and not make the same mistakes. And we learn math and geometry to build bigger and better tools. And most strangely, no one seems to know economics as that’s an elective.
But what use is math and science and geometry and history if you want to hit a baseball?
A 90mph pitch is hurtling at you. It takes four-tenths of a second to travel the sixty feet to the catcher’s glove. A baseball player has around one-tenth of a second to decide if they are going to swing and, if so, where and at what speed.
Do you really think they are calculating the trajectory of the ball, factoring in wind dynamics, projecting its spin effect, countering the spin of the Earth, estimating the future position of the ball, predicting a perfect point of impact, tensing their muscles, swinging the bat, and then preparing to sprint all in their conscious mind?
No, their brain simply says, “Hit the fucking ball!”
Baseball players listen to their natural visual analytics engine combined with memories of every single pitch they have ever seen before, like a pianist with perfect muscle memory. They are artists through and through. Babe Ruth was so amazing that he could even tell the pitcher where he was going to smack that thing before the pitch ever happened.
So what purpose does education actually play?
The only use a baseball player has for education is when he is off the field, interacting with the rest of society. Education is not for the individual, but for the rest of us.
The conscious brain is not who we are. We are instinct, feeling, and our perception of the world around us. We would never try to overcome our greatest fears unless someone else forced us to, which wouldn’t have happened until extremely recently.
Most of the time we have been around, we listened to no thoughts in our heads. There were no words. No letters. No code and no numbers. There were simply images, sounds, touches, tastes, scents, and feelings.
We all know that scent can trigger intense memories. It is the sense most intimately related to memory. Except I can tell you that isn’t true. My own experiences have made it clear that it is in fact feelings that are more closely tied to memories than anything else. An intense feeling of love brings back every other memory related to it. Likewise with fear and every other feeling in the rainbow of life.
But the educational system destroys this innate sense by taking it away from you during your childhood. You are plucked from this world of wonder and chained to a chair, forced to sit quietly for hours on end, feeling nothing, allowed to express nothing, like robots in an intergalactic void. Your memories of that freedom and wonder slowly lapse into boredom and homework, sometimes interspersed with tightly controlled discovery and wonder. But it is no longer free. You don’t catch your own birds and feel their panicked heartbeat in your tight hands, you are forced to wait and gently touch a non-native parrot while you worry about getting screamed at.
The whole time, conscious thought drowns out your subconscious, like a chainsaw over bird song. Eventually you can’t even hear it. By the time you are finally free, you won’t even remember what it is. The lost decade is real and it is all of us trying to remember something that we forgot.
That knowledge is that human children learned how to survive and flourish for 5,000,000 years by playing outside, with no one to watch over them but their parents. No classrooms. No teachers. No bullies. No dress code. No lessons. No textbooks.
And we were fine.
What have we done to ourselves? What have we missed? What have we forgotten?
I’m finally waking up that those times spent playing in my yard were the best of my life. They were when I was free. They were when I learned the lessons that have taught me the most. They taught me the thing that is most important. The thing that no class can ever teach.
They taught me how to feel.