A Proper Education and Vocabulary

Topics: Mathematics, Open problem, Open problems Pages: 4 (1265 words) Published: October 19, 2012

1. I left school and university with my head packed full of knowledge; enough of it, anyway, to pass all the examinations that were put in my path. As a well-educated man I rather expected my work to be a piece of cake, something at which my intellect would allow me to excel without undue effort. It came as something of a shock, therefore, to encounter the world outside for the first time, and to realize that I was woefully ill-equipped, not only for the necessary business of earning a living, but, more importantly, for coping with all the new decisions which came my way, in both life and work. My first employers put it rather well: ‘You have a well-trained but empty mind,’ they told me, ‘which we will now try to fill with something useful, but don’t imagine that you will be of any real value to us for the first ten years.’ I was fortunate to have lighted upon an employer prepared to invest so much time in what was, in effect, my real education and I shall always feel guilty that I left them when the ten years were up.

2. A well-trained mind is not to be sneezed at, but I was soon to discover that my mind had been trained to deal with closed problems, whereas most of what I now had to deal with were open-ended problems. ‘What is the cost of sales?’ is a closed problem, one with a right or a wrong answer. ‘What should we do about it?’ is an open problem, one with any number of possible answers, and I had no experience of taking this type of decision. Knowing the right answer to a question, I came to realize, was not the same as making a difference to a situation, which was what I was supposed to be paid for. Worst of all, the real open-ended question – ‘What is all this in aid of?’ was beginning to nudge at my mind.

3. I had been educated in an individualist culture. My scores were mine. No one else came into it, except as competitors in some imagined race. I was on my own in the learning game at school and university. Not...
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