I don’t know about you, but I can’t say that formal education taught me how to be happy and successful, nor how to further my natural aptitudes. In my study days, I was pretty disillusioned with the school’s dull regimentation and the sterility of academic curriculum, which mostly offered impractical epistemology and hardly ever practical approach to comprehensiveness of life.
It bothers me that schools imbue students with a propensity for looking exclusively for logical explanations and exactitude, as if life weren’t full of illogical and abstract manifestations. Anyone intelligent enough can sense there is a logic out there that does not come from brain.
Nevertheless, the old grudge towards educational system was swept away when I got the new understanding that education is just mortar and stones, so to speak. It’s up to us whether we use it to build a castle or to build a prison for ourselves. Schools give us some basic tools, but it is ultimately up to us how far we go in the learning process. Some might limit themselves with only using what’s given to them through formal education, when others take it further by upgrading it with informal education, information coming from parents, religion, friends, media, books, courses, experiences, travels and all the rest, including inner insights. Save for the latter, all the other input is a form of indoctrination, when you come down to it, and could be useful only if taken as something to mull over instead of as a system of belief. On that note, the true meaning of education lies not in the static, exact subjects that it teaches, but rather in the dynamic inexact processes that one learns from it, such us memorizing, strategizing, planning, focusing, problem-solving, dealing with dead-lines, self-discipline, association and so on. What matters most, the real knowledge comes not from learning, but from listening with the third ear or gut.
I stretch my hand out to agnostic Immanuel Kant. He once held that no true cognition was possible about anything in the world, because human mind could never see things independently of the construction it puts on those things, like we see the world through our tinted glasses and never as it is in itself. Long before him, the best-known Sophist Protagoras asserted human subjectivity as the basis of all knowledge: “man is the measure of all things”. Therefore, all knowledge presented in schools is more-or-less subjective, as it’s merely someone else’s interpretations of the worldly affairs and not necessarily the real thing. Only by testing academic statements against experiences and by our own insights we can reach sustainable conclusions. Therefore, profound knowledge can be passed on better through direct experience than through lectures, hence first-hand experience is often the best teacher. The learning thus never ends. Learning by studying teaches us all that we are supposed to know, whereas learning by doing teaches us all that we need to know. And learning by traveling taught me all that I wished to know. In the end, it does not matter whether the education is good or bad; what matters is how we respond to it and what we get out of it. The shortcomings of education might provoke some to cross the frontiers as to fill in the blanks, question everything, get out of ordinary, like it did for me. I became happy and successful not because of my formal education, but in spite of it. Albert Einstein put it nicely: “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.” He also said: “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education” and “I am neither especially clever nor especially gifted. I am only very, very curious.” Inspired by his words, I relieved myself of the pressure to chase academic honors in order to achieve brilliance and prosperity, because I found some other, better ways. However insufficient education seemed before, I now recognize how much goodness is in its badness, how much quality behind inadequacy. The education did help me indeed in giving me the foundations and impetus to break free, to wonder and wander.
Even though I came to terms with the nature of formal education as foundations and impetus, I can’t shake off the notion that it is highly influenced by politics and thus a form of indoctrination. In my view education mostly serves the interests of corporate imperialists. The academic facts were compiled by the governing structures that are ruled and financed by big corporations, whose interests are to create the public submissive to their concepts, which are bringing them profits. Such policy is hardly a free-will booster, since the formal schooling system is greatly equipped to reward the qualities of conformity, obedience and compliance, which manipulative capitalists could make use of. Only those individuals, who pose no challenge to authority and absorb the official framework of views propagated furtively by big investors, only they could pass the exams and gain recognition.
It took me some years to notice that the best guys in school didn’t quite make it in life, and that academic level doesn’t guarantee happiness and fulfillment. The spiritual level does that, or rather a combination of the two. Right attitude and virtues turned out to be the passport to prosperity in life, the magic ingredients in the process of fulfilling one’s full potential. Conformism, obedience and compliance, which are propagated through the model of formal education, they prompt certain virtues such as respect, reverence and loyalty, but also the evils such as resignation, apathy, submissiveness, spinelessness, fearfulness, cowardice, as well as they give rise to rebellious spirits, pushing them into improprieties. For youth to be able to make something of themselves, they need confidence, which grows out of courage, not out of compliance. They need to be encouraged to be authentic, rather than to conform. Even if we don’t have the knowledge, even if we lack education, we can prosper as long as we cultivate our virtues. We don’t need education if we have wisdom. We don’t need to read if we can love.
As we can witness it on the field, the ability to pass exams is not in itself enough to confirm existence of something as hard to define as intelligence and gives no assurance for a successful career. My own low grades in foreign languages classes proved to be a wrong appraisal of my actual skills, when later, through learning by traveling, I easily mastered six languages and the art of communicating with foreigners. Nor did my poor grades in math exams exactly mirror my ability to work with numbers, as I became one of the best financial planners in the country. It just goes to show: the grades do not and cannot measure someone’s abilities and potential.
Besides, it bothers me that the educational system downplays kids who don’t measure up to their standards, thereby implanting the notion that they are less worth than other kids and that failure is the opposite of success. Failure is an important part of success. One and the other go hand in hand. There is no yin without a yang. Failure is a necessity of life. Better get used to it early in life.
While on the subject of the kids who don’t measure up to mainstream standards, for some reason we never hear from our school-teachers the fact that most geniuses wore a Duncan’s cap in school. Einstein, for instance, appeared deficient to others, partly due to his dyslexia, which caused him considerable difficulties in speech and reading, had poor language skills, was expelled from high school, flunked his college entrance exam, and failed to obtain recommendations from his professors, but all that didn’t prevent him from becoming a synonym for high intelligence to this day.
Unfortunately, the modern education instills into students a disposition for looking only for the logical explanations, denying realities beyond the three dimensions as well as the possibility of understanding through feeling what cannot be understood through thinking. Very much like Jean-Jacques Rousseau in 18th century, I blame the wrong approach to education for driving men into moral corruption.
And here is the list of the American and British public figures, who were or are very successful, but no thanks to higher education, since they are either college dropouts or never went to college: http://www.collegedropoutshalloffame.com/