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

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?

2 Responses

  1. Housewives and Stay at home moms have long been among the “over-educated” set. This was tragic when it was because there was no place for them in the workplace/academia, but now that those women who stay home do so by choice it is a prime example of “mammoth teeth.” My sister-in-law has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from an excellent private university. She stays at home with her year-old son everyday, but I would say her tuition money is far from wasted. Her knowledge of the stages of child and brain development help her to spot his progress, to understand the phases of his development and to know how to stimulate his physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
    Likewise for me, it has been amazing how many “unrelated” fields of study have been useful in my seminary work. Music history and church history are nearly synonymous for centuries, and my work in debate and forensics led to a different way of reading arguments.

  2. Gawd, the idea that my students might become “a platoon of ‘over-educated’ leaders who are, effectively, little time bombs of alert attention and critical faculties” seems almost too wonderful to hope for.

    Anyway, like you I make my students work hard. My lowest eval scores are in “workload appropriate to credit units.” 😉

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