Essay / Misc.

Will Smith Gets Jiggy With Plato

Is public education helping our children to succeed as adults? Do today’s modern teaching methodologies actually enable our children to develop skills that facilitate their ability to flourish in society? Given that most of today’s educational models have been influenced by modernity I would say that they have been for years developing systems that are antithetical to proper educational development. It is interesting how most of the public understands there are problems in the educational system. It is just common sense. You do not have to be an educator to see inherent problems in the system. Will Smith of Fresh Prince and Men in Black fame understands how poorly our modern educational system trains our children.

The other day I picked up the December issue of Readers Digest from my kitchen table, and I noticed an interview with Will Smith who was promoting his new movie. In the interview he describes a little bit about his childhood, and some of his beliefs about education. His mother was a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University who wanted her son to follow in her footsteps. Smith had the SAT scores (and some connections) that would have enabled him to get into MIT, but he wanted to pursue rap instead. His parents gave him one year to become successful in the music business or he would go to college. Within a year he wins a Grammy, and never attends college.

Smith describes his academic experience in high school in rather negative terms. He states, “Things that have been most valuable to me I did not learn in school.” He is describing his high school experience which consisted mainly of memorizing facts and figures so you could pass a test. He stated, “[T]he date of the Boston Tea Party does not matter.” He believes that students should be evaluated on their comprehension of the material and how they can apply it to life. Because of his position on education his children are “home-schooled.” Not that he teaches them. He can afford to bring tutors in to teach his children.

Not only does he have them tutored in the basics—he has his elementary aged kids reading Plato and Aristotle. Smith realizes how important the ideas of Plato and Aristotle are in understanding our society. He states that you cannot be an American without reading Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics.

What comes out in this short interview with Smith is that he is both driven and a pragmatist. He understands he needs to be educated, but he does not believe that this happens in today’s current public educational environment.

I do not think that Will Smith’s view of education is that unique. Many people today home-school their children because of criticisms of the educational system that are similar to Smith’s. He is fortunate in that he can afford to pay for a quality education for his children by bringing in private tutors for them.

Going to college does not make you intelligent. Bill Gates only went to Harvard for two years before he quit and he was solving mathematical proofs some of his professors couldn’t do. College can help if you are educated correctly, but it can also hinder your intellectual development. So much of college is just another advanced version of high school where everyone is jumping though fact hoops like Smith described. It is no wonder that Smith didn’t want to go back to school if all he was going to experience was a system that trained him to see success as answering the test questions in a way which satisfies a university professor.

The discipline of education needs an overhaul. It needs to focus on a student’s comprehension and ability to act on that knowledge. Everyone who has experienced public school life has asked these magic words “Is that going to be on the test?” It is because students have been trained to see education as an obstacle not an intellectual enhancement.

Tragically, our lower and lower-middle class families who want to leave the public school system can’t because they are unable to afford to either home school or send their children to private school. These children are not being properly educated—they are learning how to give the “right” facts so they can pass a test.

Our nation needs to reexamine our educational system. Everyone from academics, movie stars to the man on the street realizes that it is a broken system. If we are going to do what is morally right we need to reinvestigate how we do the project called education. This is very difficult as you must fight special interest groups who believe who want to control the money that is invested in public education. The modern academic monolith needs to be reimagined, and maybe, just maybe, we could enable the system to return to, as Will Smith points out, the education of Plato and Aristotle.

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