[Part of the Pagan Blog Project]
I’ve been thinking this week – well, I do many weeks – about education. And what it means. Now, don’t get me wrong: I am fond of formal education.
(With the exception of the year I was not working, every year of my life has been lived by the academic calendar: I was the child of a professor, worked for my college after graduation, started grad school while working for a year in corporate America, and then worked for a school, and now for a college. I work year-round now, but there’s still the ebb and flow of the school year that changes what I do at work on a regular basis.)
Anyway. I think there’s a lot of value in formal education, when it’s done right. I think that for a lot of reasons. I think that there are a lot of subjects that are huge and massive and complicated, and that working with someone who knows a lot more about them can help us get started with them in ways that make more sense to us. I think that people who have spent substantial portions of their lives with a subject see things about it that someone who is just starting won’t even know to look for or pay attention to. I think that the feedback a skilled teacher can give us is often priceless.
(As I have been known to say, “I prefer to learn from other people’s mistakes.” Which is to say, if people are going to make mistakes – and people do – I’d rather not repeat the same ones more often than I actually have to.)
But I also think – and see above, about ‘librarian working in an academic library, who thinks there’s a lot of good in formal education’ – think that often we can fetishise the process. There is no denying that going to school, and getting a Bachelor’s Degree or a Master’s Degree or a Doctorate is a wonderful thing. (Especially the last one: they take a tremendous amount of work.)
We should not confuse the map for the territory. There are many people out there doing excellent work in fields where academic credentials are not the relevant tool for evaluation. (Any of the creative arts, for example: degrees may be of interest to some people, but you do not magically become a better musician or a better artist or a better dancer or a better theatre director because of your degree: you become so because of work that may or may not be related to anything involving grades or the evaluation of anything other than “Did this speak to your audience?”)
And a lot of the Pagan world falls in here too. There are certainly people with excellent academic degrees doing excellent related work – for which, yay. That’s good for the world. But there are also people doing excellent work, with scholarly rigour, who don’t have a formal degree in the subject (or whose formal degree is in some other topic.)