The blame for this educational inflexibility that stymies divergent thinking in all of us is not only that of our economic model, but also of our cultural values.
The western world lives in a value-less society, in that it has values that it has not profoundly evaluated and changed in centuries. We have the same basic ethical models that derived from our judeo-christian heritage; these have not evolved beyond basically being dogmas that societies across the western world have accepted and perpetuate. The few members of societies that hang questions on these ethical models are the outlaws and outsiders who cannot deal with convention, and who are labeled as ‘sinners’, ‘rebels’ and generally malevolent personalities. But they, these outlaws, are right. Why do societies continue to further cultural ethical models that produce materialistic thinking as the source of happiness? Why is the pervasive materialistic worldview, which has haunted humanity since the earliest days of civilization impossible to overcome?
My view is that this continues today because we are trapped in a self-perpetuating cultural system that i) channels many smart minds into money-making industries such as banking and law, ii) prizing them with money, which in the western world can derive into prestige, respect, and often authority among others. It is self-perpetuating because humanity does not prize with money and respect the activities that could help it better understand its position in this world we live in, activities such as philosophy and art. Beyond the very few philosophers and artists that we recognize as ‘relevant’ or ‘worth studying’ (who are respected), there is very little that humanity does to explore in real depth the potential of these two activities. They could create, in the western world, first, better ways of understanding the universe, and second; deriving from that first understanding, new ways to live, new ethical models, new cultural structures. I am not saying that there are no smart minds currently dedicated to such activities, I’m saying that the issue is of quantity, not quality: we need many, many more!
Of course it can be said that science has brought us far and continues to take us us down a road of a better understanding of the universe: I disagree. Although science is indispensable, I believe that this humanistic belief of depositing our faith in the capacity of the human race (and science as the discipline that will save us from ignorance and helplessness in this world we do not understand) is blind to the reality that we will never fully understand this world, much less so this universe. We are not more than just another species of animals in this small spatial blip that we call our world.
We live, ignorant of our ‘blip’ reality, blinded by outdated cultural and ethical models that, paradoxically lead to a culture of confusion and unconscious helplessness. And because of this underlying anxiety that governs our western societies, we turn to the material world, the world of clothes, cars, shopping, t.v., US Weekly, superficial political blogging, endless virtual feeds, news sources, and scientific factoids to navigate our ignorant lives. But we have our college degrees and our salaries, so we don’t feel ignorant, much less so lost. We feel that we are in control. Also, we show few instances of attempts to end discrimination and aggression among different beings. But these are mere patches to cover holes caused by a bigger and more fundamental problem: humanity has yet to prioritize the activities that will make it understand itself and this world in a better way.
This is why a new paradigm of education is need. We need billions of minds to be thinking divergently, engagingly with the world, and in congruence with their natural talents. Only then will we find a more comfortable position in this world. I imagine a world where people respect all trades, genders, races, sexualities and are curious of learning more from what is different, contrary to our current evolutionary instinct that drives us to react aggressively to the unfamiliar. Divergent thinking not only opens itself to different solutions to problems, but also requires curiosity. We can educate to be more curious, more engaging with our realities, less reliant on stereotypes and labels that make our ignorant lives easier. I have faith that if western culture manages to destroy its current educational models and decides to construct an absolute new way of educating (and learning), then in the distant future we will have a world populated by a human species more interested in bridging gaps and finding harmony among its members and other animal species. This will result in our living a more comfortable life as a species.
For this to happen, a process that it is just beginning needs to continue: that of greatly valuing activities that require lateral thinking and engaging curiosity, a process which would eventually entail for a change in demand of type of skills required for paying jobs.
note: I only talk about the western culture here because, having never lived or even been to eastern cultural destinations, it is the only one I’ve experienced.