The best education develops deep and analytical thinking, a capacity to grasp underlying connections underpinning your chosen area or any topic. You become able to tackle any subject matter because you develop the very faculties of understanding and of perception; you recognize patterns, grasp subtlety, see micro and macro equally, develop left-brain and right-brain equally in concert, apprehend how things fit together.
The best education is not learning the mechanics of a trade, but learning to learn effectively, so you can learn anything, so that you advance in the complexity of what is learnable for you. Advancing to ever-more complex learning builds the faculty of learning itself. This “learning” is not passive and self-gratifying. It is active, productive—it requires building, creating, imagining, doing—it requires the most rigorous discipline—it equips you to give more to others.
Sheer vocational training without classical analytical learning is merely memorizing mechanical instructions to perform series of functions, without understanding how things actually work below the surface. If something doesn’t work as expected, you are lost. You can’t figure out what to do next. You don’t see connections. You hit a wall. But if you learned how to learn, you can understand underlying connections—that means you can troubleshoot, workaround, repair, think your way out of a paper bag, and never feel lost. You rarely hit a wall—you learned how to make doors and find windows, trace causes and effects, rewire alternate solutions, in any situation.
Picking up a trade along the way is necessary in order to earn a living. Vocational training is necessary for any trade. Even a physicist needs vocational training in some areas. But training is different from classical learning. In the latter, you should become better equipped to learn a wider variety of vocations and professions, ending up with more career choices with which to secure food and clothing and housing. A traditional analytical education should give you food as well as harvesting increasingly complex conceptual food for the mind. Mind and body require two types of nourishment, which some people view as conflicting. One thing you learn in a good education is that education and vocation need not be conflicting.
You can accomplish classical analytical learning whether your college subject was in hard sciences, humanities, math, art, computer science, education, music, business, psychology, or for that matter, whether you have no college at all. You don’t have to attend college to get this kind of education. Learning comes from learning, which anyone can do on their own. It takes more self-discipline to do it on your own in a consistent, persistent, manner. But, after all, only you can build a better brain. All it takes is studying great thinkers in any field that you like, and going the extra mile to learn more than the minimum requirement for a degree or for a job description. Your free time is your opportunity to cut out passive entertainment and cut in mental discipline. It is also your opportunity to be more deeply happy and fulfilled in the long run.
This article is paraphrased from my book
Potential of an Active Mind: How to Recapture the Magic of Everyday Life
© copyright Robert Rose-Coutré 2009, 2011, and 2012