Sunday, January 30, 2011

Education According to House

I’m an avid fan of the television show House M.D., whose main character Gregory House, is a brilliant doctor who can sometimes diagnose people by simply looking at them for a moment, but who is also a misanthrope, someone who detest people, even the patients he saves. For him each disease is a puzzle to be solved and so who the person is, matters only in terms of helping him cure the illness, and so House is generally rude and sometimes cruel to his patients, as their feelings are irrelevant, since all that matters is solving why they are sick.

In the second season he is asked by a patient, why he became a doctor since he clearly hates humans. House evades the question at first, but later recounts a story of when his family was stationed in Japan and a friend of his was hurt hiking:

When I was 14, my father was stationed in Japan. I went rock-climbing with this kid from school. He fell got injured and I had to bring him to the hospital. And we came in through the wrong entrance and passed this guy in the hall. He was a janitor. My friend came down with an infection and the doctors didn’t know what to do. So they brought in the janitor. He was a doctor, and a buraku. One of Japan’s untouchables. His ancestors had been slaughterers, gravediggers. And this guy, he knew that he wasn’t accepted by the staff, didn’t even try. He didn’t dress well, he didn’t pretend to be one of them. The people around that place, they didn’t think he had anything they wanted, except when they needed him. Because he was right. Which meant that nothing else mattered. And they had to listen to him.
This is what House enjoys in his life above all. The fact that at most moments he is the smartest man in the room, and that his skill, his minalate’ makes him indispensable. He is brash, crude, obnoxious and so most of the time the world wants nothing to do with him and would rather he be exiled to some desert island. But because he has that gift, that ability to interpret the world, to know something no other does, to solve something everyone else thinks is impossible, they will always have to tolerate him. They will always be forced to accept him and everything that he is, in order to access that one thing which is beyond all of them, out of their grasp, beyond their ability to understand or articulate. His intelligence and genius makes it so he always has a place in the world, no matter how much he is loathed otherwise.

Interestingly enough, when I see my students in my classes I wish more of them were more like House in how they approached education and their time in school. The key to life is the ability to know what is happening around you, to understand it, or at least have a clue as to where you might find an answer. To sit in class and not pay attention or to not take the subject matter seriously is pointless. You are in college to accumulate a large collection of what might seem for the moment to be useless pieces of information and a number of possibly conflicting ways of seeing the world. You can never really tell how the pieces of your education will fit together, and so you never know what you will actually take from it and what will get lost or ignored along the way.

Sometimes when I lecture, I tell my students that if you can remember 100% of what I say today, then you will be smarter than 95% of this island and probably 90% of the entire world. But even if you can remember 10% you’ll still be the smarter for it and that is what education is supposed to be about. Collecting things, random pieces of tiningo’ and hinasso, which may one day provide you some insight or some help to others. If you aren’t in school to collect these random fragments of education, then there is no point coming to class or wasting your parents’ or the Federal Government’s money if you don’t want to learn or know things.

I am often bewildered when I meet students who don’t want to be too smart or don’t want to appear to know the answer, because of some perceived coolness to not paying attention or not taking things seriously. People who live those types of lives don’t get very far and probably don’t find much happiness. They are the ones who live lives tossed around by the waves of fate, being pushed back and forth, never really understanding what is happening, but always making some excuse to simply accept what is happening. Those are the people, and even if they are the majority of people in the world, who made no difference, who existed only to be blank silhouettes to give depth and meaning to (by contrasting with) those who do attempt to change things. When I look at my students, so many of whom aren’t paying attention or don’t seem to care, I cannot help but place them in that category of lives which will go unexamined.

Despite the frailties and indeterminacy of our lives, we all still desire something greater. All humans crave the feeling that you’ve somehow left a mark on this world, and that you are not just dust in the wind. But too often we are too scared of the work involved or the responsibility that this might entail to ever seek to truly make that mark.

I hope that I can get more of my students to push for more in their own lives and to take their education more seriously. House is an extreme example of the importance of knowledge, and someone who sees their identity almost exclusively as what they know and how they can flaunt it above all those he sees as beneath him. But, you need not do save people’s lives from rare and unbelievable medical conditions to enjoy that feeling of your knowledge and your mind giving you an important place in the world. Those who take education seriously, and those who use it to the best of their abilities to understand the world around them, will always be the ones who get the joy of feeling like you’ve aligned the planets. The incredibly feeling of solving or finding or implementing some solution to a mystery or a problem in your life, your culture, your planet.

1 comment:

gone to guam! said...

"If you aren’t in school to collect these random fragments of education, then there is no point coming..."

That's kind of how I feel about life, too. Well-said. (And dovetails nicely with your final sentiment...)

To learning!


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