The YA dystopian novel Feed by M. T. Anderson is a satire in multi-perspectives. One of the aspects is that people become less intelligent—they lose the ability to think. While this is caused by an improper use of, or overdependence on, technology as well as the domination of consumeristic values, education also plays a vital role, which leads me to reflect on the various types of educational systems at present.
Titus totally denies the value in our current education: “Back then, it was big boring, and all the kids were meg null, because they didn’t learn anything useful, it was all like, da da da da, this happened in fourteen ninety-two, da da da da, when you mix like, chalk and water, it makes nitroglycerin, and that kind of shit?” (Anderson 59). In contrast, their futuristic “SchoolTM” is “pretty brag, because it teaches us how the world can be used, like mainly how to use our feeds…how to work technology and how to find bargains and what’s the best way to get a job and how to decorate our bedroom” (Anderson 59). The key difference is the “usefulness”: most of what we learn today in school will never be applied to help us survive in society. Then why do we still study them? I found the answer in Feed. As they depend completely on technology for knowledge, their brains are not trained to think, and therefore the only possible solution to every problem is asking for help from the feed.
How about our own educational systems? Are they mostly practical or do they target thinking ability? The debate in China on the extent to which western, or mostly American, education system should be adopted has been a focus in recent years. Compared to U.S. students, Chinese students learn more difficult materials and are able to solve much more complicated problems from primary school to college. However, when they enter work to solve real world problems, the Chinese do poorly on average compared to Americans, even in academia. It was first confusing to me since the Chinese are clearly trained in sophisticated and intensive thinking, how can they lose at a later stage? The analogy from Feed brought me insight on depth versus breadth: as Chinese students choose between STEM and social sciences in high school and only take classes in their major in college, all US students have to take courses from all disciplines to complete general education. In a sense, the Chinese education is similar to SchoolTM where the study is only relevant in a specific context, whether it is the feed or the convoluted problems made up by teachers in a specific field. Just as Titus is helpless on problems that can’t be solved by the feed, Chinese students are inadequate in solving real world problems due to their mind set bounded to solving unrealistic problems on paper. In comparison, American students are exposed to diverse ways of thinking as different strategies are used in STEM fields, social sciences and humanities.
Such a wider variety in the “thinking strategy toolbox” empowers them to try out different approaches when simply using complicated equations doesn’t help in laying out a business plan for their company. Therefore, the problem with Chinese education system is not the super hard tests as most people believe, but the lack of variety of subjects. More courses should be introduced at an earlier stage, for instance, psychology, sociology, archeology, philosophy and engineering basics classes may be introduced in high school or even middle school. Students should be exposed to different modes of thinking throughout their education, which prevents over-reliance on any one approach and ending up as “dumb” later in practice.