Although I did academically very well at school I left at 18 somewhat disillusioned and disatisfied. Over the years as I have tried to get to grips with that experience I have found myself challenged by what do we fundamentally mean by education and learning?

According to Einstein:

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.

education cartoon


Education is much more than going to school. But what do we exactly mean by education? The dictionary defines education as “the process of giving or receiving systematic instruction, especially at school or university.” From Wikiepedia we learn that education is about teaching and learning skills and knowledge. But those definitions are of themselves incomplete. When we say systematic instruction or knowledge and skills what exactly are we referring to?

Schools and educational institutions can teach us, among many other skills, how to read, write and become technically proficient in a number of ways, but surely there is much more to education than that.

In life there are technical skills, people skills and integrity that we talked about in a previous post. (For that post see here).

When I went to India in my early 20s I remember an aunt of mine telling me that the poverty and corruption of India was because of a lack of education. I instinctively could not agree with her, but did not know how to articulate why not. The issue, I’ve come to realise, is that no amount of education can change the human heart. Or to put it more succinctly if you educate a crook, what do you get? An educated crook! While they may not do shoplifting or petty crime, if such a person is educated they may well go onto more complex criminal behaviour such as Internet fraud or credit card scamming. Unless the heart and moral orientation is changed education of itself will lead to only more complex dysfunctional behaviour.

Education is then about learning about life. It is not just preparation for life, but life itself. Life in all its fulness and abundance – body, mind, heart and spirit.

At school I did academically very well in terms of passing exams and getting the right grades to get into medical school. However, my education (formally at school and informally elsewhere) did very little to prepare me for day to day life and university. I really did find myself a fish out of water! (You can learn more about that from this short 15 minute video).

My experience of dissatisfaction with schooling as preparation for life in the outside world is far from unique.(See previous blog post on Do You Still Believe your Old School Report?)

It has always intrigued me how the founders and developers of the modern computer industry would in all likelihood never have achieved what they did if they had pursued formal education.

A few years ago I heard John Taylor Gatto articulate a certain paradox. Gatto was an American school teacher for over 30 years who was named New York City Teacher of the Year in 1989, 1990 and 1991 along with New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. In his talk he pointed out the following:

Microsoft was set up by two college dropouts – Bill Gates  and Paul Allen.
Apple Computers that was started by two college drop outs –  Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. (For more on Steve Jobs see here).
Dell Computers was started by another college dropout – Michael Dell
Larry Ellison, the head of Oracle, is a college dropout from his freshman year.
The founder of CNN, Ted Turner was another college dropout.

While I agree that it is unfair to extrapolate too much from specific examples, it does raise interesting issues about the education system that has evolved around us and its capability to meet the demands of modern life.

It would appear that there is something about modern life that formal education is unable to keep pace with.  with the increasing complexity of modern life and with the impact of technology, those who can try, fail, learn from their mistakes and get themselves up again are the most likely to progress the furthest. They are the ones who are best able to navigate the growingly complex myriad of choices we are confronted with everyday.

Or as Peter Drucker has put it:

“In a few hundred years, when the history of the our time is written from a long term perspective, it is likely that the most important event those historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce. It is the unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time – literally – substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it.”

Maybe I should leave final words with Mark Twain, who famously said, “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

Do you agree? Disagree? What was your overall experience of the education you received growing up or perhaps are currently receiving? How well has it prepared you for the challenges and opportunities you face day to day?

Please feel free to share your thoughts and reflections below.
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