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EDUCATION & ACADEMICS
Back in 1930, Eleanor Roosevelt
opened an essay in the Pictorial
Review entitled “Good Citizenship:
The Purpose of Education” with the
following provocative sentiment:
“What is the purpose of education?
This question agitates scholars, teachers,
statesmen, every group, in fact, of
thoughtful men and women. The
conventional answer is the acquisition
of knowledge, the reading of books,
and the learning of facts.” 1 Obviously,
given her title, she went on to make the
case that education is about more than
simply obtaining information.
More recently, in 1998, E.O. Wilson
addressed the fact that we are awash
in information: “We are drowning in
information, while starving for wisdom.
The world henceforth will be run by
synthesizers, people able to put together
the right information at the right time,
think critically about it, and make
important choices wisely.” 2 It is well
worth pointing out that the situation
has gotten orders of magnitude more
complicated since Wilson wrote those
words nineteen years ago.
Consider just a couple of statistics.
Google’s first year was 1998, the year
MICHAEL ZIMMERMAN is a biologist specializing in plant-animal interactions, science literacy, and the evolution/
creationism controversy. He founded and runs The Clergy Letter Project to promote the teaching of evolution and the
compatibility of religion and science. He is represented by the Ovation Agency speakers bureau.
Wilson raised his alarm. That year, there were approximately 3. 6 million Google
searches, or about 9,800 searches per day. By 2014, the annual number of searches
exploded by approximately 600,000 times to over 2 trillion with the daily search total
reaching over 5. 7 million. 3
How large is the mountain of data being searched? In 1998, Google
indexed “only” 26 million pages. By 2014, this number grew to approximately
30 billion pages. 4
In short, as virtually everyone knows, a couple of minutes and a good Internet
connection will yield any fact imaginable. But as Wilson implied, simply having
access to such information does not mean that anyone will know what to do with
From this perspective, there can be no doubt that the role of education has
changed dramatically since the advent of the digital age. What’s absolutely essential
in today’s world is being able to sort through different types of data, separating the
real from the bogus. Problem solvers must have the ability to cross disciplines and
bring divergent viewpoints into focus. And, to be successful, people must know how
to articulate their position in a manner that will enable it to stand out amid a sea of
What is needed more than ever is the type of education advanced by those
promoting the liberal arts. It is, after all, this approach that will generate people who
can be the “synthesizers” Wilson craves.
A good liberal arts education will also include serious discussion of moral and
ethical issues and thus will yield the “good citizens” Roosevelt valued. From every
perspective, then, we need to recognize and promote the value of a liberal education.
For works cited: go to www.phikappaphi.org/forum/fall2016
EDUCATION MUST BE ABOUT MORE
THAN ACQUIRING INFORMATION