You Are What You Know?

“The road to success looks like this: go to school, get a degree, and work at a good job for the rest of your life.”

It might be old advice, but I grew up being very familiar with its essence. After all, my parents both have degrees (my Dad has several, including a PhD), my brother has a degree, and I have a degree.

My Mom has worked in several libraries, from the public library to my high school library to her church library. And my Dad recently retired as a long-time University history professor, but still works as an archival historian in my home town.

Yes, when you break it all down, my family is big on education and book smarts. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — in and of itself.

See, I love to learn. And the educational model as we know it worked fine in the past.

Well, I should say it worked fine for some people.

But it pigeon-holed and alienated others, while giving us the idea that what we are is a sum total of everything we know.

I don’t know very many people these days who are actually doing anything related to what they learned in school. Certainly many of the world’s most innovative entrepreneurs have gone a completely different direction, if they even finished school at all.

That’s because we don’t all learn the same way, and formalized education doesn’t always serve, as many of our readers pointed out in their comments on the post we wrote in 2009:  Institutionalized Thinking Via Formal Education?

To relate this back to Metaphysics 101, doing something you don’t enjoy — like forcing yourself to pay attention to a lecture when you really learn best by getting your hands dirty, or vice versa — will backfire in a big puff of dejected energy.

But following your passions, with an aim to serve others and give value, takes you on a fun ride. And as Barry figured out sometime during high school, it’s often the entrepreneurs who make the most lasting, beneficial contributions to the lives of others.

Learning to become an entrepreneur is very rarely done in school, and the most profound a-ha moments you’ll ever have come from doing, making mistakes, adapting, overcoming and improvising (to paraphrase a favorite movie quote of Barry’s).

In fact, the most interesting thing about learning is that it can happen when we least expect it…

Case in point: Yesterday, Barry happened upon an excellent RSAnimate video about education that we both found enlightening and profound. We’ve shared these types of videos with you before, which use animation to add depth, interest and new facets of input to an otherwise one-dimensional talk.

The topic of this one happens to be education (or the lack of it), and it brought up numerous thoughts in us both. A short discussion later, and the basis of this blog post was born.

But as I started fleshing out the points I wanted to make, something was niggling in the back of my mind.

Hadn’t I heard about the video’s presenter, Sir Ken Robinson, before? In fact, hadn’t my own father — someone I equate with the epitome of formalized education — shared something of his with me?

I went back and searched in my email and found that, sure enough, my Dad had sent me the exact same video a few months ago, along with the following commentary:

“I found this to be quite an interesting discussion, and thought it might appeal to you, too. It hits at one of the paradoxes that I observed with many students over the years. They became more narrow-minded over a relatively short time. It seemed to me, they were more concerned about right answers than about right questions.”

That should have piqued my interest. But, making an incorrect assumption about the probable content of the video, I hadn’t bothered to watch it right away.

Yeah, that’s exactly what overly-educated people do… close their minds to new possibilities.

And I admit, I fell into that trap, and based my actions on past patterns instead of future potential.

But that was a big learning experience in itself.

So I wholeheartedly apologize to my Dad for not watching the video when he sent it, and for subsequently forgetting about it until now. Because it’s definitely worth the 11 minutes to see why education, as it was designed hundreds of years ago, is failing our kids today.

The good news is, it’s never too late to admit we’re wrong, and make changes or take a new path.

And it’s never too late to share a great, inspirational and… yes, educational… piece with you.

The part that hit me hardest is that 98% of kindergarten kids are geniuses at divergent thinking, which allows us to be creative and see multiple possibilities. The video doesn’t share the next stats, but apparently that drops to 32% of kids aged 8-10 and 10% of those aged 13-15.

By the time we hit 25 and beyond? A measly 2% of us make the cut. Yikes!

Almost as fascinatingly disheartening as that (or maybe even more so) is the look at the fake ADHD epidemic, and how kids are being put to sleep with anesthesia when they should be woken up with aesthetic experiences like the arts.

Interestingly enough, my degree was in Visual Arts… but I was exposed to how formalized education can even take the creativity out of that, when most of my art teachers tried to make us paint and draw the same way.

Only one of them — ironically a teacher that my fellow students had warned me was “too tough” — ended up encouraging me to break out of that cookie-cutter mold.

So yes, there are teachers every now and then — Claude Breeze, my favorite art teacher; John Keating, played by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society; Samuel Pickering, who that character was “loosely” based on; and, from what I’ve heard, my own Dad — who encourage students to think outside the box and break out of the status quo.

For those teachers, I say “thank you”.

For the rest, and for any of us who’ve been students frustrated with the school system, I say listen deeply to Sir Ken Robinson’s message, and then leave us your comments below:


Filed under: Critical-Thinking, Institutionalized Thinking/Formal Education

4 Responses to “You Are What You Know?”

  1. Absolutely genius!

  2. Heather,

    Excellent article and video – incisive and priceless!

  3. Heather,

    I really enjoy your writing style and you make some very good points here.

    I often think when I am helping my daughter with her homework and wonder why they are learning what they are learning. It’s important to have them use their creativity and I don’t see how most of what they learn does this.

    I also feel that when you find your true passion is when your real creativity comes out.

    Thanks for this thought provoking post!


  4. Hey Heather,

    Thanks for the video, powerful…and the old paradigm he discusses is based on the turn of the century Prussian educational model, where literally the student is perceived as a blank slate upon which society should imprint the truth.

    Funny how Robinson is encouraging the opposite of this, that the student is in the process of discovering an individual truth to share, not to fit in the societal box. Learning by doing, instead of memorization, is critical.

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