Why I like education

There are two main reasons why I’m so enthusiastic about education and learning. One is primarily emotional and the other is analytical.

The emotional:  Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi calls it “flow”: when your “sense of time disappears, you forget yourself, you feel part of something larger. And once the conditions are present, what you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake.” I get this when I learn. For me it simply feels great to tackle a concept, solve a problem or discuss an idea alone, with a co-learner or with a heap of co-learners!

The analytical: For the better part of my adult life I’ve spent my free time working and volunteering around social justice and environmental issues. The more time I’ve spent in this sector the more I have become aware of the lack of resilience that we as humans seem to possess in the face of emotional persuasion. The powers of peer pressure, advertisements and social norms, among other things, means that our innate decision making processes and mental shortcuts simply do not prepare us to make the forward thinking and calculated decisions that the 21st century requires of us. As Dan Ariely puts it, we’re predictably irrational. With big data and ever expanding knowledge comes big opportunities to make better decisions for the present and the future. More and more people are doing research and it’s becoming more and more available to the public.

At the scale of the individual, the skills to interpret this data and make decisions based upon it, from health to financial decisions, is a form of empowerment. At the societal level, I believe that fostering evidence based decision making processes is one of the best things that we can do to facilitate human and non-human flourishing at this stage in our collective development. If a democracy is built on the decisions of its constituents, then I can think of no better way to empower democracy than by empowering its citizens to value, understand and respect the value of numbers, data and knowledge (and maybe even explore their limitations!).