Survival of the Smartest

“If the purpose of learning is to score well on a test, we’ve lost sight of the real reason for learning.” (Jeannie Fullbright)

From the beginning of time, people have been learning. Man learned to hunt so that he could survive. He learned to skin the hide of an animal so that he could keep warm from freezing winters. He learned to take trees and transform them into shelter, so that he could escape the heat of the sun, the cold of the rain, the teeth of the wild beast. He learned to protect his family from death’s harm. Why did Man continue to experiment upon nature, to experiment upon himself? How far could he push himself? What more could he learn? Why did he continue to learn?

The answer is simple, so simple it escapes our minds and we don’t even realize it, because it is ingrained in our very nature. It is an instinct that was instilled in our first parents and will be in us forever. This instinct is the purpose of learning and can be summed up in one word: survival.

In the past, Man had to learn to survive on the most basic level. He learned to survive because if he did not, he would die at the hands of wild beasts or the elements. He learned, because learning could change his life. Necessity is the mother of invention. If he didn’t see the need to question the way things worked, there would have been no advancement in housing, hunting, and cultivating the land.

John Newman said that one of the purposes of learning was to bring about more “dutiful citizens.” This was obvious in early tribal cultures. The men of a tribe would learn how to protect the tribe, how to feed the tribe and as they learned, they taught their children. They passed on to their children a sense of duty so that the children, in time of need, would step up in their stead. This style of learning brought about more dutiful citizens because the lesson came from the hand of the father.

Not too long ago, African Americans were beat, shot, and hung as a result of violent discrimination in our country. Two main figures who tried to change this were Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.. During their time, learning was survival, but not in the same sense as in earlier cultures. Survival here didn’t mean making weapons; it meant learning to read and write.

We can almost say that their survival was change because change was so essential to African Americans at the time. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. learned how to read and write to give their people a voice.

They made this skill their goal. They gave their community a voice, they changed their lives, and they changed America. Imagine if no African American wanted to learn to read or write back then. Would America be as it is today? We will never know but we can clearly see that the purpose of learning at that time was to change a country, and to ensure the survival of a community.

Now we learn for another reason. We survive by being qualified, whether that is by going to a top college or by having the right buzzwords on your resume. It is a struggle to survive because it is a struggle to learn. Even if you have more experience in a certain field than your peer, but he has had the better college education, he is likely to land the job. Mike Rowe, an American TV host and star of “Dirty Jobs”, says, “The most qualified is getting the job even if he can not perform it as well as the other.” And he is so right.

Survival has changed over the years; has the purpose of learning?

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