Education as a crutch

中国日报网 2012-11-02 10:35



Education as a crutch

Reader question:

Please explain “crutch” in this sentence: If you are going back to school to pursue a new field, make sure you are not using education as a crutch.

My comments:

In other words, “you” are advised not to use education merely as a tool, i.e. as something that helps you move on – in this case to new jobs, higher wages and the so-called better things in general.

Here the crutch is a metaphor. A crutch, of course, is one of a pair of high sticks that you put under your arm to help you walk when you have injured your leg. As a tool, it is very useful when your leg’s hurt. But once you’re recovered, it is discarded.

And that’s the analogy here. You are failing in your current job and therefore you wonder whether it’ll be a good idea to learn something new. You go back to school and earn another degree, which you use to help you find another job. After that, you forget about that particular study altogether.

The commonsensical view is that since you have failed in one area of study, you’d better try your luck somewhere else. That’s a common mistake that people make. You should know that it’s not luck that failed you in the first place. More likely it’s been a lack of effort, dedication or enthusiasm on your part. Therefore, you’re likely to fail again in another field of study so long as you don’t get the effort and dedication part of your game sorted out.

Anyways, the person in the above example is advised not to view education as a crutch, a mere crutch.

We Chinese are particularly good with treating education as a crutch, aren’t we? Yes, we’ve always been that way, it seems. On the surface, we as a nation seem to treasure education, but often merely as a crutch, we’re sorry to say. In our language, we call education a brick, a door-knocking brick, something we use to knock loudly on a door – traditionally a door to an iron rice bowl, a live-long job with government. Once that door is opened, we don’t read any more. No, thank you, no more books for me, please.

Practically that’s why we take many exams today and earn all sorts of diplomas and certificates but, in terms of English proficiency as an example, we as a nation are pretty backward. In a newly released report by Peking University, China ranks second to last among countries in Asia. Yeah, this report, which I read two days ago on, took three years to complete, and China ranks 36 among 54 participating countries, non-native English speaking countries, that is. We are second from last in twelve Asian countries that take part (Thailand being the last). All those who take part are 18 years old or older. In other words, they’re adults.

Surprising results, you say.

Not at all, if you ask me, considering.

Considering that we as a nation are also among the lowest ranked countries in terms books read per year. Chinese adults on average read something like one book a year, according to another study.

One book a year! My, oh, my.

The average Israeli, in contrast, reads 64 books a year.

Well, let’s not get carried away. Here, we want to remain focused on the term itself, to use something as a crutch, and that is to do something in order to achieve something else, such as one your petty lofty career goals. It’s like doing something with an ulterior motive. It’s not doing it for its own sake.

Some people use politics, for instance, as a crutch. They join a political party to advance their career, not because they believe in that particular party’s peculiar tenets. Other people use religion as a crutch. They don’t believe in a particular god or deity but join a church in order to get ahead.

And many certainly use education as a crutch. They pursue a particular study for short-term gains (which may not even be there) rather than long-term satisfaction and fulfilment.

Alright, media examples:

1. Gov. Jesse Ventura body slammed his wife yesterday, explaining that she is one of the weak-minded people who use religion as a crutch.

In an interview filled with eyebrow-raising remarks, the one-time wrestler known as The Body also said he supported the work of Dr. Jack Kevorkian despite Ventura’s disdainful remarks about people who commit suicide.

And Ventura scolded an interviewer who questioned his dignity, with, “Ah, c’mon. Have we gotten to the point I have to get elected and lose my sense of humor? . . . Be Mr. Stone Man?”

The outspoken Minnesota governor has been dogged by his comments about religion and suicide in an interview with Playboy magazine.

- Ventura Sez Wife’s Among Church Feebs, New York Daily News, October 11, 1999.

2. For years, the Grahams had driven from their home in Nyack, N.Y., availed themselves of the free weekend parking at the Tarrytown train station, then taken the train into Manhattan. But this spring, the village of Tarrytown began charging nonresidents $8 to park on Yankee Stadium game days – a fee that startled, and infuriated, the Grahams.

“It’s ridiculous – we’re supposed to keep track of when the Yankees are playing?” said Kelsey Graham. “Every time you turn around, the government is charging you for something. It’s just another way to nickel-and-dime people.”

His lament is hardly unique. With the economy floundering and tax revenues falling, governments and public authorities have tried to patch holes in their tattered budgets by charging new or higher fees for a broad range of services – including taking a civil service exam and operating a nuclear power plant.

The purpose of the many microcharges is to help avoid, or at least limit, broader tax increases. But with escalating fees for things like tanning bed inspections, pistol permits and marriage certificates, daily life can start to seem like a labyrinth of public-sector panhandlers.

There are increased payments required from cradle (birth certificates) to grave (plots in municipal cemeteries); in the workplace (licenses for private investigators, lifeguards and tax preparers) and at leisure spots (entrances to parks and public golf courses).

Want to indulge? Better open your wallet: Higher fees for cigarette and alcohol retailers in New York are being passed on in the form of higher prices for smokers and drinkers.

Even animals are not immune: New York state established a $10 entrance fee this year for each horse running in a parimutuel race.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says similar increases are being imposed by local governments around the country.

While some economists believe the worst of the recession may now be over, most governments are bracing for more lean years. Elected officials nationwide have floated novel proposals: in Nevada, a tax on legal brothels; in California, a $50-per-ounce tax on medical marijuana. Florida lawmakers are now mulling a fee for each cow or pig slaughtered in the state, and Kentucky officials are considering imposing a surcharge for downloading a ring tone on a cell phone.

Officials say the fee increases are a fair way to raise revenue because they affect the actual users of a service rather than the public at large. But many budget watchdog groups argue that the fees are too often used as a crutch by politicians hoping to avoid making hard decisions about cutting spending.

“They’re an easy out,” said Charles M. Brecher, research director for the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan organization that analyzes municipal spending.

- Government microcharges closing budget gaps, but what’s next, sidewalk tolls?, August 30 2009.

3. As a starting point it is worth noting how religious people cope with crises, traumas and the day to day problems which all must confront in life.

The Christian view is that every life is planned and no matter what happens “all things work together for good”. If life here is miserable it is of secondary importance for it is only a prelude to a life of everlasting heavenly bliss.

There are some sects which revel in wars, plagues, earthquakes and other disasters as heralding the return of the Messiah when unbelievers will quickly convert or be put to the sword. This is seen as the ‘day of rapture’.

Some eastern religions take the idea of divine planning to its logical end and believe that everything is fore-ordained and therefore it is useless to struggle either to improve oneself or the world in general. However, most religions emphasize that good works on earth will win merit in the hereafter so there is a strong incentive to do well. This is basically a selfish motive.

Christians often claim that religion gives meaning to life and therefore the life of the atheist is meaningless. It is a fact that religion can change the life and outlook of devotees but it is very debatable if the changes generally are for the better. The Alcoholics Anonymous organization which is based on the Christian religion does have a measure of success but so do other movements which have no Christian or religious base.

Christians expect their god to fix whatever is wrong (“Ask and it will be given”) but what sort of a supreme being is it which requires adoration and worship from lesser beings?

Religion is used as a crutch and therefore destroys a human’s motive to rise above the vicissitudes of life by one’s own efforts or through the help of friends as would be the case with atheists.

Knowledge is a key element in the philosophy of the atheist who recognizes that every advancement which humans have made has been through the recognition of a problem and then struggling to find an adequate solution. This is an ongoing process encompassing the problems of today’s technology e.g. the greenhouse effect.

Atheists recognize the basic fact that there is no supernatural being who will do the fixing. Wherever and whenever there is a problem it will be solved by the natural processes or by the effort and ingenuity of people.

Knowing that we are imperfect life forms in an imperfect environment in an imperfect world does not prevent atheists from striving for improvement but it does reduce the frustration and disappointment when things do not work out as desired or planned.

Atheists set their own goals and their personal satisfaction is in the degree of success they can achieve rather than in community commendation or imaginary heavenly bliss. They do good because good is good to do. They do take thought for tomorrow and are concerned with the present but accept that yesterday has gone. It is possible to learn from the past but it cannot be retrieved.

Fear is a potent element in animal behaviour but it can be used wisely by humans to spur to greater effort. Out of control it can displace rational thought and produce negative results.

Knowing that problems and difficulties are not ordained and therefore unalterable, leaves the atheist free to attempt to overcome them.

Religious devotees are under compulsion to do whatever the priest, minister or holy person declares to be the will of their god. History is red with the blood of those who were said to have offended deities and were being punished at the behest of a supernatural being.

Humans may successfully appeal against the inhumanity of humans but would be powerless against the supernatural.

Religion has been and still is used to cheat and oppress. Atheism removes a major source of oppression and provides the element of hope for a better, fuller life here and now.

- How Do Atheists Cope?



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Winner-take-all politics?

Man of the world

Romney sticking to his guns

Cut from the same cloth?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)



















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