Instrumentalism and the Love of Learning

Within industrialized countries usually when a child, or someone else for that matter, asks why it is important for them to do well in school, they are told that they should do well in school because this will help them get into a good university and get a good job so that they can support themselves in the future. This instance reflects a problematic attitude in industrialized societies that schooling is primarily the means by which citizens acquire the skills necessary to pursue a career. This attitude is troubling because it tends to stamp out an intrinsic love for learning, by encouraging people to think of any form of learning as merely a means to an end, rather than something that could have value on its own account.

We can see how deeply this attitude manifest itself within industrialized societies, because from a young age we are constantly told that the reason why we need to do well in school and learn things is so that we can get a good job. We are never told that the most admirable kind of human being, might be one who not only has a breadth of knowledge, but also someone who loves learning and is constantly drawn to develop a firmer grasp of the world and their place in it. This shows that members of industrialized societies are encouraged and habituated to think of learning as a tool external to themselves that will help them get the job that they desire, rather than an element of the best kind of life for a human being.

If we become habituated in thinking of learning as simply a means to career improvement our love of learning may be stamped out, as we will begin to only see learning as a means to an end. This is problematic as one thing that gives man his value is that he longs to understand the world and his place in it, not just so he can attain comfort through a career, but because understanding the world and his place in it is an intrinsically worthwhile activity. Therefore, if learning merely becomes a means to career improvement we will be clever beings with a variety of technical skills, but we will lack a fundamental element of what gives us our dignity                                                    

Furthermore, there is great freedom in the attempt to learn for its own sake, rather than to learn to attain some further end.  In such a case one is not doing something that is commanded by necessity. Consequently, learning to pursue a career is a less free activity, than learning because of the intrinsic value of such education. Thus, if we merely pursue learning as something that can help us get a good job, in a certain sense we will be less free than if we pursued learning as an intrinsically worthwhile activity.

Currently, the way that the value of education is framed tends to encourage people to merely think of learning as a means to a career, but at this point it does not seem that this framing has fully stamped out the understanding of the importance of pursuing learning for its own sake. A testament to this is that there are still many people who pursue degrees in the humanities and the social sciences, which have fairly minimal job prospects, because they see the activity of trying to understand what it means to be human as intrinsically valuable.  However, if industrialized societies continue down the path of framing education as merely a means to a good career, over time we may begin to fail to see the intrinsic value of learning, and this would be problematic for all of the reasons I have noted above.