Why I love Education but I don’t like “School”
2 ones: 2; 2 into 2 goes 1 time.
2 twos: 4; 2 into 4 goes 2 times.
That mantra continues as far as “12 twelves: 144”, or until the teacher comes back from being …indisposed.
What I just described to you is a “Times Table” recital. It is a primary school activity across the island of Jamaica for young students to recite the Times Table ad nauseum because we are told that we may not always have the benefit of a calculator and mental ability is a key attribute. And it does sounds like learning to the untrained ear, and maybe it is, until you realize that some students are merely mumbling the words to not be discovered as “dunce.” The mischievous will start to make up playful naughty rhymes mid-recital without anyone noticing.
There is no perfect system, sure, but why is there often a disconnect between School, Exams, Education, and the so-called “real world”?
Apropos, there is a running joke on the internet that says School will teach you “1 + 2 = 3”, will tell you that “the mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell”, give you homework along the lines of “Find the square root of 64”, but the exams are “Johnny is traveling in a train going southeast at 500 km per hour and Danny is picking 4 apples at 12 pm; please calculate the volume of the sun, and show your working!” This is facetious hyperbole of course, but too often, even if you excel at answering questions like these, you seem to be at odds with the rest of the world. No amount of calculus seems to be useful unless you immediately require the use of such a thing, and jobs seem to tell you that you need experience to get the job, while paradoxically you need the job to get experience. And if you do get the job, they are going to train you anyway. Hey, such training even has a fancy name: “On-the-job-training”. So, what is a young person to do when School is trying to fill his head with quadratic expressions and the formula to solve for two roots?
I was actually a very good student. I got prizes, certificates, valedictorian caps, congratulations, etc.. I was first in my class at various times, even in high school, and dutifully felt that everything the teacher taught was gospel and was definitely coming on the test. As a result, I made sure to listen and tried to commit what was said to memory, even if I were not jotting down everything. Then, a few drops of teenage hormones mixed with angst, spiked with the lack of a male presence in the home to emulate, threatened all of that. Down the rabbit hole I fell, and I was cast from the Garden of Academia with a flaming ruler to prevent my re-entry. How quickly the once “shiny youth” is discarded in favor of others. In essence that was my first bit of true education about the world: the world mostly doesn’t care if you are dejected or depressed; it will continue to spin regardless if you are happy about it or not. You can either accept that or fight it – your funeral.
It came to my attention that when I left School and began my first job at 17 years old, I learned I was woefully underprepared. Sure, I did not do well in my end of high school exams, but if I did, it is likely I would not have entered the workforce so early to find out what was really going on. Despite my poor end-of-high-school exam results, it felt like I never went to School or attained any education at all! The workforce was a lot faster, much more unforgiving, and seemed completely divorced from what was being taught in schools! All the adults seemingly chugged along like ruthless trains – laughing all the way to their payslips and further laughing at my confused face.
I was confused because I couldn't recognize “the basics”! School told me that if I was a good little boy (and smart) and stayed still, sitting quietly in my seat to learn from the person at the chalkboard, and passed exams, life would be as easy as 1,2,3. But maybe there was a very good reason why I was confused. I had (in fact) fallen off the wagon, and at that point in my life, I did not have good academic credentials. As a result, I was (then) very much experiencing the hard life of not having enough education that School is said to provide. But honestly, there is much more to life than that. There is no straight shot. School unfortunately cannot tell you who you are! Additionally confusing, I was (ostensibly) doing several of the same chores as these older adults, but they were getting paid ten times higher (and more) than I did. Why? I was eventually told that they stayed in School and attained degrees. What’s a degree? How do I sign up for one? Where do you get it? I got my answer shortly: “You need to get more schooling!”
“But I don’t want to go back to school. That place sucks! All they do is present you with information that you cannot use and force you to remain quiet as you sit in your seat!” Sounds like a 6-year old’s common whine, eh? I can tell you I have heard full adults throw tantrums along similar lines.
Why is School such an unpleasant experience for so many? Why are you rewarded for your passivity but punished for your passions or worse punished for your enthusiasm for things not on a chalkboard? Why does School seem disjointed from the rest of the world? Why do you need School to get an education that businesses seem to not respect, but instead require you to show that you have experience? Why will many jobs not simply take you if you have the required experience but not enough schooling? I don’t know.
Education is the key —not merely School! But nobody seems to be willing to say this out loud! What is the difference? “Learning” is, by one definition, the acquisition of knowledge or skills through study, experience, or being taught (Google Dictionary, 2020). “Education” is seen as being the result produced by instruction, training, or study (Dictionary.com, 2020). A “School” is said to be an institution where instruction is given (Dictionary.com, 2020). Yet, schools instead seem more like large daycare centers with agents and guards to punish deficit behavior and prohibit incorrect outside influences, which will then (like a factory) produce a batch of people inevitably pronounced “qualified”, even if not, to finally boot out said people brutally into the world. If you perform as expected or exceed, good for you; you are a credit to your institution. If you perform poorly, you are obviously defective and await rejection.
Okay, so now that we got those pesky definitions out of the way, what about me? So, I eventually completed my high school exams and became qualified to enter several universities. But I became aware, skeptical, and cynical that maybe what schools are interested to teach is not exactly good enough. To supplement, I opted to glean economically viable skills from the internet. Sure, it was hard, but if you are interested in a thing, and there are enough information and resources, there is no one to discourage the directions of your (experimental) self-tutelage. And if you believe in something, and believe in yourself, and take the leap and remain diligent, you will be surprised how much you can learn!
What does a school do? Force you to study a whole bunch of impractical stuff that you largely never see again to apply. Especially at the tertiary-level, they saddle you with crippling (potentially life-long) debt. They scorn self-learning (unless it is geared at some esoteric thing that they expect you to regurgitate), coldly announce to you that “Google is your friend”, further scorn practical learning by invoking the slur: “vocational”, and rebuke your trying to get a clearer understanding of unclear topics by insulting you with compound words like “spoon-feeding”!
After much time, I attained two degrees (one from the regional university). These were effectively stamps on my forehead: “Qualified”. But was I?
Working in the real world and going to school seemed to be best, but “best” based on where you were and what you were doing. The real world is more interested in asking “What skills do you possess?" (i.e., “What can you actually do?”), and “Are you able to learn new things outside of your comfort zone?” School seemed to want you to hurriedly pass a few exams to then boot you out quickly; to make room to reel in fresh meat for the grinder. The two seemed diametrically opposed to the concept of Education. Besides introducing the basics, the main purpose of School (to me) is socialization.
To cover myself from future or potential employers’ “gotchas”, in the form of them dismissing me with the phrase, “You need more schooling”, I enrolled in a curious post-graduate programme. Your supervision was near-hostile, neglectful or lackadaisical, and required you to not expect too much training from them; you were supposed to figure out what direction you were to go, gather the books and other forms of information you needed, assemble the collection of tools to implement your ideas, and sketch it all out in a fancy document called a dissertation to communicate your “genius”. The funniest thing, because of my cynicism, skepticism, and mistrust of School beforehand, this was me metaphorically being “Brer Rabbit” happily screaming, “I was born and raised in the briar patch!”
It required me to use all the skills I learned outside of School (and more) to complete. The end result: a postgraduate degree and published academic papers presented at conferences on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Returning to the workforce, I found that while the postgraduate degree got my foot in the really good doors, only the lessons learned by my self-educating and several sporadic hobbies were of any true use in the real world.
Now don’t get me wrong. Our experiences may differ. And you may argue heatedly with me that this story is either ludicrous or apocryphal. But I began this story by saying, why I love Education but I don’t like “School”. And I think I have made my case clear.