World War Z
by Max Brooks
As a character, Jesika Hendricks doesn't do much during the Great Panic. Not her fault, she was only a child at the time, and children don't always fare well against zombie hordes. But as an adult looking back on her experiences, she goes know-it-all and provides an excellent critique of the way certain people, including her father, handled the Great Panic. And this critique provides us with yet one more example on the importance of "Education."
In her story, Jesika's father and a whole exodus of others decide to wait out the zombie swarms in the fridge north of Canada. Since Brooks's zombies freeze solid in extreme colds, it seems like a good idea, right? Wrong. As Jesika's vivid account of the first Gray Winter shows us, these refugees were horribly under prepared for just how hard it is to survive northland winters. The answer, by-the-by, is super hard.
So what does this lack of preparation show (other than the fact that most people aren't Survivorman)? It connects two important themes in the book: that of individuality and education. As we see with characters like Todd Wainio, Arthur Sinclair Jr., and Colonel Eliopolis, the novel promotes self-reliance and personal independence.
Jesika's father and the rest of the refugees take the mantel of self-reliance with them the wilderness, but they're missing one key ingredient: education. They don't know how to survive in the wild. As Jesika notes:
You'd see people getting into their sleeping bags with their boots on, not realizing it was cutting off their circulation. You'd see them drinking to get warm, not realizing it was actually lowering their temperature by releasing more body heat. You'd see them wearing these big heavy coats with nothing but a T-shirt underneath. They'd do something physical, overheat, take off the coat. (5.4.20)
As you can probably guess, all of these things are big no-nos in a survivalist situation. So, while their proactive, got-get-'em attitude is definitely held up by the novel as a positive trait, it's only useful if you bother to educate yourself. As Brooks himself noted in an interview:
First, I think the survival element is VERY strong in American culture. We are a nation of individualists. We believe with the right tools and talent that we can survive anything. And sometimes that's right, but not always. (source)
Without the right education, chances are you'll end up on the "not always" side of things.