The Truth Behind the Truism

(The essay I stayed up all night writing for my Soc class.  This is how we’re turning it in…so hopefully it isn’t completely atrocious.)

Education shapes individuals, who shape their societies. Because of this, it stands to reason that the most efficient way to reshape a society is by refurbishing education. This is best done by first working to meet the present needs of students and second, to equip them to interact with the “real world” properly and with ease. Using Émile Durkheim’s On Suicide and W.E.B. Dubois’s The Souls of Black Folk, I will argue that as education is a powerful tool, especially when set up properly, it is the best resource we have to create desirable, sustainable changes in our communities.
To begin, I would like to briefly establish the importance and uniquely influential nature of education. Education is often seen as a cure-all to a broken society. Even if one does not think that education is a savior of sorts, most would agree that there is “infinitely more danger to be apprehended from half-trained minds and shallow thinking than from over-education and over-refinement” (Dubois 66). At its most basic education offers students a broader lens through which they can examine and appreciate life.
Great thinkers who have the means and the motive necessary to bring about and actualize revolutionary ideas are one of the most reliable and explosive ways of reforming society. When society reaches the end of its collective rope “intelligence is the only guide that we have left and it must serve us to remake our consciences… Knowledge…is the only weapon that allows us to struggle against the dissolution from which it itself results” (Durkheim 176-177). Because great thinkers sprout from great teachers it is through a working system of education that we are most able to offer our children the knowledge and intelligence they need to remake what has been broken in previous generations.
The power of education is indisputable. From birth we strive to learn, to understand the people who populate our lives and the greater world around us. When formalized education is available people scramble to reap its benefits. Dubois illustrated this by way of the common-school system in the South. Clearly proud of the African American response to the newly available education he says, “in a single generation they put thirty thousand black teachers in the South [and] they wiped out the illiteracy of the majority of the black people of the land (60)”. Education is powerful. It is magnetic. It offers people a way to actualize their goals in the most practical and convenient way possible.
Because education is so powerful, it is important to remind ourselves that education on its own is not enough. After all, “when we have vaguely said that education will set this tangle straight, what have we uttered but a truism” (Dubois 57)? Simply relying on education to cure our social ills without investing any effort into the system is a non-plan. The reformation of education is essential.
The relationship between education and society is circular. The first informs the second, which, in turn, informs the first, ad infinitum. Upon observing this relationship, Durkheim claimed that education can emerge exclusively from a fully healthy society because “education is only the image and reflection of society. Education is healthy when nations themselves are healthy, but it is corrupted when they are… Every new generation is raised by its predecessor, so the latter must be corrected if one is to correct the following one. It is a vicious circle” (416). Durkheim rightly points out that people are raised with the ideas that were instilled in them by their predecessors, but to imagine that society is responsible for reforming education and can only do so if it is itself completely healthy is ridiculous. Individuals must discover what needs improvement and then reform education, which will create more students who are ready, willing and able to continue the changes that were propagated by their predecessors.

Happily, this is occurring in American schools today. Magnet, language and charter schools are becoming popular, so much so that their waitlists sometimes outnumber their student bodies (Abeles). Pressure to recreate education is constantly increasing and consistently being productively answered. One example of this is the “Blue School” founded by the Blue Man Group in Lower Manhattan. This school is characterized by its “child-centered curriculum”, which “is designed to meet the individual needs of children…[by] identif[ying] children’s developmental needs, abilities, interests, and learning styles” (Blue Man Group). In other words, teachers pay attention to their students’ interests and learning styles and adjust the curriculum accordingly.
American society is clearly not cured of all its ills, but there are successful movements that are trying to change education so it will benefit even very young students as entire people rather than mere workers.
We are beginning to understand what Dubois professed long ago: education of the liberal or technical arts alone is not enough. Teachers cannot merely be “trained in technical normal methods; they must also, so far as possible, be broad-minded, cultured men and women, to scatter civilization among … people whose ignorance [is] not simply of letters but of life itself (60)”. The greater aim of education is not to simply to spread ideas and knowledge, it is to create well-rounded people who can offer something to their communities with pride.
The pursuit of education necessitates goals. Any “[negative impacts of education] disappear when education has another cause and responds to other needs” (Durkheim 176). Because of this, it is important that schools create achievable goals that they advertise to their students and that can be measured with something more reliable (and possibly more abstract) than standardized tests. This is where charter and magnet schools become increasingly relevant. Allowing students who know where their passions lie to focus their energies in that direction is vital to the success of a good education.
Dubois recognizes the importance of various systems. It is “…foolish to ask what is the best education for one or seven or sixty million souls! Shall we teach them trades, or train them in liberal arts? Neither and both” (54). Education must take into account its students’ interests and proficiencies and aim to nurture those traits on an individual basis. Blanketing all students with lectures focused on the liberal arts is counterproductive. The study of liberal arts is a great base for any student and a great specialization for some, but “to seek to make the blacksmith a scholar is almost as silly as the more modern scheme of making the scholar a blacksmith” (Dubois 52). We must be willing to educate our students in their areas of interest and ability.
Aspirations vary astronomically, in children and adults alike. However, as children grow they learn that some aspirations are more noble, profitable or safe than others. Passions are quashed instead of encouraged and people become unhappy, restless and unproductive. It is vital that education fans the flames of passion, regardless of what they may be, rather than stamping them out. I ask that you humor me for a moment to offer a comic that illustrates exactly my point:

A miserable astronaut will not do as much good in his field or in the world as someone who wants to be there could. Anyone dedicated wholeheartedly to his craft, no matter how basal or elevated it might be, belongs in that field and should be offered the relevant education.

Dubois, again: “The function of the university is not simply to teach breadwinning, or to furnish teachers for the public schools, or to be a centre of polite society; it is, above all, to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, and adjustment which forms the secret of civilization” (52-52). Education shapes futures, both individual and collective. It is the foundation of our morality. It is the manifestation of the best part of ourselves, but it cannot be any of these things unless we make it so.
Durkheim cautions us “not to see education as an end in itself, when it is only the means to an end” (177). Education is not meant simply to educate, it is meant to create and improve. Through educating ourselves and our children, we are trying to encourage something greater than ourselves and that something is not merely a profession. It is a passion that leads to a more whole human experience.

“The final product of [education] must be neither a psychologist nor a brickmason, but a man. And to make men, we must have ideals, broad, pure, and inspiring ends of living, – not sordid money-getting, not apples of gold. The worker must work for the glory of his handiwork, not simply for pay; the thinker must think for truth, not for fame. And all this is gained only by human strife and longing, by ceaseless training and education; by founding Right on righteousness and Truth on the unhampered search for Truth…” (Dubois 54)

This is our goal. We are to create a system that creates people who are inspired by their careers and aim to inspire others through the work that they do. Education does not rob anyone of their passions, it gives individuals the tools they need to become themselves.

Penultimately, our goal is best expressed again through the pen of W.E.B. Dubois. “[Education] must develop men” (66). We must forego education as a truism and embrace it as a viable means for change. We must build a system that creates people of outstanding moral character who are motivated and intelligent and follow their passions rather than pride or pocketbooks. When this is achieved we will have served our purpose and education will fulfill its role impeccably.



The noise was overwhelming and the bathroom was locked and there was a beverage in her stomach that didn’t want to be there anymore.

She didn’t want to be there anymore.

Down the hallway, through the kitchen, through the bodies that parted like an ancient sea, past faces  she almost recognized and down the stairs, always drifting to the right like that car she had driven in high school.

She freed the antagonistic beverage in the corner and looked for a gate so she could walk away like she always did when her world shrank in the drier and didn’t fit quite right anymore.

And then she heard it.

She looked up and the empty sky was full of stars despite the glaring city lights.  She looked down and saw a tiny portion of the life she had loved three years ago.  The white noise: the rattling wind of a semi passing a girl on a bridge, trees taller than buildings, the two person mosh-pit, sand crisscrossed with seal prints, sunsets made of silver, strangers who treated her like family and a jump off of a cliff that pushed her into the sky instead of onto the ground.

She could feel it again.

She was home.

She collapsed.

Face down in the grass, sprawled across the tiny lawn like a chalk outline, she could feel the something that she had been looking for.  Eyes closed, she listened for the silent roar that had evaded her ever since she had stepped off the road and back on the bandwagon.

It didn’t come.

Or it did come, but only for the tiniest of moments.

Like the squeal of a public address system, like a crack of thunder or a flash of lightning, like a lone firework exploding overhead, like the unnoticed bulge in the sidewalk that momentarily reminds you that walking is controlled falling.

It had come, but only for the tiniest of moments.

And then feet pitter pattered around her and voices murmured words that their owners assumed she could not hear or understand.  Questions and comments and slight concern overflowed the precious, roaring silence, destroying the something that too rarely calls to her essence like a magnet draws in iron filings.

Her fingers curled through the long, prickling strands of green and into the moist dirt, reaching for the iron-filing something that wasn’t there.

“The real seems worthless beside what is seen as possible by feverish imaginations, so they detach themselves from it, only later to detach themselves from the possible when that becomes real in its turn.  One thirsts for novelty, for unknown indulgences and sensations that are as yet unnamed, but which lose all their appeal as soon as they have been experienced.  And then, when the slightest difficulty arises, one is deprived of any means to withstand it.”   -Émile Durkheim

Already feelin’ it.


Too bad I have books to read.

And I’ve no idea where my trustiest of trusty backpacks is currently located.

Probably in MN.

Night to Morning.

Words disappear,
Like dreams upon waking.

Honestly fades
And we all resume faking.

Hands return
To constantly taking.

Our bland, boring selves
We continue forsaking.