My sons and I were leaving a used book store this morning (one of my favorite south Florida haunts) and one of them, arms loaded with a stack of books, said, "I wish I didn't have math to do today (he is home schooled) so I could read all these." The cashier laughed, then I said, "I know how you feel! I felt that way all the way through college!"
I have two engineering degrees from excellent universities, and I learned a lot during those years: systematic thinking and analysis, mathematics, mechanics, dynamics, circuitry, more mathematics, computer architecture, mathematics, physics, chemistry, mathematics, mathematics, mathematics, etc. etc. By the time I graduated from those six grueling years I could reduce any equation that got within ten feet of me! Complex matricies - no problem. Quadratics, integrals, friction cones - child's play. But I had never heard of Homer and didn't know how to pronounce Herodotus or Beowulf. I had never heard of Machievelli, didn't know anything about the classics, learned only rudimentary history, and had been assigned to read a total of FOUR works of literature throughout the entire time! I remember going to the campus book store and seeing all the cool history, literature, philosophy, sociology, and theology books and wishing I had time to read them. But there was never time. It took every ounce of my energy to keep up with my course load and stay on track for the Dean's List and scholarships in math and science.
Would I trade it? Would I change it if I could go back and do it all over again? These are interesting questions. I have no regrets about it. I was supposed to learn what I learned and have those experiences. Those years have become a part of who I am and what I know I can do. Besides, I personally believe that there are not enough kids in North America focusing on math and science and keeping up with the global technology race. As Thomas Freidman warned in The World is Flat, the West is losing its hold on the technical expertise of the world. More and more American and Canadian kids are losing ground to those overseas who excel in technical educations. Besides that, my education was hard for me, and it toughened me up and taught me to work.
However, and the point of this rambling, is I wonder how I might have gained a bit more of a "Classical Education" in the process. How could I have been better exposed to the thoughts and ruminations of the top thinkers of history? How could I have been given broader understanding of the human issues man has always faced?
I have been blessed with great friends and mentors who have shared their love of learning, reading, and study with me over the past fifteen years or so. Through this process, what I might call a self-induced continuing education, I have filled in some of the blanks that I missed during the "math years." This has been one of life's greatest pleasures for me!
What about you? In the kaleidoscope of your life, whether you had formal education or not, what were the gaps in your learning and understanding? What were you taught about the classics, history, mankind and the great questions of life? Were you ever allowed or given time to THINK? Was your education vocational, or fundamental?
I hope more and more people realize that there just isn't time in a few short years of high school and/or college to learn everything necessary or desirable for life. Continuing education must go on. We alone are responsible for self-improvement, and it should be a life-long process. Identify some areas where you feel you are not sufficiently informed, and get busy filling those holes!
On this same theme, I would like to quote an excerpt from one of the world's foremost leadership authors, Warren Bennis. His view is perhaps a little more critical than mine, but a great thought starter at any rate:
"Universities, unfortunately, are not always the best place to learn. Too many of them are less places of higher learning than they are high-class vocational schools. Too many produce narrow-minded specialists who may be wizards at making money, but who are unfinished as people. These specialists have been taught how to do, but they have not learned how to be. Instead of studying philosophy, history, and literature - which are the experiences of all humankind - they study specific technologies. What problems can technology solve, unless the users of that technology have first grapples with the primary questions?"
With that, I will leave you to ponder!