I’m not sure if this post is really about education, but at least for me, the content is strongly linked to the way American secondary and post-secondary education is perceived. The issue is this: in my experience, one is considered a successful candidate for prestigious colleges and universities if one is doing either a) homework or b) some structured extracurricular activity in most or all of their free time. At least, that’s the idea. Unstructured time isn’t viewed as productive.
And yet, most of the cool ideas I’ve had and discoveries I’ve made have been outside of school (though not independent of the knowledge attained through school); I always feel the most intellectually engaged when I’m in a relatively free-form discussion. In looking at history, many innovations were made in relatively unstructured settings: just think of the role that coffee shops and taverns and salons played in various revolutions (both political and intellectual).
So it worries me that American society seems to be spurring along the decline of leisure. People seem to interpret time outside of work or school as time that must be filled with other commitments, and those who don’t have a million things to do at any given time are often viewed as apathetic or lazy. Yet I think that allowing time for people to actively think about things is crucial to maintaining so-called “Yankee ingenuity.” I suppose I am Carl Sagan-ing, a little; I’d recommend reading the chapter about “dumb questions” in The Demon-Haunted World. Basically, I think that book learning is underrated in its ability to actually spark interest in new and unexpected academic areas. However, I also think that thinking and learning are skills that can and should be applied outside of studying and school, and this ability to use critical thinking in real-life scenarios is key in innovation.
TL; DR: In the pursuit of post-secondary education (which should theoretically occur in service to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding), one should not inadvertently forget how to think.