Yesterday, I wrote that the achievements made in education by Asian students in New York City was impressive and deserved our respect rather than hate. But I have to admit, this is not how I feel about the matter entirely. There are always two parts in my thinking, a thinking that was shaped by my socialization (some of which took place in the US, and some of which took place in Zimbabwe). The side of me that was expressed in that post is my immigrant, US side, and not at all my Zim side. In Zimbabwe, my socialization was completely different, and so sees this use of education (particularly in the sciences) in a different way.
Back in the school I attended in Zimbabwe, there were two groups of boys: those who worked very hard because they were trying to get out of poverty and those who didn't work hard because school was about schola, an ancient Greek word that means education as leisure, as time spent enjoying the slow accumulation of knowledge and cultivating close friendships with talented teachers—this sort of thing. The boys who worried about grades, who saw the classroom as a battlefield of competition (make or break), who were all study and no play were actually looked down upon by those who experienced education as sheer schola.
It was the poor and desperate students who memorized pages upon pages of Jane Austen and chemistry books, while the students who didn't need to panic about the future (college in a Western country was guaranteed—indeed, getting into Oxford was seen as a sign of low status, because only those who got straight-As were admitted into that university, and you only got straight-As by not enjoying your education), read books for the pleasure or learned about plants because they were interested in that area of biology. It was a shame to say something like: I'm studying because I want to be a doctor, so that one day I can make lots of money and raise the status of my family.
So, one: Working hard in school deserves respect (my immigrant side). Two: I think an education should not be seen as an instrument, or investment, or something useful (my Zimbabwean side). But I'm a Hegelian, and so a third moment is possible: What we need then is a system that does not instrumentalize eduction. If you are a poet, you should become one. If you are a doctor, you should become one. And the less your class position determines what you want to become, the better for all. The function of human governing is to limit the effects of class on a subject's spiritual development. The ideal: An education should be about a calling in the wonderful wilderness of what Hegel describes as the "spiritual animal kingdom."