I’ll preface this by saying I have some fairly strong opinions on the education system in the US. To be blunt, the traditional US eduction system is, by and large, a complete waste of time for an intelligent student. It teaches young people bad habits, sets unreasonable expectations, and differs in most fundamental aspects from the reality of the adult world.
I have friends who graduated high school with perfect GPAs and excelled at Ivy League universities. They are, by and large, a certain type of person: they understand that they need to play by the rules to get ahead. They went to classes, they did their homework, they captained the debate team and poured their hearts into their college applications.
I am not that person. I hate rules, I don’t like being told what to do, and I can’t accept that things are done a certain way “just because.”
In other words, I’m an entrepreneur.
I managed to make it out alive but I consider myself successful in spite of my education. High school and college wouldn’t rank in the top 50 contributing factors to my success. In fact, I’m confident that I could have pieced together a much better (and cheaper) education with a combination of business books, TED talks, and a few smart friends.
Traditional education fails countless brilliant and promising potential stars. They’re usually called “wasted talent,” and here’s why education doesn’t work for them.
1. Schools trail the leading edge of
Ten years ago, it was funny that students knew more about technology than the computer lab teacher. Today, it’s just sad.
Schools are hopelessly behind in all aspects – from outdated hardware to antiquated software – but most importantly, high school teachers don’t have anything to teach students, because the students know more than the teachers do.
Technology is not a silo – it’s not a single discipline that can be taught from a textbook. Technology is everything. Today’s most innovative companies are leveraging today’s latest technology breakthroughs. Students especially need to be educated on how to make best use of personal productivity software – things like Evernote, TimeTrade, Elance, TaskRabbit, and Mint, to name a few.
Are students still learning cursive writing? Doing months of long division? Not allowed to use formulas in their calculators? Reading Jane Eyre? I hope not. If kids are going to have access to better tools in the real world, it’s insulting to ask them to go without them in school. It makes them hate school, and, as a result, hate learning.
2. Mandatory classes in high school.
At risk of sounding dramatic, I’ll tell you what I believe high school is – a four-year boot camp to prepare you for the soul-sucking corporate world that lies ahead. High school trains you to believe that you’re supposed to be good at everything (once you get into the business world, they call this “cross-functional abilities”). You’re forced to take classes in every subject – history, science, math, English, physical education – regardless of your interests, abilities, or future goals.
High school teaches the myth you are going to have to do things that you hate doing. The truth is, I don’t do anything that I hate doing. I outsource reviewing my annoying medical bills to a medical billing specialist, I outsource my apartment cleaning to a maid, and I outsource cooking to a restaurant when I’m tired.
Within reason, kids should be able to choose their own classes.
3. Classes move at an unreasonably slow pace
For a student of above-average capability, the classes move at a slow pace – wasting valuable time and dulling a students’ appetite for learning. Though I had a nearly perfect straight-A record (at least until I started refusing to do homework), high school classes were agony for me. I grasped the concepts more quickly than most students and then had to sit still while the rest of the students caught up. And I wasn’t alone – in most of my classes, there was a group of 3-5 of us that just learned significantly faster than our peers.
I spent most of my time zoning out and sleeping in class, cultivating a flourishing case of ADD. This is great training for the corporate world, where you spend half your time trying to fill up your day with useless tasks and waiting for your boss to give you something new to do.
4. Extracurricular programs are lame
In order to get into a good school, everyone knows that you have to participate in extracurricular activities. But I was so bored with high school classes – the last thing I wanted to do was pile more boredom on top of it. You encounter the same problems with these programs that you do with normal classes – you’re lumped in with kids with a wide variety of skill levels and the program moves at the pace of the average learner.
5. “Wasted talent” doesn’t go to top schools
Entrance into college is more competitive than ever. Colleges screen students on several points – in order to get into a top school, you need to hit all of them: GPA, SATs, extracurriculars, etc.
The boredom of high school proved too great to bear and I ended up skipping my senior year and opted to go straight to college instead. The problem was that the only bright spot on my application were my SAT scores.
I wasn’t in the top of my class GPA-wise because I was too bored to do the homework. I didn’t participate in stand-out extracurriculars – I was too demoralized by the terrible boredom in my normal classes to pile more boredom on top of it. Boredom begets boredom, and I just did the bare minimum to scrape by.
As a result, I didn’t get into any of the top-tier schools that would have actually challenged me.
6. College is a continuation of high school
By the time I got to college, I had lost faith in traditional education – I continued the pattern of doing the bare minimum to get by. I graduated with a BS in Marketing (Bachelors of Science, but it works with the other definition, too) and I learned absolutely nothing. The program was incredibly easy.
I went to Rutgers, and it was the kind of school where you’ll get out what you put in – there are plenty of opportunities if you have the drive to look. But I didn’t have the drive to look – I just wanted to get out into the real world and start working. I had zero faith that traditional education could deliver a meaningful and satisfying curriculum. What I really needed was a program that would challenge me in spite of myself – a small, intensive, challenging school catered to what I wanted to do with my life: run a business.
Perhaps things would have been different if I went to a challenging program at Harvard or Penn, but with my record, I wasn’t going to get in.
As an adult, I’m just now rediscovering things that the educational system made me hate – reading, language, and learning new skills. Between high school, college, and the years that followed, I wasted over a decade thinking that I had a hatred for learning. I swore I’d never take a class again.
The truth is that I love learning – given the right circumstances. I can choose exactly what and from whom I learn. I can take classes that move at breakneck speed. If I don’t like the way my teacher teaches, I can find a new one (if I don’t like my classmates, I can change that, too).
I believe that this level of freedom should not be limited to adults. I think of how different my life could have been if I had fostered an early appreciation for learning – if I had been exposed to an education system worth participating in.
If you’re like me – or if you have a son or daughter that could do great things “if they only applied themselves” – seek out nontraditional education. It doesn’t matter if it’s math, karate, or racecar driving – just get out there and learn something. Help foster an appetite for learning. Pull them out of traditional education if at all possible, before it kills their soul.
I think that education is going to begin to change over the coming years. I read today about an entrepreneurial incubator that is beginning to think of themselves as a university for elite entrepreneurs. I think that these new forms of targeted education are extremely exciting, and though I missed out on an incredible childhood education, I am confident that the tools to arrange one will be available when I someday start a family.
Here are a few resources for nontraditional education. If you know of any more, please feel free to post them in the comments section below and I’ll update the list.
Free or Cheap Awesome Education
- Khan Academy – learn just about anything for free.
- Y Combinator – an incubator that accepts applications from promising entrepreneurs without any startup ideas.
- TED talks – thousands of incredible videos by inspiring speakers.
- Personal MBA – a list of the 99 best business books. You don’t need to spend six figures for a world-class education.
- I Will Teach You To Be Rich – everything you need to know about personal finance without any of the confusing BS.
Until the next time – un abrazo fuerte, my friends.
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Great blog, I’m glad I stumbled onto it. Just wanted to give you another learning website (mostly web design/development): http://teamtreehouse.com/
I’ve watched about 10 of their videos so far and I’ve found them to be very helpful. They have a subscription price, but so far I’ve been able to watch all my videos for free.
Keep up the good work,
Your post makes me frustrated and sad. I am a teacher (not in the US) and have been raising almost the same points for the last 10 years or so. I argued with my director of primary just last week about the pointlessness of teaching my third grade students long division!
On one point I disagree with you: classes don’t move too fast or too slow they move at a standardized pace that is unrealistic for almost all students in the classroom. For those students that would like to move faster (30% say) and are not allowed to, boredom ensues, and therefore so do behavioral problems. For those that the classes are moving too fast for (say around 30%), frustration, disbelieve and boredom ensues, more behavioral problems. For those in the middle of the class (the minority) the behavior of the bored and frustrated students slows them down and makes their time in school less useful.
Differentiation, student led inquiry/investigations, flipped classrooms, non-test driven assessments, encouraging creativity AND forward thinking teachers are a few of the ways that we may be able to turn this around. BUT we have to stop thinking in an out of date, industrial revolution way about educating students for jobs that don’t even exist yet.
Loved this blog!
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I have to say that I agree with you on most points. My son had problems getting through school and yet Aced the GED with no studying involved and is now taking welding classes at a tech. school. Moreover, he’s taking the 1st year classes in the morning and the 2nd year classes in the afternoon.
Now then, I did say most points. I do think basic history and science still should be learned by everyone and I think physical ed. should be in place. It’s good for the mind.
Man, this all sounds so familiar. Education in the Netherlands isn’t much better – neither is the university system. It’s crazy to think I spent 10+ years in institutions that barely added anything to my life or knowledge. Something’s gotta change.
had to reblog your two previous posts. they are excellent!
Reblogged this on contentconservative.
agree on much here. As a parent of a 3rd grader and a soon starting-kinder (in the U.S.), we have chosen to pay more to live in a progressive town that offers an excellent variety of public school choices that provide choices /different learning environments for different kinds of students. Also having a community that supports this with tax dollars helps. Best choice we made, but I realize this is self serving, as not many districts are as fortunate as ours.( ps, I did not go to a top college, feel my education was rather mediocre, and test rather poorly but experienced much success in the corporate world – I believe curiousity/ life experiences that your family introduces you to is impt part of this)
It doesn’t stop in college. I am convinved now more than ever that the entire certification (business/IT/other) is doing nothing more than commodizing employees. Huge $’s are spent studying for these things and I hypothesize that at the end of the day real labor rates are not going up. So why do people do it?
I agree with most of your points. You profoundly discussed why the educational system seems obsolete compared to how fast technology is enabling students nowadays. I agree as well that there are similarities between high school and the corporate world where you sit in meetings with vicious cycles of discussing problems and solutions. Fortunately, just like how I worked my way around the school system, I have my way of working smart. I keep it as an advantage.
However, I would like to share a perspective from a developing country whereby education is seen as a tool of salvation. Perhaps it is myopic but it also comes from the notion that education is only the way out of poverty. This, I observed talking to public school students who would rather stick to the system and hope for a brighter future. Education seems like a privilege rather than a right. Thus, they work very hard just to get that entitlement to an education. As much as they want to be liberated and start on their feet, maybe they think that there is so much more to lose.
Unfortunately, I agree with you, and I am an educator (independent, outside the system) and have two kids that went to public high schools. Administrators who are lemmings tell teachers what to do and how to do it, and everyone focuses on it being a teacher problem rather than a culture/system problem. No one is willing to pour more money into the schools to update technology and teacher training, and visionaries are “to unrealistic and where is the money going to come from” to implement ideas? Our kids have a love of learning because of their home and extended family environment and went to colleges that taught them how to think.
As I began reading your post, I personally related to all your points: I was one of 3-5 kids in class. Then You mentioned the “non-traditional”. I have three kids who love (1) math, (2) tae kwon do, and (3) cars and racing. Which is why I am so glad I am fortunate enough to homeschool them. In additional to the foundation they need, they have the opportunity to be (high-school aged) lab assistants, go to public lectures at the university, compete in TKD tournaments, perfect their baking skills, study engines (as a 6yo can), play outside on a beautiful spring day, and all the other things 35 hrs in class plus homework would make more difficult.
I agree to a point. Some things like unbiased history is useful for perspective on world events.
And also the world wouldnt function without a percentage of people doing dull jobs in corporate land. And other doing jobs that require a formal eductaion structure :Air traffic controllers, scientists, accountants etc.
What you are saying is that syudents should be ‘sorted’ earlier, to separate the corporates from the free spirits. Some people like monotonous jobs and security etc.
Do you concur?
A lot depends on how much money you have to pay for clegloe and on your grades in high school. If you don’t have enough money or if your grades were not good in high school, you can start at a community clegloe. Here you can take your basics’ (which are usually basic clegloe math and english and stuff like that) and then transfer to a 4-year clegloe after two years or less. You could also just attempt to get a simple certificate or an Associate’s degree at the community clegloe (my cousin is getting a certificate in welding from a community clegloe), though a person that went to a 4-year clegloe is likely to get hired over a person with just a certificate or an Associate’s degree. You could also jump straight into a 4-year clegloe and likely you will need to take the SAT test before you apply and they will also ask to see your grades from high school.If I were you, I would go back to my high school and ask to speak with a clegloe counselor and ask them to explain the process to me.I would also make a list of all the clegloes in my area and then go to their website and look for a link called Future Students’ or Prospective Students’ or something like that and read on the information they have posted. I would also look around for email addresses or phone numbers and try to ask for guidance or even to set up a meeting with some school official.Good luck!
Thanks for the post! I agree with a lot of the issues that you raised… except for writing that you might have been better off in “challenging programs” at Penn or Harvard. These schools may teach at a faster pace, but I don’t think that they are any better than big state schools when it comes to breaking down the norms and expectations established in high schools. As the most prominent educational institutions in the U.S. I imagine that then tend to reinforce the mainstream ways of learning, not change them. But there are plenty of non-traditional/alternative colleges in the U.S. that cater to students who learn in different ways. I also believe in the power of small schools. I went to a small public university in Virginia. It was my liberal arts education at this college that actually made me start to question my grade/high school education.
My view is that many people come out of the education system without the ability to think critically. I do think that classes like english, math and some sciences do help teach those basic skills…and those are not going to be the first choices on kids’ lists of things to learn if they are left to make more choices.
I do take issue with the comment “Technology is everything”. While technology is a critical part of our lives, I was never taught how to use a computer in school, and for that matter I wasn’t taught how to use a hammer either, and yet I am more than competent with a computer and a hammer! Kids want to learn how to use technology so in many cases schools don’t need to teach it, and if that is true then could schools possibly spend that technology budget on more innovative ways to teach?
A better way to have said it would have been, “technology affects everything.” You can’t separate learning and education from technology.
Kids are certainly going to seek out and learn technology on their own – you’re absolutely right. But I also believe that teachers should make better use of technology to foster learning of traditional school subjects.
For another viewpoint, read John Gatto’s Weapons of Mass Instruction. Gatto’s links the dumbing down of schools to the desire of corporations need for conforming worker bees. No need for creativity on the assembly line or in the cubicle.
Very well said and so true. I received my high school education in Panama and completed college in the USA; many of the subjects that were covered (in depth) in HS, were mercilessly repeated at the college level and I would bore easily in class. I hope that a total revamp of the current education system does not take too long to go into effect, because we are losing students at a rapid pace.
It would also be helpful if students were afforded the opportunity to travel to a foreign country where they can see and explore cultures and learn languages; both much more useful in today’s work environment.
Unfortunately it’s to late to read the whole post… but i’ll be back to read. This theme is very interesting. And seems to be the same in Russia too)) Thank you!
I agree wholeheartedly on the complete crock that is the conventional education system in the US. I was fortunate enough to be homeschooled until college myself, at which point I had the creativity and persuasive power to convince my advisors to let me bend the rules several times, but as far as I understand the public school system as an institution, it exists to reward conformity and a baseline work model. (There’s a lot of great teachers out there, but great teachers aren’t enough to counteract a rotten system.)
The only area I disagree with you is Jane Eyre! Unlike pointless rules against using modern technology, I think reading great novels is an extremely worthwhile way to develop a higher relationship with language and narrative thinking, which are useful skills in any situation. The way literature is taught in public schools is another story, but don’t knock the books because of poor presentation!
I agree 100% – there is a lot of value to be had from reading books like Jane Eyre. But convincing a high schooler of that is a different story. Perhaps if they gained some momentum by reading more relevant novels, students would be more willing to read some of the older books.
I agree — I’m certified to teach secondary English so I’m a strong supporter of literature, but teachers need to foster a love of reading if it isn’t already there. If that means allowing kids to read comic books in 2nd grade, or whatever else isn’t in the traditional literary canon, so be it.