Why is formal schooling no longer producing challenge solvers?
When I came to the US to start college, I had a vision, I had expectations. It wasn’t a very clear vision, but it was there, and it kept me going! My hope was that by the time I would graduate, I will have developed some skills, a way to understand the world, all with potential value to any society that I would live in, and therefore be able to contribute in a meaningful way to the society. It wasn’t until I went back for an internship in Rwanda that I started realizing that my expectations from this education were so far from the reality of things. But I ignored all the warnings!
As I progressed through college, my vision became more and more blurry. I kept feeling a growing disconnect with what I was learning and experiencing, and the world around me. However, don’t get me wrong here; the school curriculum was in concert with the academic field and what I wanted to study, the professors were good, and some great.
After graduating college, as the feeling persisted, I started being exposed to how out of contact I had fallen with the vision that brought me to the US. I realized that the only thing that I held on in times of uncertainty, in times of weakness, in times of pain was no longer at the core of my beliefs, actions and strivings. All I cared about was comfort, some abstract progress in academia, and working a job. I had surely amassed some valuable skills, and was employable, but my vision was gone. I could not reconcile the education I had been pursuing, my vision and the reality of the world around me. The education I had been chasing had hijacked my vision; I was flying blind.
Think about it this way: What is the goal of formal schooling?
When the first formal school known to man was established by Socrates back in 400 BC, his goal was to study, understand and teach to his scholars a new way of thinking that would perhaps solve the challenges surrounding the society they lived in at that time. It was a school of thought, where students debated on issues of justice, morality and ethics, because those were the issues their society was struggling with mostly at the time.
Yet, today, if there is anything that formal schooling lacks it is purpose and vision. If you were to ask most students what their school(s)’ vision is in line with what’s needed in the world, and what they want to do, most wouldn’t have an answer. Most of them would probably say that they attending this and this school because of its good 150 years reputation, or it has a good football team, or even state an empty school slogan that is supposed to reflect a vision. This is because formal schooling is getting only more disconnected from the needs of society. It has evolved into an automated machine, where we feed it cash and people at one end, and an empty-page styled employee comes out at the other end. We no longer train students to become contributors to the wellbeing of our societies, and the world in general, but to become money hungry and half-money-making machines (since we can’t even get them to make enough).
The Challenge: We study to be employees
Nowadays, we are well aware of the employment crisis around the globe. Even though more pronounced in third world countries, this challenge is hitting even the most educated countries. However, this challenge is not being addressed by most of the current education systems over the world. For instance, we go to school to learn skills that will allow us to work for someone or someone’s company and always expect a paycheck at the end of the month. In schools we were taught to want, need and seek a paycheck in school before all. Like the famous writer Nasim Taleb said, “The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” Not only does the paycheck keep us bound to jobs that we don’t like, it also decreases productivity, as some workers just work to work and don’t understand their role in the enterprise.
In addition to unemployment, the world is facing some tough climate change, potential energy crisis, food shortages, and many more. Yet, in my opinion education systems across the world are not addressing these challenges properly. Instead, they are repeating the same things that got us in trouble: an abstract education that produces people that are out of touch with their surroundings and the needs of the world.
The Re-education: Teaching self-sufficiency and the power of collaboration
Why is it that we don’t we teach self-sufficiency anymore in our schools? If given a piece of land, would you be able to live off the land? Do you possess the skills required to produce food and energy? Or would you need to wait for a paycheck from a “boss” to live?
I don’t like to talk about problems only. I also believe in solutions, so I started looking for ways to connect my formal education and what I believe is needed. It wasn’t probably until
2014 when I came across many YouTube videos of individuals and families who do not depend on a paycheck to live, that I started questioning my education. “$75,000 on 1/3 acre. Profitable Urban Farm Tour” and “Free cooking gas for life at home” were some of the YouTube videos that truly triggered my curiosity. One was about food and the other was about generating energy. They had one theme in common: SELF-SUFFICIENCY, a concept that has been wiped clean from today’s formal schooling.
Well, I always knew that people could own farms, grow foods and sell them for money; I also knew that we could generate energy out of waste. However, what I didn’t know is the value of such a lifestyle, its feasibility, scalability, and how to get started. I was never taught that in school.
See during my high school days, I learnt about animals and plants. I memorized different types of leaves, their scientific names in some foreign language, and many more things relevant to the science of plants. However, I was never thought about cash crops, how to grow them, the nitrogen content of local leaves and how they further fertilize the soil when they fall. I was never thought about tending for a healthy life stock, or what type of beef is best to raise and obtain meat from, or anything remotely close to help me understand and solve the local challenges in my society. All the botanic studies did was make me resentful of any work that had anything to do with plants, which I now regret (the memorization was busy work, I didn’t want to ever come across it anymore!)
I was never taught how to make a simple business plan, and how to pitch it for potential funding. I was always encouraged to compete and compete and go at it alone, never was I ever lectured about the power of organization and collaboration among individuals. Yet, those are some of the simple most important skills that I believe have the potential to help one achieve economic independence and self-reliance, and transform one’s life. These are the skills that should be taught as general classes in colleges. But they are not, instead we spend money and time learning some abstract political science recitations that we forget the first minute we
leave the class and we all get “As” for that.
The challenges that the world is facing now have changed a great deal compared to the last 70 or so years. Yet, the education style never changed, we are still educating ourselves with an outdated style, and we know it. Einstein said it best, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
What good is an education that can’t provide solutions to challenges or at least the tools needed to solve them? After all, isn’t education supposed to provide us with the tools needed to address the challenges in our society?