What is education, I wonder! Is it learning, or information gathering – about the world, about one’s surroundings, about the ‘self’? Who educates us? Why do we educate others? What does education bring into my life?
I can’t simply stop wondering. And another word kept nagging and crept stealthily inside my mind – knowledge! Do we seek knowledge through education! Do we get knowledge through education?
Then I remembered this slightly longish story by one of the stalwarts of modern science fiction – Isaac Asimov. The story is called ‘Profession’. For those who have read the story, it will be like refreshing their memories, and for those who have not read may consider next few lines like the blurb.
The set-up is futuristic, where the world is so technologically advanced that they have invented machines to educate people. Every citizen of the earth state (yes, the earth is a mere state, the space being the playground of new human) is educated by a machine-tape when s/he reaches the age of six; and by sixteen, every youth is further ‘taped’ for specialized technical education as a professional able to perform a specialized technical task. Therefore, the galaxy has technicians of all sorts – plumbers, fitters, drivers, gardeners and also computer operators, engineers and so on and so forth.
The story revolves round a young man, who fervently wished to become a class-one mining engineer with a coveted position at Pluto – the best place to be. He was so eager and enterprising that he self taught himself beyond the usual ‘education tapes’ by using obsolete reading material called ‘books’.
He was rejected as a mind not fit for any profession.
I felt sorry for the boy, because I wanted him to succeed, coming from a humble background like mine wishing to reach the stars, enterprising as I was, but he failed – and I was sad!
The boy was taken to a state facility – the House for the Feeble Mind, but yet he was full of hope that one day he will be able to show the ‘system’ how intelligent and capable he was!
I waited with him patiently as he went on reading on his choice subject and arming himself for the ‘Job Olympiad’ held on the eighteenth year of every citizen, to compete as a professional miner. I could feel his despair because I knew he was so pathetically ill equipped against the technical ‘tape education’ that his competitors were armed with. I asked for a miracle!
But miracles do not happen, not usually. And the boy was rejected brutally than ever by all the employment agencies and the state police turned him into the ‘House’ as a fugitive.
I was devastated! How can this story end with such negativity! Where is the twist? The punch? The boy had to be heavily sedated as he was fighting his captors. He woke up after 24 hours and started wolfing down some food. So there is some hope, I thought, some employer is going to accept him as a professional after all. The boy in the meantime has finished eating and started talking to his room-mate, a burly black man in his forties. ‘So it took me so long’, he said. His room-mate laughed and said, ‘I was waiting and watching, ’cause we had to be sure. Sometimes they give initial signals, but that may later turn out to be false alarm.’ The boy asked, ‘and, what do you do with them who do not keep their initial promise?’ ‘They are eventually edu-taped and they become the social scientists. Like me, I am a psychologist and someone is a sociologist’, was the reply.
I was completely thrown off balance by them. What are they talking about? Is my boy going to be employed or not? The boy laughed (perhaps at me) – ‘I was a fool, I never understood. I never thought about those who devise the education tapes! Surely, their minds cannot be edu-taped by an existing one! They have to be originals, they have to have unique ideas, they have to ‘know’!’
I was lost by then! I, a professional, fairly established in my trade, well settled, earning a good amount of money, living comfortably with a family, I came face to face with this question – I am well educated but do I ‘know’?