Parable Probing Education

Once upon a time there lived a tribe of happy nomads who lived in the Sudan. These desert nomads depended on their sturdy and faithful camels for survival. Camels supplied nutritious milk in geographical locations where there was nothing to eat and it is important to remember that camel meat is tasty and nourishing. Practically disease-free and cholesterol-free! Camel hair and wool were used to weave clothes, tents and rugs. Camels were also first-rate riding animals. They could either run very fast over a short distance, or cover very long distances without tiring. They were sometimes known as 'ships of the desert' and their value to the nomads was priceless.

To say that the nomads loved their camels would be an understatement. These odd and sometimes grumpy creatures were their pride and joy and young nomadic children were constantly being tutored in the ways of the camel. We could say that young children of six or seven knew their camels in much the same way that 'enlightened', western children know their shoot-em-up game boys and internet chat rooms. An elderly nomad would only need to say – "Where is Fatimah today?" and precise geographical knowledge would pour forth from the mouths of alert and attentive stewards. A sick camel could trust a six-year old boy to minister tender loving care and a pregnant camel was never bereft of young midwives.

Unfortunately our young charges were unable to furnish a rational account of their 'knowledge'. They could find any given camel at the drop of a hat but probe the young camel 'expert' and there was always a conspicuous lack of 'rational method'. Living in a scientific society we sometimes forget the crucial ingredients that all proper knowledge must display. We can only be said to know something if we believe any given proposition for the right and proper reasons. A person must be able to support any given knowledge claim with appropriate logical and factual support. Eliminate this foundation and we are left with mere opinion and conjecture. In plain terms we are confronted with unenlightened dogma and belief.

In those days the Sudan was ruled by an enlightened, secular government and important representatives of the regime were distressed and alarmed by the crass ignorance of the nomadic offspring. Surveys clearly demonstrated that precise nomadic knowledge of quadratic equations, Boyle's law, and the Big Bang theory was non-existent. Civil Servants in Khartoum became understandably cross, grumpy and tetchy. How could an enlightened society tolerate such an appalling antipathy to precise, accurate rational knowledge?

Knowledgeable agents of the state apparatus contacted the nomadic tribe and alerted them to the abysmal plight of their children's education. Something had to be done and the perfect solution was devised. A law was passed that forced all the nomadic progeny to attend government-sponsored schools. In these centres of reason and science the youngsters would no longer waste their lives mastering conjecture and opinion about camels but the fundamental laws of maths and the hard sciences would be their daily companions. Precise knowledge would replace vague opinions.

In time the young nomads became increasingly rational and scientific. They learnt to despise their nomadic folk-lore and embraced the firm discipline of Cartesian prejudice. We can only know what is clear and distinct. We can only possess knowledge when vagueness and fuzziness have been eliminated.

Overpowered and bullied by the modern descendants of Galileo and Descartes, the nomadic offspring gradually became 'enlightened'. They distinguished carefully between facts and opinions as any normal, healthy western child will do and the benefits and advantages of a western secular education became their prized possession. They learnt to despise any belief or prejudice that could not be explained in strict, scientific fashion and the old primitive concern and stewardship of camels became but a distant memory. Now they were able to draw accurate, scientific representations of these humpbacked beasts and develop cunning cigarette marketing strategies while quaffing excellent lager beer.

The nomadic offspring basked in the glories of algebra and statistics. Passionate discussions about electrons and protons were common fare and Newton's theory of gravity was fully mastered. Value-free, objective knowledge became an all-consuming focus. Happy days!

In the fullness of time their parents and their camels died and the young secular citizens became increasingly addicted to cigarettes, malt whiskey, drugs, computer games and pornographic magazines. At last enlightenment had come to the largest country in Africa.

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