The Learning Game

“Because most boys in this school think the game is important for itself– but it isn’t. It’s only important because it helps them find kids who might grow up to be real commanders, in the real war. But as for the game, screw that.”
Ender in “Ender’s Game”

A remembered a quote from “Ender’s Game” recently, a book by Orson Scott Card. In the story, children play a game that trains them to be battle commanders in a coming war against an alien invasion. The lives of the children begin to center around the game and they want to be better than others in it. One child is even willing to kill someone who is better than he is. However, the game has no purpose in itself, but exists solely to train them the skills for something else, as aptly put by Ender (see quote at the beginning of this posting).

I think when you are a pupil or student at an university it is easy to be similarly confused. Sure, as a pupil, your day job is to learn, and the word “student” itself implies learning. Life can really center around learning as a goal in itself with all the tests, exams, grading.

However, nobody gets paid for learning — or for only knowing things. Books or digital files are much, much better for holding information. Even in a “Fahrenheit 451” world, book-lovers not only did know the written information of books, they told the content to others — they fulfilled a function beyond mere retention of information. What often gets lost in the daily business is the purpose you learn for. Some tasks train skills (e.g., analyzing texts), some give you the necessary basic knowledge to take an active part in our democratic knowledge society (e.g., factual knowledge, languages, mathematics), and some knowledge allows you to build upon this to further qualify yourself.

It pays to think occasionally about this: Is the knowledge I learn helping me to competently fulfill the demands of a profession — or is it only to get good grades? Otherwise, you might realize that after graduation, you are very good at exams, but very bad at applying the information you have stored in your brain or even at retaining it. While it is easy to be dissatisfied and blame the institution you spend your time in, take a look at the way you learn. If you are motivated, there are usually ways to follow your curiosity and learn something to do something with it.