Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The incessant demand that people engage in "lifelong learning" is classist balderdash

Note: The blogster has wanted to use the fun word balderdash for years but either didn't find the courage or an opportunity. So, using it before the end of 2018 felt really good and righteous.

The trigger for this post on lifelong learning was yet another article leading with the famous, though ill-defined, statement that Americans go through seven careers over the course of their lives.

The interview with a very smart German who made it big in Silicon Valley emphasizes the need for lifelong learning to master these careers and the changing work place. It explains the philosophy and uses of the well-known online learning platform Udacity, which the interviewee just so happened to co-found.

If you happened to read earlier posts by the blogster on learning, you might wonder why it* would deride "lifelong learning" as classist balderdash.

The reason is as simple as it is, admittedly, slightly sarcastic.

The vast majority of individual and institutional proponents of the concept of lifelong learning behave as if it were a recent discovery, brought on by the huge changes of the last few decades. They pretend that requirements such as mandatory continued education credits in a variety of professions, from nursing to teaching to the transportation of hazardous materials are great new inventions.

The only thing new about these requirements is that they are increasingly being formalized, with defined curricula and more or less accepted standards. The ZEIT article advances proof of this in the form of Udacity "nanodegrees", which are really a fancy term for the much older certificate of proficiency, or similar quaint nomenclature.  

Never mind the article, it represents just the latest embodiment of the privileged educated classes suddenly discovering a concept because they find themselves affected by it.

Because, guess what. lifelong learning has been an integral part of the human experience since the frigging dawn of time.

The illiterate peasants and workers of just a couple of lifetimes ago engaged in lifelong learning with or without the knowledge of their betters. Frequently, it didn't register because it was not written down. Or better: it was not written down by them. It became common knowledge only when some educated person showed up, observed, and wrote it down - and generally was given all the credit for it.

Probably the biggest reason why the current privileged demanders of lifelong learning feel that they discovered a new paradigm is, as so much of what is wrong, rooted in 19th Century industrial society. In the latter, the industrial workforce didn't show much lifelong learning, did it?

Because we worked them to death with 12 hour days, 6 days a week, and zero vacation days.

Compare that to Europe around the time of the Plague: 60 odd holidays in the UK, for example.

The positive takeaway at the end: Please, do learn as much in your life as you can and feel good with. Don't stop. And when you get oldish, say over 50, and some researcher all of a sudden discovers that learning doesn't stop then, smile. They don't know it any better because their view of the ordinary people is very similar to the experience we have when a first world person visits a 'not do highly developed' country for the first time.

* Gender neutrality rocks.

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