Monday night I was doing calculus homework in the dining room while my brothers watched tv on the couch in the family room. In the episode of Family Guy that they were watching, a cutaway scene with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in which they are in a therapist’s office. The therapist tells the couple that although their children only know a number of languages, they don’t understand any.
Immediately I recognized the sentiment of the message. I looked before me at stains of graphite I scribbled with what I believed to be purpose. Yes, I know how to manipulate numbers and I can find the solutions to problems that have already been solved, but what does this teach me. I know these things but do I understand them?
A phenomenal movie scene from one of my favorite movies expertly conveys my struggle. Good Will Hunting stars Robin Williams and Matt Damon. Damon plays Will, a pretentious genius that works as a janitor at the prestigious MIT. After solving an incredibly difficult problem with ease and being caught upon solving another, Will is brought into a genius culture that he abhors. After assaulting a police officer he is taken to a Sean Maguire, Robin Williams’ psychiatrist character. Many appointments later, he critiques Sean’s painting during a session. In a following scene, Sean articulates my thoughts on knowledge superbly. The bulk of the scene is dedicated to telling Will that has an immense ocean of intelligence, he doesn’t know everything.
In Fountain Valley High School, there is a certain culture that has developed. It can be described as this dogma: “know and you will go.” What this means is that in school, I assume it isn’t unique to our campus, we are told if you get acceptable grades you will get into a good college. From there a job, and after that you retire. But all of this begins in school, and in school success stems from memorization.
To stitch together the final seam in my quilt of abstraction, I call upon a friend of mine who epitomizes the ideals of our scholastic society. He has a perfect 5.0 GPA, plays on a tennis team, is a musician, participates in numerous clubs, and is an eagle scout. This friend will most likely get into any college he wants. My friend, Kevin, cannot compute compassion or empathy. He can joke and laugh but not comfort or sympathize.
Kevin doesn’t experience the world for himself; Kevin studies the world and the mechanisms that drive its existence. Kevin has no ambitions or passions; Kevin has knowledge.
P.S. I don’t mean to devalue mathematics or other subjects that require memorization. This is simply an argument expressing that knowledge isn’t everything.