The story of existence has a few progress boosts toward our current world: phagocytosis, multicellularity, learning, industrialization and the Internet, to name a few. Possibly the greatest boost to overall progress is the development and implementation of education.
To get a better picture of the role education has played in our history, let’s look at a group of our ancestors before we even left the trees. Let’s say a tree blooms twice a year but only the red fruits are good to eat while the white flowers will give awful digestive pain. If you were among the first group to find this tree, it might take a few agonizing friends before you all learn to stop eating the white flowers.
If your group decides to make that tree into your home, you would want to make sure your children do not eat the white flower at all. After a few generations, your descendants still live in that tree but none have ever eaten the white flower. The adults that learned about the tree from a trial-and-error process used their communicative skills to bypass that process for future generations. They handed down a lesson.
We see lesson teaching throughout the Animal Kingdom as adults show their offspring how to hunt and find shelter, among other skills. Children inherently mirror things they see as a way to practice them. Watching others is another great way for organisms to learn from others’ mistakes and, more importantly, their successes.
As human societies advanced, new crafts developed that had to be taught over years of intensive apprenticeship. You can probably assume that if an individual learns only from the experiences and others around them, the people of a single settlement will have very different sets of knowledge. To combat the diverse and inconsistent lessons taught by parents and mentors, societies designated a specific individual to pass on basic information to the young ones: a teacher.
The implementation of teachers allowed for all children to be given the same information. This raises the educational potential of the children who do not have access to that information from their family. A teacher is still an individual and is therefore limited. Student learning is inherently limited by the teacher’s own limitations. Any biases or opinions of the teacher could also be passed down to the children being taught.
Time passed and different groups among societies gained power. Powerful groups could make an investment in the future of their society by educating their citizens. This led to the first institutionalization of education with mandated curricula to keep the citizens aligned to the mindset dictated by the ruling power. The basic purposes of institutionalized education reigned true throughout the world: to teach skills and allow for socialization. However, different ruling powers had different ulterior motives in mind. In some societies, it meant nationalism prospered; in others, it meant religious stories and moral lessons dominated.
As mentioned earlier, the limited knowledge of a teacher can doom students to develop with a cap on their intellectual potential. Isolated communities often believe their world to just be the parts they see, whether that be a town, city, state, or country. When communities expand, the individuals who were raised before the expansion might not like or understand the new and foreign information. When that happens, those individuals, often the ones in power, are able to manipulate the education curricula to maintain their own understandings. Any time an institution actively chooses to hide information, questions should be raised about the intentions of that institution.
In today’s age, the modern education system has been made scientific in nearly every subject. I’m referring to science here in my definition: the gathering of information by observing large amounts of data. In our music classes, we look at generations of composers to see similarities in their styles of composition. In our literature classes, we look at trends of writers from specific time periods and regions of the world to learn about life in that time and place. In our history classes, we look back on several points in history at a time to gain understanding of the mistakes and successes of our recent ancestors.
I claim that education is the greatest progress booster in the Show yet, do you agree with me? We’ve been standing on the shoulders of ancestors who stood on the shoulders of their ancestors to discover the truth about our universe. We’ve used science and our natural curiosity to discover the the entire world, and now it’s time to tell the next generation. It’s time for our entire species to know and understand what we are, where we came from, and how we can choose where to go from here.