The 4th Humour
uninfluential words from an uninfluenced man
Bile humour Apathetic hemetic Fluent indifferent Emetic Phlegmatic

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Thursday, June 12, 2003
Education the Hard Way

Two years ago I was sitting alone at the bar in Chile's, trying to enjoy my dinner while reading a book. In spite of my best efforts to drown out invasive sounds and conversation with my own mental voice, I overheard some NPC chick say, "...but that's the way I've always been; I have to learn everything the hard way. I guess I'll never learn [to not learn things the hard way]! Har har."

Like many common expressions, I never thought much of the phrase "learn the hard way". I mean sure, I'd applied it to myself now and then, wondering whether I was better off learning things for myself instead of being told what to believe, but while I'd always appreciated the results of learning things on my own, part of me also felt like I was wasting my time. It may be a good mental exercise, needed to solve new problems in life, but there are other ways to exercise your mind that don't have negative consequences.

Negative consequences? Like what? Oh I dunno, like what happens when you learn the hard way not to take a job just for the money, or to always be right no matter what, or let a relationship get too physical, or say things that probably shouldn't be said. Consequences that can scar your mind, emotions, finances, and happiness over the long haul. Was I better off for learning these things on my own? In my opinion: No. Wiser? Maybe. Did it build Character? Maybe in some ways, but not in others, for now I'm restricted to a certain subset of actions based on previous experiences, actions that will be irrationally influenced by classical conditioning.

By reflex, I like to take rules and phrases and turn them in on themselves, so I thought, well, the solution, then, is to learn the hard way that you don't have to learn the hard way, and this must be done before puberty, before you lose 40% or more of the synapses (and thus plasticity, or ability to change) in your brain (and no, you don't want to keep them; schizophrenics don't lose these synapses).

How can this be achieved? I'm not sure, but I can at least outline the type of problem a child would have to encounter. A situation must be devised whereupon the student will be torn between two choices: 1. Solve it the conventional way, or 2. Solve it your own way. The conventional method must be obvious, and even well-known, but it must appear at a glance that there's an easier, more appealing solution that is ultimately impossible and has horrible consequences. Let me say it another way. A problem must be designed to punish independent thought.

"Whoa, Phlegm, this is the land of freedom, man. What are you, a communist? Nobody tells me what to think, because I'm an individual!" Yes, such an individual that I predicted that response. Please. We are brainwashed from day one by the infectious ideas of others, some good, most bad, both from our parents (vertical transmission) and from others (horizontal transmission), and the only way to remain sane and good is to develop the right defenses. A so-called individual--someone with a high Character Quotient--will exhibit good judgement on whether to take advice from a wiser person or to think on his own, regardless.

Defense against the "learn the hard way" meme would be powerful, because it would instill children with the value of education, of learning from people who've already taken the damage for you. That is, after all, the point of education--reaping the benefits of your predecessors without incurring the costs.

Doesn't anybody else see this? Or is it too obvious?