It’s that time of year again. Traffic gets crazier, kids are crankier, and parents are happier. School is starting all over the country.
When I was in the classroom, on the first day, I would tell my kids something like this:
You are here to learn and I am here to teach. I teach by making you do things and you learn by doing them and teaching your classmates how to do them. I’m not here to give you answers. I’m here to ask you for those answers.
I don’t ask you for answers to question because I want or need to know those answers. I know the answers. I’ve done this. If all I wanted was the answer, then I could answer every question in that book in a few days. That’s not the point.
Have you ever heard the expression, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”? What does that mean?
It’s about learning how to learn. I guarantee you that no job interview will require that you state the theme of one of Shakespeare’s sonnets. No job will require that you know the Gettysburg address. These are facts. In our modern age, facts are the least important thing you can get out of school.
I have a device here on my hip that, when it’s in range of a cell tower, I can find out any fact that mankind has ever discovered. We are unique in the history of mankind… of the Earth. We don’t have to depend on our own skills to make progress. We can stand on the shoulders of giants and leap from there.
Mommy cheetah teaches her cub to hunt by bringing it a small animal, still alive. She drops the animal and it runs. The cub chases it. Mommy cheetah can’t tell the cub, “If it veers left, then you turn farther left to try and cut the corner. You’ll run a shorter distance than the prey and should be able to catch it.” Nope, mommy cheetah just watches. The cub either figures these things out for itself or it doesn’t. If the cub can learn how to hunt effectively, then it gets to eat. If not, then it starves to death.
You guys don’t have to do that. We have these tings called books. They contain the sum total of knowledge of the entire human species and everything that we have discovered about the universe.
If you want to be an engineer, you don’t have to derive the principles of calculus. Someone has already done that for you. If you want to go into business, you don’t have to figure out an effective accounting system. Someone has already done that.
Instead of trying to determine the basic facts of the universe, you start with that knowledge and can go from there.
However, you have to learn how to learn. Not all books are equally valuable. You have to figure out which books are trustworthy and which are junk. Not all websites contain correct information. You have to be able to determine which ones are good and which ones are bad.
When you go to your job, I’m willing to bet that the majority of your job will not be contained in the books you read in high school. You have to learn the job. It will go much easier if you already know how to learn. Your boss isn’t going to hold your hand every single time you do your job. Your boss will show you and then it’s your job. Learn it or be fired.
Sometimes, most of the time, there’s not a right answer to a question. When your boss asks you a question and you answer him don’t ask, “Is that right?” He doesn’t know. If he knew the answer, he wouldn’t need to pay you to answer it.
You’re here to learn about questions and answers and forming good answers from limited information and justifying those answers with facts and reasoning. If you learn how to do that, then you can do anything. And I mean that… anything is possible.
The Wright brothers knew that birds could fly and so they learned about birds and answered some questions and became the first people to build a powered aircraft.
These books and the facts that you will learn here are important because they are the foundation for all the work you will ever do in your entire life. Whether you are a carpenter, a lawyer, a scientist, or a writer, you need to have knowledge of some facts. But more importantly, you need to be able to ask and answer questions. You need to do that correctly. And that is the single most important thing that I can teach you.
To ask questions. To answer questions. To use reason and logic and math and science. And to learn.
Good luck. Now let’s blow something up.