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The Forum > Article Comments > For the joy of it > Comments

For the joy of it : Comments

By Shira Sebban, published 24/6/2013

Whatever happened to the idea that education is a good in itself as much, or more than, a financial good?

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Excellent. Thank you.
Too ofter universities are more interested in getting bums on seats than on the outcomes for students. Adam Smith over 200 years ago commented that professors, even then, were too interested in their own positions and the sinecures that they enjoyed.
Posted by Foyle, Monday, 24 June 2013 9:44:12 AM
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Shira, this is the best article I have read on OLO for many, many months.

I too was lucky enough to get a broad education rather than vocational training funded by Corporations.

I, like your Grandfather, was always questioning. My tertiary subjects helped me to join the dots, think outside the square, something that is uncommon in Australia judging by the poor standard of most comments on OLO.

I cannot for the life of me understand why most Australians cannot see the threat to freedom posed by the Big Brother nation of the world, the U.S.

I cannot understand why our politicians are so blind that they allow the imperial Americans to establish bases and spying facilities and drone-launching areas on our soil.

Universities are supposed to educate, not to provide vocational training.

Universities are churning out ignoramuses, not thinkers!
Posted by David G, Monday, 24 June 2013 10:34:02 AM
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While I'm sure you've opened yourself up to a lot of nitpicking about the finer points used to reinforce your argument, I think you present a very good point.

In his book "Euclid's Window" (a good read for those interested in geometry), Leonard Mlodinow makes an interesting observation about the Greeks and the Romans. While the Greeks were interested in knowledge for knowledge's sake, the Romans focused almost exclusively on knowledge that would be useful at a given point in time. Greece spawned quite brilliant astronomers, took considerable leaps in the arts of cartography and other areas of knowledge, and - had their attitude to knowledge continued unabated - might well have seen a far more advanced 21st Century than the one we currently occupy. The Romans focused on finite problems: how to span the Gardon River; how to close the gap on a military foe quickly and efficiently.

Obviously, both types of knowledge are useful - but neither should be favoured to the complete exclusion of the other. The Romans used the knowledge they inherited from the Greeks in all its abstract glory, but they did little to develop it. You could almost argue that the Romans developed a golden age of engineering but a dark age of scientific discovery. The Greeks may not have made as much use of their learning (and we can't forget that the Romans, not the Greeks, conquered most of the known world at the time), but they pursued it relentlessly which worked in favour of their successors.

This is why I'm particularly taken with Mlodinow's account. He not only glorifies science (and maths) for its own sake; he gives a fairly compelling reason for us all to do the same.
Posted by Otokonoko, Monday, 24 June 2013 12:01:59 PM
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Learning for the sheer joy of it has not disappeared, but not many people have the means to pay for such learning, nor rich benefactors to subsidize it for them.

There are many forms of free and low cost education available purely for pleasure, with many more appearing up on-line. However, if the student wants learning materials which have been carefully designed, or the assistance of a trained tutor, that is likely to cost money. Textbooks and e-learning courses do not write themselves, nor can many tutors afford to work for no pay.

While the liberal arts have been respected for thousands of years, even the ancient philosophers had to charge student fees in order to earn a living. The philosophers also doubled as paid civil and military consultants, designing waters supplies and weapons systems.

There should be no shame, and there can be much joy, in learning which is of practical use to the community. If you are independently wealthy, then you can afford learning just for the pure joy. The rest of us need to consider what will put bread on the table, as well as what will be intellectually stimulating.

ps: I will be speaking on "MOOCs with Books" at CSIRO in Canberra, 8 July 2013: http://moocs.eventbrite.com.au/
Posted by tomw, Monday, 24 June 2013 1:11:42 PM
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Thank you Shira, for this timely article.
A retired teacher, I have long been saying we are no longer educating our children, we are preparing them for work.

Now 75, I can say there is much more to life than work and an Žducation'in the original sense of the word, one your grandfather would know, does much to enhance it.

Lorraine Heaven
Posted by Hilily, Monday, 24 June 2013 3:37:57 PM
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Lovely thoughts Shira, but you neglect one point, who is going to pay? In days of yore only the wealthy could even aspire to a life of learning, as I believe you considered it. It was not something to which the peasantry could ever aspire, unless it was to learn how to better plow a field.

All too often we see those now elevated peasants who consider themselves as scholars are disdainful of such demeaning activities as earning a living. They expect the privileges of riding on the taxpayer's shoulders. There is absolutely no reason for the taxpayer to fund "learning for learning's sake", if it doesn't then give a return to them for their investment.

Yes learning is wonderful. In almost everything I have found anything gets boring once you have mastered it, so continual learning is required to maintain your interest, but again at whose cost.

Then again is university all that good for learning. When I decided to go motor racing, I had to learn to do all the development & maintenance work on engines & chassis myself, or I could never have afforded it. I found little to help me from my B Sc. Mech. Eng. I learnt most of what I needed from enthusiastic armatures.

After developing a championship winning car, when I ran into one of my old professors, & excitedly told him what we had done, he told me I was all wrong, & it would never work. I didnít bother telling him it already had, there did not seem much point. That is when I realised universities are an old peoples home for tired brains, & not interested in learning, only pontificating.
Posted by Hasbeen, Monday, 24 June 2013 5:06:07 PM
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