Ignorance is bliss.
Or so they say.
And as we hurtle through the German countryside, on this train voyage from Berlin to Frankfurt, on the last leg of our summer adventure abroad, I believe it may be true.
Throughout this trip, I’ve had access to wireless connections and have checked my email regularly, followed Facebook postings and Twitter messages, but not to the same extent I do at home.
I haven’t read the newspaper each morning, I haven’t listened to broadcast news, and I haven’t been voraciously consuming the ups and downs of world events, whether trivial or significant. It helps that many of our accommodation spots have not provided access to a television or that we’ve been too busy exploring to watch.
So while I’ve been connected, I haven’t been obsessed and that’s opened room in my thoughts and daily experience to a stronger sense of well-being.
Which is an odd place to be for someone who is an advocate of digesting information regularly, of learning, of being aware that the world is so much more than our immediate circles of influence.
So if ignorance is bliss, why bother with education?
In thinking about this question, I realize how value-laden the field of education is as is the contemplation of what constitutes the qualities of our existence as social beings.
We talk about believing in better, but what’s better?
We talk about the value of knowledge, but what is knowledge?
We talk about leading good lives, but what constitutes a good life?
In addition, as I contemplate the historical record (traveling in Europe seems to make history somehow more real and pressing), I realize that crimes and atrocities, throughout the centuries and in our own day, are or have been committed by well-educated people.
Education has not acted as a barrier to tragedy, war, deprivation, suffering, inequality, and injustice.
And while I have a feeling the key is to keep asking questions rather than settling on fixed answers, there is one conclusion I feel able to draw with some certainty.
The most important result of education is to enable people to become and to be critical thinkers. And while the search for consensus may be integral to making progressive changes (what is progress? why change?), individual voices are needed now more than ever as is tolerance for different points of view.
And that’s a troubling aspect of political life in Canada and elsewhere along with the evolution of our mainstream media systems. It seems the goal is to manipulate citizens into thinking en masse by removing dissension and erasing individuality.
I can’t help feeling that we should – at this point in time and with the lessons of history – know better.
Ignorance may be bliss, but, as my nephew says (he’s recently graduated from the University of Bradford Peace Studies Department) “blissed” ignorance is not just.
Perhaps that’s the ultimate purpose of education then: to establish, maintain, and sustain just societies.
If so, let’s get on with it.