What is the importance of education in our society today and what does it mean to you? Is it sitting in class, getting good grades to go to a good university and to get a well-paid job which will pay the bills and make your parents proud? Or is it your inner drive to educate yourself in areas you are particularly interested in, no matter if they are graded or will bring you money and fame?
This post is not about changing the school system because it is too big to change, however, I hope this will change your individual perspective on how you see education. Education does not necessarily equal school and does not stop after graduating, it is a lifelong process of knowledge and skill acquisition. To reflect much of the current situation, let us first start with a little story. This story is an adaptation of George Reavis’ fable, “The Animal School” and perfectly illustrates the weaknesses of poor education.
Once upon a time, the animals decided to organize a school for their children. Before each animal was taught by their parents, but to be able to cope with the “new world’s” problems they developed a school with a general schedule of four subjects. All of them had to enroll in swimming, climbing, flying and running.
The students of the school consisted of a duck, a fish, a squirrel and an eagle.
The duck and the fish were both exceptional swimmers and got good grades. The eagle and the squirrel, however, only performed poorly. They hated swimming but had to take extra classes to get decent grades.
For climbing the squirrel was best at first, but since it was lacking the skills in swimming and was forced to reduce the time for climbing to invest it into swimming, it went back to average…
Flying was the eagle’s domain. He outperformed everyone by far in this discipline but really struggled with all the other subjects.
In running neither of them was particularly good and all of them had to work hard for their grades.
As you can see all of them were forced to enroll in subjects that were just not made for them and therefore didn’t enjoy. After a while, all of them started to hate school and only made minimum effort to simply pass all the exams. Inside they were all hoping to break free from these limitations and do what they loved but all of them feared what their parents, teachers, and friends might think of them.
Most of them just kept going, only the eagle knew he could do more and believed in his strengths. After school, he was flying every day to get better and better. Once they graduated he was the one with the worst grades, but even after graduating from school, he continued his practice and flew higher and higher. Higher than anyone flew before, and all the other animals admired him for this.
The basis of our education
The story above tells us much about our current school system. Students are forced to take classes they are not really interested in and only pass exams because that’s what everyone else does. It furthermore favors especially one type of student, which is the one that can blindly recite everything the teacher says in exams.
Imitation is, what the basis of our education is today. Of course, imitation is necessary in early stages of a person’s development and whenever you are starting something new you will use your mirror neurons to learn. But eventually, you have to stop imitating to give room for creativity and to express your own personality.
Unfortunately, imitation is the central pillar of our education system. You are taught to imitate whatever the teacher says and the best grades are given to the ones that can imitate and recite the teacher best. If you are lacking this ability you get a bad grade.
In college, the imitation gets more sophisticated. You are supposed to imitate the teacher in such a way to convince him or her that you are not imitating.
A bad instructor can go through an entire semester leaving absolutely nothing memorable in the minds of his or her class, curve out the scores on an irrelevant test, and leave the impression that some of his students have learned and some didn’t.
This blind imitation won’t get you anywhere. It is like walking in the footprints of another person and blindly following the path without ever questioning.
That’s why people stagnate, they lack originality and quality and stay in their comfort zone. They cannot think outside of their box.
Pulling the cart of society
What you get by this is total conformity. A student’s biggest problem today is that slave mentality which is built into him or her through years of carrot-and-stick grading. Like a mule, the student is driven by carrot (grades) and stick (conformity).
This also continues in work life after you graduate. You are trained to pull the cart of society. And the presumption is that if you don’t whip, the person won’t work. Therefore this system (cart of civilization) is pulled by mules through carrot and stick. However, civilization is best served not by mules but by free men and women.
Institutions such as governments, schools, churches etc. tend to direct thought for ends other than truth. They direct thought for the perpetuation of their own functions, and for the control of individuals in the service of these functions. Which is actually funny because these institutions themselves are made up of individuals. Individuals that form groups by sharing similar mental constructs. Once you belong to this group you identify with it and don’t question it anymore. If enough people follow one of these mental constructs they will become a standard in society.
If you remove grades and degrees or at least the pursuit of it (so to say the submission to the grades) only then you can provide an environment where a mule can turn into a free man or woman. You will then learn something and hone your skills because it is interesting to you and not because you are getting a grade for it.
The teacher’s job is not the mere transfer of information but the cultivation of a bright and inquiring mind. Such a mind will penetrate life’s questions with a freshness of mind and not accept the established status quo of culture, religion, and society.
Real learning environment
If you take a student that is talked into studying a certain subject that he/she doesn’t enjoy, let’s say business. When you remove the grades, the student would fulfill the first tasks out of habit. But with time the student would lose purpose, fail to turn in assignments and start to skip classes. He would eventually drop out of university altogether and being still a mule take over a job as a lower status mule (e.g. as a waiter in a restaurant) instead of pursuing a career of a high-status mule.
After working in a low-status job – maybe after a few months or even years a change could take place. The person could become less and less satisfied with the dull day-to-day work. The creative intelligence once dulled by school will come back and the person would be reawakened by the boredom of day-to-day tasks and would want to achieve more. His thoughts would be e.g. “This place that I work for sucks, I could start up a much better restaurant myself!”.
Since he doesn’t know how to start his own business (in this case a restaurant) he would have to learn the basics of business administration. He would have to learn how to set up a business plan, how to calculate prices and margins, how to market his restaurant or how to hire qualified personnel. So he will either learn this stuff on his own by researching or he will go back to school and take the necessary courses.
Only this time these courses will have real relevance to him. He will be driven not by grades (carrot and stick) but by his own internal drive to apply what he learns to his own business. The person would actually be there to learn something. This you can call a free man or woman.
When I got my degree at university most people were always studying much in advance for an exam to get a good grade. But we also had some courses that weren’t graded and you passed the course by simply attending. In these classes, most of the students weren’t paying any attention since it was not relevant for their GPA… They would be on their phone, study subjects for other exams, or frequently skip class and so on. A behavior they didn’t show in graded classes.
This shows that most of them were extrinsically motivated by grades and not really into learning something just for the purpose of learning. Of course, there will always be classes you won’t enjoy. But by only chasing after good grades and external validation, you will miss the whole point of education.
The real importance of education
Intelligence is the capacity to deal with life as a whole and getting good grades does not assure the intelligence of the student. Education is there to prepare you for life and to help you cope with life’s challenges.
I once had a colleague at work that told me that after graduating from university he stopped learning and hasn’t read a book since. How stupid of a statement is that?! You don’t learn for grades or teachers or your parents or anyone else. You learn for yourself, to be a better person, a knowledgeable person in what you do, to provide value for others and for yourself and to find your true purpose in this world. You are not dependent on anyone’s opinion because you built your own.
Educate yourself every single day! Do your research and try to be better than you were yesterday! Break free from external validation and live your life as a free man or woman!
Be your greatest version, every day!
Photo credits: © olly / fotolia