The concept and practice of education is as old as civilization itself, with clear evidence of schools and institutions of higher learning found in many cultures, including ancient India, China, Egypt and Greece. The similarity between all these cultures was a belief in the immutable ‘soul’ of the student, which required proper education in order to manifest its highest potential. This type of ‘classical’ education typically involved many facets in both the sciences and arts, to develop a well-rounded person that could uphold the principles of goodness (e.g. dharma), as well as fulfill their role in society. The educational experience was typically more informal, often performed outside or while traveling, carried out over a period of several years, ending only when the teacher felt the student had completed their studies.
In contrast, the modern education system that most of us grew up with owes its origin and structure to a model developed in Germany during the 18th century, called the Prussian model of education. In many ways, this Prussian model unintentionally reinforces many aspects of 18th century Germanic culture that are at odds with today’s social values, such as income and gender equality. For example, there was a high degree of social stratification in 18th century Germany, with a hierarchy of wealthy landowners and aristocrats, and an underclass of soldiers and peasants that served them. The classroom environment within the Prussian model of education thus reflects this hierarchy, with students as the ‘serfs’ or ‘soldiers’, seated in organized rows, stripped of their autonomy, their attention focused towards the front of the room, submitting to the authority of the teacher, or ‘king’. The 18th century also the period during which the common people formerly self-employed in cottage industries, passing skills on to their children, were forced to work as employees inside dirty factories in terrible conditions, under constant duress and surveillance. In this way, the modern education system employs the same kind of factory model, with students herded into what are often fierce-looking or otherwise imposing institutional buildings, forced to huddle and move about from room to room, always under surveillance, always under the implicit threat of some kind of punitive measure if they don’t fall in line. The 18th century was also the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment, and with the printing press making it so much easier to transmit information, education quickly became reliant upon theoretical, or ‘book’ knowledge, whereas practical ‘everyday’ knowledge was scorned and consigned to the realm of second class citizens. A “well-read” and “literate” man was an “intelligent” man, regardless of whether or not he had any practical experience about which he read; or indeed, if his “educated” opinions on the subject were even true. In this way, the British were able to justify the suppression of Indian culture during the colonial period, by suggesting that the “educated” British had themselves given rise to Indian culture many thousands of years before. Likewise, in 18th century medicine, Western doctors were taught to eschew the benefits of herbal medicines, and instead employ high doses of mercury or drain patients of blood in the treatment of almost any disease, all based on the idea that these methods would somehow be helpful. In this latter example, the routine poisoning and bleeding of patients continued right up until the late 18th century, the evidence of which remains preserved in the title of a medical journal founded in 1823 called The Lancet, named after the sharp knife used open the patient’s veins for bleeding.
This dissociative process, wherein humans create and maintain structures of logic that separate ourselves from the nature of reality, emanates from a broader cultural shift in European society that coincided with industrialization and modernization. In less than two centuries, Europe transformed from being a largely agricultural, faith-based society, to one that was increasingly industrialized, and mechanistic in its outlook. Thus, as the modern education system developed, the concept of the immutable soul of the student was supplanted by an industrial model, wherein the ultimate goal of education was to meet the needs of a rapacious machine, i.e. the ‘economy’, rather than instilling the values of goodness. Today, even the highest academic institutions continue to use this anachronistic model of education, all based on a factory model of herding large groups of students into room after room every couple hours, filling their heads with a diverse array of disjointed information, and then testing them periodically to see how well they can remember it. This type of education might work well if your life goal is middle management in a factory, but if you want to apply yourself skillfully in this world, and do something that truly matters, you will find this type of education is woefully inadequate.
To apply any knowledge skillfully requires a great deal of time and practice, which is why working with experienced people is the fastest route to true knowledge. In this sense, “true” knowledge is practical knowledge, borne from decades and even generations of observing and bearing witness to the real time application of knowledge. It is the difference between studying how to drive a car in a classroom or a simulator, versus actually taking the car on to the road with an experienced driving instructor. True knowledge is the stuff that cannot be taught as a strict pedagogy. It’s been said before and it remains true today: nature does not write textbooks. True knowledge cannot be taught in an abstract, dissociated fashion. To learn how to do anything well, one must be taught personally how do it, or otherwise spend a great deal of time acquiring that knowledge on their own, through trial and error. Mentorship is a short-cut to a lifetime of experience.
The goal of the Dogwood School of Botanical Medicine (DSBM for short), and what makes it different from conventional academic training, is that it is designed to meet the needs of the student as best as possible. It’s not about “bums in seats” and “cramming for exams”. The DSBM Mentorship program is self-paced, multi-tiered, and modular in its approach, which allows for a great deal more convenience and flexibility for the student. The approach of immersing a student into one key subject area for weeks or months at a time is another key difference between the DSBM and other training programs, allowing the student to fully comprehend and apply the knowledge, rather than jumping from subject to subject over a period of several years, only developing a cursory knowledge. The entire focus of the DSBM program is to provide real time skills, based on the wisdom and skill of experienced practitioners, and venerated traditions. To be sure, science and academia inform our approach to knowledge, but free of corporate sponsorship, consumer products sales and government regulation, the DSBM has chosen to chart a path towards the development of goodness in society, with the ultimate goal of creating good practitioners.