Why We Teach: Mammoth Teeth and “Over-Education”

Posted on by Brooke

Have you heard the one yet about the groundskeeper and the mammoth tooth? (h/t to P.Z. Myers.) A terrific example of the small, unpredictable wonders made possible when learners are encouraged to view the world with an eye that is curious, well-informed, and trained in critical habits.

Responding to the possible counter-moral that good education mightn’t lead to prestigious employment, one commenter at Pharyngula objects that high school science isn’t simply for producing a generation of professional scientists. It is, rather, primarily:

…intended to try and make students better equi[p]ped to solve problems by thinking through them systematically (and to give them some useful/interesting facts in the process). In this case it seems to have worked.

In other words, this “over-educated” groundskeeper isn’t only spotting mammoth teeth, he is presumably turning his alert attention and high-school-trained critical faculties to the whole range of his personal, political, professional, recreation, perhaps spiritual, life. At least, on a good day.

I don’t make my seminary classes intentionally unpleasant, but I do make them as rigorous as possible, because a part of my dream for the church is that, with each graduating class, we turn out a platoon of “over-educated” leaders who are, effectively, little time bombs of alert attention and critical faculties, waiting to be tripped off by whatever mammoth teeth come their way on a good day.

How about you? Do you find yourself using your education for more than filling your job description? How so? If you teach, do you educate or “over educate”? Do you know any other mammoth-teeth stories?