How to be Your Own Professor

“I had not gained any profit from my attempt to teach myself, except that more and more I had discovered my ignorance.” This quote can be found within Descartes’ Discourse on Methods in which the philosopher depicts first those boundaries which define life itself and secondly a recommendation on how to go about educating ourselves. The sentence comes up during an anecdote about the writer’s childhood and how the strict adherence to the rules resulted in fruitless labors. He talks as if the realization of was simply the starting point in his journey to enlightenment. Descartes says that this nativity is our starting point as human beings and we must all come under the realization that it is true or toil away making no headway.

Further into the reading, the author discusses his time at some of the top schools in Europe and his continuous goal of self-improvement of the vast improvement of society. He claims that we must focus on the home before we can worry about the city. I find this quite a conundrum when we apply these lessons to teachers. Educators have a job that entails passing on information that they have learned to the next generation in order to build a stronger foundation for the future in comparison to an uneducated public. But I ask the question: If the teachers imparting knowledge have no stepped back and realized their own ignorance, can they legitimately progress society? I think they could instead be reinforcing the norms of the world until someone is brave enough to break the mold, step back, redefine what is “true” and then educate the system. A cyclical process that repeats its peaks of redefinition and valleys of stagnation like a wave gliding through time.

At some point, we must all take the step backward. Society often criticizes regression as being negative when moving backwards allows us to be safely place us in the world of the known and see forward, temporarily unhindered by uncertainty. Humanity will not progress if we are constantly pushed through a single pinhole of growth if we cannot take a step back and examine what we know about the bigger picture from time to time.


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