I would like to talk with you about the importance and benefits of education. While at first blush, this may seem boring and unimportant; bear with me. I have been around the ivy covered halls of academia all my life. Regardless of the level of education acquired whether high school, college, or graduate school, I have heard this refrain many times, "Once I get my education, I'm out of school for good". If that student, who uttered those words, is true to his or her statement, that student has signed his or her death certificate both literally and figuratively.

Why should we continue to learn? School is often difficult and gets progressively harder the higher one climbs those ivy covered towers. So, why should one not just get the education that one needs and then be done with it? I have seven major reasons for being a life-long learner.

  1. The reason why life-long learning is important is because it keeps the teaching profession employed. Those in teaching have families, mortgages, car payments, etc. It is critical to keep these people fully employed and well-paid. Therefore, never stop learning. We truly appreciate your assistance. Aside from this tongue-in-cheek point, there are other more serious reasons.

  1. The reason why life-long learning is important is because you will make more money-some of which will help pay the salaries of those teaching you. However, with the rest of your money, you can buy those things that make your life pleasant and enjoyable. Education pays. Therefore, it is too costly for you to stop learning whether or not it is an advanced degree or it is continuing education for your job or merely personal enjoyment.

    The average person changes jobs every three to five years, and that person changes actual careers three to seven times during life. There is no way that one can train for one job or career and expect that those educational tools will be applicable for the next job or career. All jobs will require a base-level of education and then additional learning while employed with that company or organization.

  1. The reason why life-long learning is important is because it provides power. If you are a woman or a member of a minority, additional education keeps the door open for free access to opportunity. Education provides independence from the "man"-whoever or whatever that man may be. You are a fool if you are going to rely on white men to be liberal and not sexist or racist. Education is vital to remaining free. When white males were in total control of the scene in America, they kept education from blacks and women. The racist and/or sexist establishment knew and still knows how important education is-so should you.

  1. The reason why life-long learning is important is because it better equips one to isolate oneself from the affects of globalization, outsourcing, and downsizing. Nowadays, decisions made miles away from where one works determine one's employment. The vast numbers of people deployed annually never met the person that decided their fate. When a corporation downsizes and lays off 10,000 employees nationwide, the person making that decision probably doesn't know one of those employees by name or knows whether that person was a good or bad employee. One can lose one's job due to natural disasters, international upheavals, or the slightest change in technology. Education allows one to remain on his or her feet during these unsettling times.

  1. The reason why life-long learning is important is because of health benefits. All the research on the various forms of dementia indicates that life-long learning pays great dividends. Now, it is true that dementia presents itself usually later on in life. However, don't wait until you get older to attempt to ward off its onset. Approximately 5-10% of people over 65 have some form of this disorder. The incidence of dementia doubles every five years until the age of 80 when fully one half of that population suffers from Parkinson's, Huntington's, Alzheimer's, or other forms of dementia. Researchers know that exercise can reduce the chances of the onset of these disorders, but mental exercise does also. There is a strong correlation between life-long learning and a long and productive life. Brain plasticity, increasing the number of neurons and stimulating of neural pathways, tends to stave off the onset of dementia. Through physical and mental exercise, one compensates for the natural loss of brain function as one ages.
  2. The reason why life-long learning is important is because it will safeguard democracy. Jefferson wrote,

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

We need an educated electorate to vote for leaders for whom thinking isn't a rare intellectual activity. Ignorance of history allows for mistakes that cost human lives, affects the quality of our lives, and determines the type of world that we hand over to the next generation. Educated leaders at all levels of our country aren't a luxury but a necessity-unless one thinks that where we are today is good enough or desirable.

  1. The reason why life-long learning is important is because it adds more and more threads to your butterfly net. When one is born, the person comes into the world with a butterfly net for a brain. It is a butterfly net that permits nearly everything to enter and quickly exit. Learning is merely the process of adding more and more threads to the net until little or nothing escapes one's notice or understanding. Henry David Thoreau warned, "When it's time to die, let us not discover that we have never lived." One can't truly live and be aware of one's surroundings without learning...adding threads to one's net.

What does it do to one's self-esteem to go through life not getting it? Those, that don't continue to learn throughout life, are functionally senile-even if dementia is not actually present. Without life-long learning, the world will quickly pass one by. What is the purpose for living if one doesn't enjoy and understand the world in which the person lives? Life and living is more than vegetating. We have the potential to be more than cauliflower. It is life-long learning that distinguishes us from merely vegetating.

I would like to leave you with a quote from the Scottish writer, George MacDonald. He wrote, "We die daily. Happy those who daily come to life as well." You can come to life through learning.

This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on October 26, 2005