As the school bells begin ringing for the start of another school year, let's pause for a moment and think about something that we often don't reflect on.
Just what is school for?
Is it to get a job? To evolve our brain? To connect with other intellectuals? Or what?
We've built a culture that sends its children to school for, at minimum, 20 percent of their life expectancy and we value education on a beautiful visceral level.
We're willing to spend more on a college tuition than a home mortgage without the guarantee that a degree will even put a roof over our heads.
But do we ever stop to really consider, what is school for?
So I'd like to begin that conversation and ask you: What do you think school is for? Just leave a comment below or reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Brief History of School
We hunted and gathered as storytelling animals and schooled each other around the campfire. Our grandparents were our teachers. Then we developed more nuclear families and farmed. School was in the home or in a community center, mostly for men to teach them the trade. Women were taught how to be women (an attractive catch for a man, a nurturing mother).
Beyond the teenage years, higher education didn't really exist for the average person. The average person had to worry about food, shelter, and water and focus on providing for the family to survive.
Now, in a land where we can get enough calories from a bar that's dispensed from a vending machine, we've moved beyond building sustenance and could then ask ourselves: what is my purpose?
It's allowed for an intellectual evolution where people all around the world dig deep within themselves to create an enriching life that serves a deeper, more existential purpose. It's truly a beautiful time to be alive.
Enter modern-day higher education.
Reaching back all the way to Socrates, higher education used to be for the elite or the privileged. (Of course, there were some vagabonds who ditched material possessions to live a minimal monk-like life in search for a higher understanding of life.)
Before World War II, college was only for the elite. And it wasn't a place to help people get a job. It was a place for intellectual stimulation, philosophy, the study of literature, and elitist fraternity.
No one took out student loans.
After WWII, the U.S. government began to give loans to soldiers to go to college and during the Vietnam War era, college for the masses began. It became a new normal, a new tradition.
Counter-culture movements spread throughout college campuses inspiring radical thinkers like Steve Jobs to "think different." College became the go-to place to be the change you wanted to see in the world. As Nelson Mandela put it, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
College was the vehicle to help someone improve their social ranking and achieve the American Dream. Since you could learn anything (with a loan, of course), you could become anything you wanted to be. Or so many were told.
That worked for a bit... until the present.
We've tipped the scale in the other direction and push our children through school with the best of intentions, but have lost a sense of why we're doing it.
Incredible teachers and school leaders struggle to motivate children and help them live extraordinary lives in a school system that worked well for the factory-based industrial economy, but falls flat to help our children thrive in our current economy. And people don't really have much of a choice in the public setting, especially since modern-day trends to have both parents work full-time make it difficult to return to a more personalized homeschool instruction. While there are great options in online schooling (and some not-so-good), that's not possible for many working families.
But don't take my word for it.
Harvard lecturer Tony Wagner's research suggests that more and more students are dropping out of school, not because they can't perform well, but, rather, because they are bored.
Krishnamurti pushes us in Think on These Things to consider that education is "not just about passing examinations, take a degree, get married and settle down," but also to dive in and discover the extraordinary beauty of life. Education is everything but the high-stakes testing which saturates The Common Core.
Seth Godin argues in Stop Stealing Dreams that we need to transform education: "If school's function is to create the workers we need to fuel our economy, we need to change school, because the workers we need have changed as well."
Going Back To School
I can't tell you how many of my former students, friends, and those I interview consider going back to school -- myself included. Academia is a beautiful place. I love school.
I love learning and something tells me you do too. But do we really need to pay another 100k to get that doctorate?
Will that slip of paper really affirm that you are brilliant? Will it land you that job? Will it help you create something that matters?
As the bells continue to ring this year, join me in thinking on these things. When we connect our dots looking backward, our school years will undoubtedly play a major role in shaping our lives.
But we could do better for our future generation.
As Wayne Dyer put it in The Power of Intention, "Creation acts upon the everlasting possibility that anything that is thought of, can be." So let's embrace a deeper sense of what's possible.
Let's work to help make this possibility happen.
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