It is almost a certainty that I will incur the wrath of pedagogues everywhere but I draw a distinction between teaching and education. You may very well ask, what has prompted this sudden and possibly paraniod claim? Quite simply, it was a game of solitaire.
Permit me to explain. Each morning, as I guzzle coffee; attempt to sweep away the fog of sleep; and assume a state suitable for human interaction; I engage in a meaningless and mindless activity – I play solitaire. Being of a frugal nature, I play a version on my tablet which is free – assuming that there is no cost experienced by a regular barrage of advertisements between games.
After hitting the ‘Random Deal’ button for the umpteenth time (it was a REAL foggy morning inside my cranium) an ad popped up for an app which claimed that you could get smarter by using it to get summaries of the important parts of books. Now, as I said, I was really foggy this morning but, that ridiculous claim churned around for a while until it hit me as a subject for this blog.
Back to my argument that there is a difference between teaching and educating. Let me be clear, these are personal definitions for the terms. You won’t find them in Webster’s or even the Urban Dictionary. To me teaching is the process of conveying and ingraining facts or skills via instruction, practice, repetition, and other similar techniques. We teach children their letters. We teach mathematic skill. We even teach our pets to sit, fetch, speak, etc. Teaching inculcates the basic or desired skills. Pets aside for the moment, those basic skills become the building blocks for education.
I believe that education is the process of taking the building blocks and learning to apply them in new and diverse ways. We take the taught skills of spelling, grammar, and composition and, through education, learn to apply them in new and ever changing ways to perhaps engage in screen writing, poetry, technical writing, and all the myriad other means of written communication.
To me, education is the process of learning to abstractly, critically, and flexibly apply basic skills to diverse situations or needs. Before pressing on, I want to be clear that I am not speaking merely of academic education. There are many instances where other skill sets can be applied in new and innovative ways. One of my favorite examples comes from the First Gulf War. The M1 Abrams tank had tremendous problems with sand infiltration causing breakdowns. The engineers and other academically educated folks couldn’t come up with a solution but a maintenance non com, educated in the real world college of hard knocks solved it almost immediately. His solution? Pantyhose. They acted as micro filters not only for the M1 but also for helicopters and reportedly, even the troops. (They kept the sand fleas away from their skin.)
By now you’re probably asking, what does this have to do with that app?
It’s simply this; how does using an app, generated by an anonymous someone, who distributes subjectively selected parts of subjectively selected works make you “smarter”? Granted, you might be reminded of something you once read or even learn a new quote or a clever turn of phrase but those things certainly haven’t made you smarter. If becoming smarter were that easy, all I’d have to do is teach a mynah bird to repeat, “To be; or not to be. That is the question.” and I’d have made it smarter. Uplift would be frighteningly easy; and then where would we be?
Becoming smarter requires work. It means reading and studying to become educated. To extract the universal truths. To look back and understand that the foibles and tribulations of our society may be reflected, as Barbara Tuchman said, in a distant mirror. By reading entire works we may learn to abstract lessons which may, in turn, serve to lift us out of a problem or envision another way to approach a situations. At the very least, we may learn that we are not alone nor the first to be subjected to the situations we perceive.
In my completely subjective opinion, if you want to use an app to get smarter, use one that provides you with complete texts. Read them. Study them. Find someone to discuss them with. Take what you find important. Share it. Defend it with logical argument. Then you’ve found an app to make you smarter.