Many people in my circle of friends and acquaintances keep using the word “education” when they ask about my project. At some point, I have to tell them that my project is not about education. “It is about learning,” I say, and  “there is an ocean of distance between the two concepts.” Invariably they look totally puzzled, as if making a distinction between the two is a new thought for them.

The fact is, I sincerely believe we have come to a dead end with “education” as it has come to be practiced in our culture.

Remember that it was a system first invented when books had to be copied by hand and were so rare and expensive that many people lived and died without ever having even seen one. This was also when people who had brilliant, original ideas often died before anything could be written down and saved for others who would benefit. It was when the great religions were busy recruiting and instructing. Of course education made sense then and seemed like the only way civilization could survive.

It continued to get a stronger and stronger foothold before there were public libraries, great museums and art galleries; before there were cars, airplanes, radios, televisions and personal computers. Every philanthropist and legislature came to believe that there was no way to miss if they simply threw dollars at “education.”

Who am I to go up against so time-honored, noble, and distinguished an institution? Heaven knows that I delight in being a private nobody. But truly,  somebody has to do it and the sooner, the better.

Education is defined as the giving and receiving of systematic instruction. Stop and think about this:

1.The one giving it is doing the action. (Engaging his own brain cells.)

2. The one receiving it is being passive and supposedly receptive (but often dozing, daydreaming, and wishing to be free.)

This was the perfect set up for CONTROL. We have had centuries of control. Things seemed neat and tidy. Knowledge presented as “curriculum” was basically kept in quiet,  red brick boxes called schools, academies and universities, places mostly unattractive to the really bad actors of the world. Teachers were told by authorities that keeping control was their first duty.

Meanwhile, the amount of money spent on education worldwide every day is in the trillions of dollars and growing by leaps and bounds. http://www.worldometers.info/education/

Learning, on the other hand, is an active process that involves choice, movement, fulfillment of a need, happy satisfaction of a real hunger, the great pleasure of accomplishment.

Learning is something permanent and useful, and is an interaction between the learner and the environment which involves the senses.

Unlike “education,” learning energizes.

“Learning never exhausts the mind” said Leonardo da Vinci.

Learning is really too mysterious to yield to tight control. All we can do is provide the setting where it is likely to take place.

Google was born September 4, 1998, and named after “googol” which is the number “one” followed by one hundred zeros, a term its inventors chose because it was a symbol of the infinite number of connections made possible.

Woops! Things quickly got “OUT OF CONTROL.” We know this in the very marrow of our bones, and thus while we are thrilled at the new possibilities which have opened up, we are also terrified by the ramifications of this much knowledge and connectivity being at the fingertips of thugs and barbarians.

Knowledge, information, and invention are exploding everywhere these days, and people worldwide are soaking it up by millions of gigabytes every day. Used wrongly, it could produce insanity, chaos, and devastation.

What’s to be done? My solution may sound strange and could unsettle you, but here goes:

1. We can’t go backwards. Pandora is already dancing with glee on top of the box.

2. Human beings love to explore, discover and and acquire new skills. That’s a given.        Just notice babies.

3. Learning (enlightenment) can be a mighty force for good, curing diseases, providing the necessities of life and labor saving devices, presenting the best literature, art and music of civilization, helping us understand our planet, galaxy and the universe. I really don’t think we really want to revert to cave man status.

4. The fact is that human beings no longer want to be passive and have education DONE TO THEM, often against their wills, contrary to their choices, and their timing. They want to be free to satisfy their own curiosities. Linus Pauling said that “satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.”

5. Instead of spending billions and trillions daily trying to CONTROL this mighty force, why don’t we provide safe, carefully prepared, and fascinating environments, accessible to all people, where learners can freely explore and discover knowledge as part of a kind and caring community? It would provide help when needed, but allow learners to discover themselves, their natural talents, their passions and their life work. Our happiness quotients would increase even faster than our intelligence quotients and all of us would be the better for it.

And what about education? Turn the lecture halls into documentary theaters. Let lectures be on youtube videos. Let education still exist in universities for serious scholars who want to sit at the feet of great masters, or be guided while doing important projects in marvelous laboratories. But take away the pressures of tests, grades, and shame spawned by control. Embrace “failure” as simply a necessary step in the learning process. Let evaluations of learning be what individuals do to detect gaps in their learning or discover their strong suits. Let the learner take a mastery test when ready to show off a bit and prove to others the high levels achieved.

We can still have education if we wish, but for heaven’s sake, let us have active, adventurous, bold and thorough learning, and with it joy, excitement, satisfaction and true mastery.