Friday, January 15, 2010

My Education

by Richard Crews
I went to school full-time until I was 30 years old--after high school a BA, then MD, then post-doctoral studies in psychiatry. A few years later by the time I was 36, I was back in school again again--teaching, consulting in curriculum design (in health and social sciences)--and when I was 41, I became president of Columbia Pacific University. I retired from that when I was 63. Now I'm 72; I have an appointment this afternoon about doing some tutoring with the local adult education program. I guess it would be safe to say that I have spent my life in education.

Much of what I've studied, both in classes and on my own, has been useful and interesting; much of it, frankly, has not. I think, generously, I would like to say there's been a 50:50 split. However, I think that realistically well over half of my study efforts--even if they were interesting at the time--have not had any enduring impact on my life. In fact I would say, I'm afraid, that the vast majority--probably some 90%--have not been particularly useful. By this I mean that they have not contributed to my health or happiness, or ability to understand and get along smoothly in the world and contribute to the lives of others.

My first week at Harvard Medical School we were told that only 50% of what we were going to be taught over the next four years would turn out to be true and useful--the other half would not. The trouble was, they said, that nobody knew what would ultimately belong in which half.

I hereby present an outline of what was worthwhile (in the curriculum of my life).

(1) Working skills
(1a) Problem solving--three ways: by overview first, by details first, and by successive approximations; an understanding of algorithmic and heuristic approaches to problem solving.
(1b) Writing--both expository and creative (vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, word usage, and overall organization)
(1c) Math--arithmetic, algebra, and geometry, through elementary calculus including statistics and probability, and presentation of data.

(2) Working knowledge
(2a) Physics--how forces and masses interact
(2b) Chemistry--what things are made of and how these tiny parts interact
(2c) Biology--the living world from viruses to ecosystems
(2d) Information technology including programming

(3) Broader perspectives
(3a) History and anthropology (and politics)--what people have been up to the past million years, especially the past few centuries, especially the past few decades, and especially in recent years.
(3b) Foreign languages including etymology--which sheds light on, and enhances, how we think
(3c) Philosophy--especially two fields: epistemology (and scientific methods), and ethics (moral philosophy)

(4) Aesthetics (in search of joy and beauty)
(4a) Music--especially classical (from Bach to Beethoven and not much more; especially singing and playing)
(4b) Literature--especially poetry (mainly Shakespeare, Pope, Yates, E. A. Robinson, and my own--but also other odds and ends)
(4c) Art--especially drawing and painting, but also sculpture and architecture
(4d) Sports--(that is, participating, not watching) for endurance, balance, coordination, strength, and flexibility.
(4e) Crafts--carpentry, gardening, and some others.

Any questions?