In the past few weeks, I’ve thought a whole lot about the whole “college vs. work experience” conundrum. While it is a valid discussion, I want to boil down the argument even further in order to challenge the basic assumptions of our culture. Namely, our attitude towards education and particularly college. I call it the “school vs. education” dilemma.
We need to define some terms. Google defines school as “an institution for education children.” College is defined as “an educational establishment, one providing higher education or specialized professional or vocational training.” School means the establishment of learning; the brick and mortar institutions where you go to supposedly get your education. (Note: I’m applying this specifically to the college level; K-12 may apply on a different level, but it’s not my focus.) “School” is this attitude of, “You need to get educated; therefore, you should spend four years of your life sitting in a classroom learning about things that may or may not relate to your area of interest.”
How does it differ from “education”? Education can most certainly happen within the context of the collegiate environment. But it’s really so much more than that. Education is defined by Google as “The process of receiving or giving systematic instruction”. This really leaves the door open to a lot of things that don’t really fit into the traditional mold of what ‘education’ is. There is an attitude in our culture that says education happens exclusively, or best, in school (read: college). I find this view limiting and somewhat naive. It’s a one-size-fits-all mentality that is applied to the educational process, and because it has largely worked rather well in the past, we accept it tacitly without critically thinking about what it is we’re accepting.
What does school have to do with education?
I’ve often said that after I get my college degree, I plan on going about the business of getting an education. That is to say, that I largely consider what I am learning in school to be secondary or even tertiary compared to what I actually want to learn (or what I consider actually useful for my career). In other words, school isn’t teaching me what I want to learn. That has become a bigger and bigger problem as it has become apparent that the education system in America isn’t as great as it used to be. [Interesting statistics about how much our education system sucks]. The whole concept of “General Education” is a completely meaningless waste of time, a point I will drive home in another post.
Our culture expects us to go through college, get our degree, and then settle into a nice career. But this blind insistence on college is really a disservice to many in the educational system. A major is not necessary for many jobs and in most cases, the things you learn on the job are not things you learn in school anyway. You need to be properly educated to do quality work in your field, but the education that matters most doesn’t come in the classroom. It comes through experience.
We said that education is the process of giving or receiving systematic instruction. Learning skills on the job is education; just not the academic kind. And in many ways, it’s much more useful, more current, and more fun. The educational establishment, like many establishments, is slow to change. Attitudes become ingrained into the fiber of the institution and it’s hard for those attitudes to change. For this reason, much of college and education is pretty outdated.
When I was investigating whether or not to do a political science degree or a business degree, what I kept hearing from politicos “in the field” was that what I would learn in a political science class would be about 20 years behind what’s actually happening in the field. How many establishment colleges are offering a class that focuses on social media and the changing political environment? Not many, although there are some. But even then, what you learn at the start of the semester is outdated by the end. You need to learn these things “on the job”.
So Is It Worth It?
Education is worth it. But for a lot of young people, college is not the place to get that education. Sure, you should be a well-rounded citizen and know your history and literature. That education should be completed by the time you get to college, notwithstanding, but I digress. College does not prepare you for the workforce. It prepares you to pass a test and please a professor. Some of those skills are transferable to the workforce, but many of them aren’t.
So why are we spending so much money on this? I’ll discuss that in Round 2 of School vs. Education.
Much of this is still undeveloped in my mind. Feel free to add your thoughts.