Sometimes the Mark of a True Education is to say ‘I Don’t Know.’

Education is viewed in a higher light than perhaps any other social service in our country. If you listen to politicians, having a “well-educated” workforce is often at the top of their political agendas. If you listen to your parents (and hopefully you do) education is seen as the main way to achieve a well-paying job in the future. A Liberal Arts education, aside from all its intended benefits, is said to teach you how to think.

Additionally, we attribute our innovations, whether they be economic, scientific or cultural, to an increasingly post-secondary educated population. Education seems to be the cause of all success and in places where it is lacking, seen as the most effective instrument to bringing a country out of poverty and into the forefront of the world stage.

A United Nations report released last summer on developing countries from 1965 to 2010, for example, concluded that  “nearly 60 million people could escape poverty if all adults had just two more years of schooling.” Our culture is extremely proficient at detailing the benefits of education, yet it downplays the value of what it restrains in human potential: the ego.

Unfortunately, too many high-ranking figures in public operations today don’t exercise a healthy amount of humility. The most prominent example of this, unsurprisingly, is President Trump, who is known for bragging about how good he is at everything, even stating that he was a “genius” earlier this year in a tweet. This self-esteem is problematic because it minimizes one’s ability to ask others for help. There is a reason true geniuses don’t brag about their intelligence — they can recognize their own ignorance.

When I graduated high school last spring, I felt on top of the world. I had confidence, ambition and maybe a little too much self-pride. This feeling is not inherently a bad one and likely desirable for an 18-year-old about to depart home for the first time. However, I was largely uninformed about what the future held for me.

As I started school at MSU, my worldview began to grow, along with my knowledge. Due to the Honors College curriculum, I learned about philosophy, injustice and ethics. My STEM classes taught me about Newton’s laws, Calculus theorems and material properties. But what I explicitly learned in the classroom wasn’t what was most valuable from my first semester. Instead, it was humility.

A quote from the great physicist Albert Einstein reads, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” This quote precisely summarizes the great understated value of a true education. Education enables one to humble themselves because it inherently reveals more mysteries than it answers.

Consider, for example, learning that the earth is round instead of flat. Because such a fact may be unintuitive, it reveals to the naive individual a multitude of new questions that they couldn’t have fathomed prior to learning the original phenomena such as “How come people on the opposite side of the earth don’t fall off?” or “Why do we have seasons?”  Education uncovers how little we know about our surroundings, thereby stopping our ego from getting the best of us.

Education is the cure to many outward problems. It has lead to a multitude of discoveries that have changed human history for the better. But don’t forget that it also has a role in revealing the true mysteries of human experience, not just providing us with practical answers. Proper schooling isn’t just a means to achieving a good job or learning how to properly think. It is also about revealing why even the best minds don’t have all the answers and why sometimes the correct response is to say, “I don’t know.”