Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Obedience vs. preparation

My mother often said that she wanted me to learn to take care of myself, to be able to function well without her.  

You can often spot low-level thinking about training by its emphasis on obedience.  The boss, the law, the rules usually have had careful thought behind them.  There is usually a good reason why they and other appropriate authorities should be obeyed.  But that is not enough.  If the parents or the boss are out of commission, can't be heard, are dead or absent, is the trainee ready to carry on?

In today's fast changing world, orders given previously may no longer apply.  Of course, there is the well-known problem that the boss or the rules are biased.  Maybe pressing the red button is not what will achieve the result every one wants.  Maybe the boss has a fascination with that button and likes to see it pressed when a little investigation will show the green button yields better results.

Humans have evolved in such a way that newborns are incapable of surviving alone and it actually takes 20 or even 30 years for a human to reach a good level of maturity.  Our founders recognized the importance of age by insisting the president had to be at least 35 years old.  However, the youngest (JFK) was nearly a decade older than that. At advanced levels of training, we often see appropriate doubt as an important part of the curriculum.  Can the trainees evaluate their instructions for appropriateness?  Do they have the right level of doubt to question directions that seem wrong?

At the university, I worked with people who had earned PhD degrees and master's degrees.  Generally, the master's takes about a year beyond the bachelor level and the doctorate three years.  Of course, in the extra time, the doctor reads more and learns more.  But my experience supported the notion that the PhD had learned a continuous background doubt, of sources, of assertions, of "facts", that could supply the right level of questioning and flexibility.  Too much doubt and there is nothing to believe in.  Too little and we have wasted thinking capacity and vulnerability to doctrine and robotization.

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