Most people admire and appreciate my educational credentials — BS Math 1974 from MIT completed in 3 years at age of 19, and Ph.D. Econ 1978 from Stanford at age 23. They would find it difficult to imagine that it has taken me decades of life experience to recover from the damage that this education has done to me. The damage was done in so many different dimensions that it is hard to even catalog the whole list. However, before explaining this in greater detail, I must answer some questions which immediately arise whenever I make such statements.
Q1: Do I regret having had this education? To the contrary, I deeply appreciate having had this chance for training at the finest educational institutions that currently exist in the world. This type of education currently shapes minds and thinking of people all over the planet. Without having it, I would be unable to understand their mindsets, ways of thinking and communicate with them. Those who have not experienced this type of brainwashing would be completely ineffective as critics, or at providing remedies, for the disease which afflicts the vast majority of human beings.
Q2: Would education in Pakistan have been better? Not at all. All over the planet, what we have is copies of Western educational models – second rate, third rate, or even worse. Given that we have to drink of this poison anyway, it is best to drink it at the source, where it is pure and strong — as they say, if it does not kill you, it will make you stronger. Third rate copies are very bad because you do not understand what you are being taught, but you get exposed to the ill-effects anyway — you get all the bad but nothing of the little bit of good elements of the education. Remaining un-educated is also not an option, because the ways of looking at the world created by higher education are absorbed by every one and reflected in our conversations, social media, novels, and news — there is no escape.
Q3: But what about madrassas, or purely religious education — would that not have been better? Currently, our madrassas do not provide the kind of education that was available to Imam AL-Ghazali in Nishapur, where he said that I have now mastered all the knowledge that currently exists, except for that of the Sufi’s who claim that their knowledge is based on experience, and cannot be transmitted by books. The point is that religious knowledge is meaningful only when you know how to apply it to the world you live in. In the past, the Islamic tradition of education provided training in all subjects — math, chemistry, physics, technology, medicine, as well as the Quran and Hadeeth. By confining the subjects to the narrow scope which currently exists, students are ignorant about how the Quran and Hadeeth apply to the study of mathematics. Even worse, they are led to believe that Quran and Hadeeth have nothing to say about contemporary real world affairs — for this, one must consult Western textbooks. This has the immediate implication that Islam is not relevant to our daily lives in the modern world — it only provides information about how we can have a better afterlife, and go to Paradise.
Q4: People listen to me only because I have these great educational credentials. If I did not have them, no one would listen to the kind of crazy things that I am saying. So am I not being ungrateful, for saying bad things about the education that made me what I am today, and also gives me the respect and admiration of the people? As I said earlier, I am very grateful to the West for giving me the opportunity, along with many other foreign students, to take from the best that they have to offer, without any prejudice or discrimination. The intellectual tradition of the West has gone astray in many different ways, due to false philosophies which emerged and became widely accepted by everyone. However, people in the West, and in the East, do not realize this. These false philosophies poison our minds, and prevent us from leading rich and fulfilling lives, and achieving the potential for excellence which exists within every human being. This message is equally true and valid for Western and Eastern audiences. Learning about the false and poisonous philosophies underlying the western educational process is of essential importance in solving the tremendous problem humanity as whole currently faces. There is massive inequality — the majority of people in the USA suffer obesity from over-eating, while millions of children die of starvation and malnutrition. The planet is on the verge of an ecological catastrophe. Wars in the past century have taken millions more lives than in any other period of human history. The list goes on and on. Unless we wake up to the defects of modern education, it will not be possible to remedy these problems.
Q5: What I am saying today is a direct product of the education I have received. It is hypocritical, and self-contradictory, to use the education that I have to say that this education itself is bad? First, let me acknowledge that there were some very good things in the training I received. These were mixed in with very deadly poisons, but nonetheless, I did derive a lot of benefit from these good elements. But the ability to understand that this education was substantially harmful, and that it is possible to design far far better ways of training people — these insights came to me after spending four months in Tableegh. During this period, I learned many things which were the opposite of the ideas that I had absorbed at MIT and Stanford, and came to realize that in many ways, the truth was exactly the opposite of what I had been taught. So what I am saying today is an Islamic perspective on a Western education, which does not derive from my Western education.
I had hoped to get to some substantive issues, about how exactly a Western education is harmful, in a point by point way. However, the time I allocated to blog writing has already been exceeded by far, and the post is already quite long, so I will have to leave that for a later post. However, I have expressed this idea, and articulated some of the main serious problems with Western education in many different talks. For example, my talk at IBA, linked below, starts with the claim that a Western education is poisonous to our welfare:
The talk is highly condensed, and a lengthy point-by-point explanation of the ideas discussed in the talk are given in a sequence of posts starting from: Re-Learning Islam. A similar talk in URDU is also available: Comparing Islamic and Western Knowledge.
POSTSCRIPT: A major problem with Western education is that it teaches us the wrong goals for life, and does not teach us the essential importance of learning our identities – who we are. In this connection, see: Learn Who You Are and Three Mega-Events which Shape our Thoughts. Another problem is that there is no mention of morality, character, and other essentials we all need for the development of our personalities. See Getting a Real Education.