Monday, December 13, 2004

The Paradox of Education

I feel like I was sold into a giant fallacy by my preparatory school education and the absolute push that you are nothing unless you get straight A's through school, go to a good university, and basically, be a nerdy know-it-all. Now when it is too late, I see the reality. Our education system does not prepare you for success. It prepares you to buy into its own existence.

When I was in high school, I remember students always asking teachers, 'When will I need to know this.' The teacher's response was always the same, 'That's not the point.' Well, actually, yeah it kinda is. We are taught mathematics to the pre-calculus level or even beyond. We are put through the ringer of high school chemistry and physics. We take 8 different classes every year through all of our education in the preparatory track of going to college. Once in college we continue into majors in esoteric catch-all subject areas.

I remember hearing about a study done comparing adult income levels to school grades, and it turns out that B and C students out-earn A students by a hefty amount. I was one of those A students. While I do not feel income level is the main gauge of success, that is exactly the point. B and especially C students DO.

But when I look at what gauges I think are the real measure of success, I do have to look at all the professions that my teachers in a college prep track and in a university setting mocked and insulted. I remember a teach in high school who after tests would push those who got low grades by insulting them with, 'Keep this up, you'll end up fixing cars for a living.' I wish I knew how to fix a car.

What have I done with my life? What do I do every day? Well, working in book publishing, I can feel good that I help to bring information and entertainment, thoughts and enjoyment into the world through helping move ideas and creative works through the world, but the everyday reality of it is the same as many people sitting behind desks: I push paper, from one pile to the next. I agree to deals and sign contracts and file the resulting paperwork. I've never built a house or repaired a machine that no longer works. I've never made someone's backyard into a beautiful, blooming peaceful place to sit and enjoy the nature. I don't know how to renovate a kitchen or repair a roof or install a water heater. And do you know what I've learned in the last 17 years since graduating with that piece of paper? There is real art and creativity in lawncare and building a wall and knowing how water moves through a house in two different temperatures and, yes, even in knowing how a car engine runs. As long as you know to look for the art in it. And there in one will find happiness, fulfillment, and in the end, success.

Do you know what I think? Our education in this obsessive infatuation to make sure we all went to college, missed the point. 8 different subjects every day, every year. But the people in this world who are the most successful are those who do and learn one thing really, really well. A students spent our lives trying to learn every subject to a mediocre introductory level. B and C students learn and accept early on that they can't know everything, but when they find something they really love, they become expert in it. And if you look at all the successful people in the world, the self-made ones, it was because they do one thing better than anyone else. I bet they are proud of their work, happy with their lives, content and fulfilled. I think I'll go back to school, and this time, I'll do it right.

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