Below are three super duper essays from the last round of responses, those addressing or reacting to Booth and Plato and the rarity and difficulty of true or real education. In order, Taylor’s, Abbey’s and Erin’s:
If Booth were to see the extent to which today’s education is engrossed by technology, I think he would be even more horrified than he was in 1967. In addition to the continued practice of “sage on the stage” in many lecture classes, a practice that does not develop any of the skills that Booth argues are part of an education, today’s students are subjected to more and easier access to “misinformation” than was available in 1967. Instead of searching for an internet article, which may be filled with incorrect information just by its own account, students often accept what a third party has posted on blogs or Facebook as truth. So not only are students getting information through a long set of intermediaries, the final information viewed has most likely undergone more distortion from the original authors intent than Booth could have ever imagined or experienced in the 1960s.
Often times, individuals are just filled with information today, and more frequently, the information is watered-down so greatly that it has little to no meaning that the reader could hope to draw from it. For example, searching for a definition online does not require any questioning from the researcher as to whether the idea being studying is correct or not, because the answer is easily presented in few words and as though it is fact. Moreover, the educational system commonly does not ask students to study the validity of how a theory was conceptualized; the emphasis is placed on just knowing what the author says. Therefore, today’s education lacks an emphasis on “rejection” and “renewing”, while it supports a weak version of “recovery”.
As proposed by Booth, I agree that individuals have a tendency to reject or dilute ideas “into simpler, ready-made categories of old ideas”. Contrary to Booth’s idea that individuals dodge true recovery because of ignorance or a lack of desire to acknowledge and correct contradictions, I feel the main reason for morphing innovative ideas into something they were never intended to be is to avoid conflict- whether the conflict is with an entity outside of the individual or an internal conflict.
For example, learning a new truth that causes one to discover the way they lived their life until this point was wrong, would not only require them to admit their error, but it would involve changing their life and beliefs in order to correct the contradiction. I do not think individuals resist addressing the contradiction necessarily out of laziness or a disinterest in living rightly; it is a mechanism to avoid the fear of admitting they are wrong and betraying beliefs they were accustom to.
Accepting this new truth for its actual meaning could place a strain on the relationships held by the individual, such as finding out the group religion they practice is incorrect. This would mean removing themselves from a comfortable support system and causing unrest in their community. Since ignorance is difficult to break and the process of enlightenment is troublesome to start due to the fear of deviating from one’s way of thinking, education should prove to individuals that it is right and natural to leave the comfortability of mindless conformity while it instills the processes of recovering meaning and deciphering truth.
The idea that many individuals are reluctant to embark upon true education relates to Plato’s idea that it is easier to live with falsehoods than with truth. Again, I do not feel all individuals refuse to make “the rough ascent” because of a lack of motivation to achieve education or ignorance, but because of a fear of finding answers completely different than what they had relied on previously. This distress is the deterrent from actual learning. I see this fear still binding individuals from seeking truth in today’s western society as it becomes increasingly secular. Without regarding one organized religion as higher than another, I feel that those who claim to be atheist are fearful of discovering a strong, uncontrollable power that may find fault with them and would rather remain comfortable under the illusion that humans are the strongest force that can affect this universe.
Wayne C. Booth identifies the four “R”s of a liberal education as recovery of meaning, rejection of whatever is false, also called critical thinking, renewing what is worthwhile, and revolutionizing thought by establishing truly new ideas. Booth believes that the four “R”s are significant because they liberate our minds and force us to evaluate what is true for ourselves. According to Booth, true education allows men to “apply their minds,” and to decide for themselves what to “call good or true or beautiful.”
Three of the four elements Booth describes involve some method of evaluating already existing information; only the final element involves the creation of truly unique ideas. Therefore, the purpose of education is just as much to evaluate already established information as it is to create new ideas. This dual emphasis alludes to education’s crucial role not simply to teach concepts but to encourage individuals to determine truth for themselves.
Using Plato’s scenario of the cave, the four “R”s of education force us out of the cave and into the light, even though the process is painful and uncomfortable. Though the pain of the process is undesirable, it is an essential step in reaching true understanding. It is impossible to enter from the darkness to the light without the adjustment of our eyes, in a literal sense, but also the refining of our definition of truth. This is where Plato’s comment that “it is often easier to live with falsehoods than with truth,” ties in.
It is, often if not always, easier and safer to stay in the dark rather than venturing into the light. If a man never leaves the cave and never experiences true education, he will not actually know that anything but the shadows exist. He may continue to live in ignorance, but he never reaches his true potential. I think to an extent we all choose to live in falsehoods rather than facing the truth; certainly it is much for comfortable and without a doubt more safe. But to reference C.S. Lewis in the Chronicles of Narnia, just because something is safe does not always mean that it is good.
In my personal experience, living in ignorance to the suffering in the world certainly would lead to a much safer and more comfortable future. However, through my opportunities to travel both to India and to Peru, along my reading of the book A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseni and various other contributing elements, I feel as though in some way I have stepped out of the cave. I can no longer deny the reality of suffering in the world, and I feel a conviction to contribute to the well-being of others. Post-college, my plans include potentially moving to the Middle East, a decision that could easily place me in uncomfortable or even dangerous situations.
These plans are, not surprisingly, terrifying to my parents, who raised me in private school in a suburb of Atlanta protecting and nurturing me the best way they knew how. However, in my eyes, if I now choose to continue on with my life without concerning myself with the wellbeing of the thousands of humans who are suffering, I would be stepping back into the cave. However, this time I no longer have the excuse of ignorance but am consciously choosing comfort over sacrifice.
It is impossible to live a truly good life in ignorance. Living in ignorance is not really living at all. While the man chained in his fetters in the dark cave may be satisfied and breathing, a truly good or meaningful life involves the risk confronting the truth. Booth’s four “R”s, recovery, rejection, renewing, and revolutionizing, are significant elements of both a true liberal education and an “examined life.” However, these four elements are preceded by recognition. The first step in stepping out of the cave is recognizing that the light exists.
Technology is aiding the process of education. Just for this class we are posting thoughts on a blog, gathering articles from e-reserves, and here I am typing and rearranging my thoughts with speed and ease. The internet provides masses of information and makes research easy and efficient. However, I feel certain that Booth would be unhappy with the effect technology has had on my generation.
While I try to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge at my disposal, I am also barraged and distracted by the many options. I grow easily overwhelmed with the absurd amount of articles I must filter through for a paper, or I simply discard many sources that could be valuable texts for my research because I do not have the time to give each source its due. This inundation of information has altered our mindsets. Not only do we believe that we can easily look up a fact or story, we approach learning as a sort of scavenger hunt. I suppose I should speak for myself, but I can also attest to many of my peers adopting a similar mindset.
Last semester in English 102, we wrote mediation papers on a controversial issue. These papers were composed of many different facets: background, context, presentation of each side, a proposal for a solution, and finally a practical compromise. This was one of the heftier research projects I have tackled, and I was grateful for the tips and pointers our professor gave us. However, in light of our current discussion, the method and final product of this endeavor attest to the new mindset technology has given us. It was impossible to pursue the truth with liberating abandon or to benefit from the process of research without constant distraction from guidelines, deadlines, outlines, and rubrics.
This example could also display how our education can distract us from learning, but I’d like to concentrate on how it illustrates the role of technology. We had requirements for the number of sources we used on each section, the type of source, the format of citation, and the position of the source. We had to check and double check the credibility of articles we used as well as confirming that the version we read was as close to the original as possible and not secondhand, summarized, or quoted. Besides this, we had to present our information in an unbiased, objective perspective, ensuring fairness to both sides of our issue. All this was demanding, infuriating, and intense.
I cannot see any other way of learning to research or properly documenting a paper. All this headache and hassle is necessary to get to the bottom of the mountains of information available to the average college student. I learned so much from this English class. I can efficiently maneuver various databases, websites, and files. I can cite in three different formats. I can synthesize information and present it in a readable fashion.
While I can see the good in technology, and I appreciate its’ presence, this anecdote would probably infuriate Booth. The product of this research was anything but liberating. It was constantly driven by the need to locate tidbits of presupposed information. I developed a conclusion with very little research in mind, and I strove to find information to support it. I was required to make the best case for both sides of my issue, even if one side had an inferior argument.
Because of the assignment, I approached the paper determined to weed out irrelevant information and save what was helpful to me. This method must be employed to some degree simply because of the ridiculous amount of information available. Technology makes this pick-and-choose method necessary and hinders the pursuit of meaning and truth that Booth values.
This concept links interestingly to our reading of Plato. His illustration of men imprisoned in a cave and duped by shadow and illusion represents a lack of knowledge and a lack of contact with reality. I think that his picture applies conversely to a world overrun with information, instead of sorely lacking it. This flood of information and ideas could just as easily blind a seeker of truth as the darkness of ignorance.