I have a dear friend who knows a lot. She is a delightful soul, with a genuine spirit of kindness and goodness, but she knows far more than I do.
Like most people who claim to know a lot, she often talks loudly, as if doing so makes what she says to be true. With immense conviction, she will spout off to me about why all people who vote a certain way are evil, why our public schools are filled with Communists and why no one should ever get vaccinated. (Yes, I swore she was a kind and delightful soul — generally.) She offers no real evidence for any of these things she “knows” to be true. Often, it seems she has heard the truth on her favorite news channel.
I sometimes try to gently prod my friend into realizing that she “knows” none of these things; she simply “believes” them to be true. But, alas, reason is to no avail with people who know so much. (Perhaps I should consider secretly stuffing some cotton on future visits, to protect my eardrums.)
Like so many folks among us, my dear friend confuses “knowing” with “believing.”
I have another dear friend who “knows” we never went to the moon. I have another who “knows” all Muslims are bad. And yet another who “knows” that global climate change is a hoax.
I even had one friend tell me he’d shoot me for disagreeing with his “undeniable truth,” if I weren’t a friend. (Perhaps I should consider donning a bullet-proof vest when around such friends, along with the cotton ear plugs.)
None of these friends offers any reasonable proof as to what they “know or believe” to be true. Yet they all know or believe these things “in their heart.”
As Shakespeare said, “Ay, there’s the rub.” The heart is not the place of knowledge and reason. It is filled with emotion; and emotion blinds us all from the truth.
I am a very emotional person. I love being that way. I cry at movies. I cheer at ballgames. And I laugh at most anything, as my closest friends will tell you.
Yet, I know “how I feel” is no substitute for what’s real, for the objective truth.
I have a very honest friend named Tim who also happens to be homeless. (He suffers from schizophrenia, yet receives no medication due to the current status of our inequitable health care system.) Tim will tell you that he “knows” there is a blue fairy named Bob who sits on his right shoulder and tells him what to do all day. You and I cannot convince him otherwise. He “knows” Bob is real.
But don’t quickly brush Tim’s mind off as being so vastly different from our own. Too many of us who read these words — when it comes time to vote, to discern the news we hear or read, to judge our fellow man — use the same belief process as does he. By golly, we “know” something with all our hearts, so it must be true. Right?
Wrong. Oh, how so very wrong. Which is where education comes in — to literally save us from the Dark Ages that would otherwise return to us all.
A good education allows us to realize that we are often very wrong about things that we so fervently know or believe to be true. Not sometimes wrong. Often wrong.
A good education doesn’t teach us “what” to think nearly so much as it teaches us “how.”
There are few things more dangerous to the truth, to our republic, to freedom anywhere, than a person who knows everything.
When it comes to learning, doubt is a good thing. A very good thing.
The more educated we are, the more we know “how” to think, and not be so easily persuaded “what” to think — by a leader, a political party, a preacher, a president, a teacher, a book, a Facebook post, the news media, a document or a law.
Education enlightens us all — not so much to what we know, but to what we don’t.
Ben Talley is an inductee into the National Teachers Hall of Fame, a former Virginia Teacher of the Year, and a McGlothlin Award Winner for Teaching Excellence.
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