Friday, October 11, 2013

School is ALWAYS in session.

Here's a recent headline from the New York Times:

In the article, Richard H. Thaler points out that 2 out of 3 adult Americans (over 50 years of age) could not correctly answer three simple questions dealing with interest, inflation, and diversification (and believe me, they're simple questions. Click through the headline and try them out).

He goes on to discuss how these issues may be addressed, with a lot of time spent on what is taught in high school.

That may be useful. I surely think that if more students understood finances, fewer would saddle themselves with onerous student debt to get a college degree that is of dubious value in their actual lives. And if more employers understood that lack of value, they would be insisting on hiring people who were gullible enough to do it. But that's another rant...

I'm a big fan of "just in time" education. When you know you're soon to face an important decision, you educate yourself on it. You have enough prior education to understand the basics, and hone yourself on the details when they matter. This has the benefit of keeping the education fresh in your mind. For another, things change. Options change. At 50+ years old it's just irresponsible to try to make life decisions based on the state of the world as you knew it in high school, more than 32 years ago.  It's ridiculous to expect people to do that. It's naive (at best) to pretend that you're preparing them for that.

If you're a teacher reading this, know that the ONE thing that you can do to most prepare your students for the future... any students, at any level, in any class... is to encourage in them a desire for continuing education.  They must be told over and over and over again that this is the most important thing they must learn in formal school. It's more important than getting the best grades; it's more important than going to college.

In my profession, technology consulting, you have to basically retrain yourself every three (3) years. It used to be five, but the pace has picked up a bit. This means that by the time you become a senior consultant, the things you learned in college are obsolete. You can build on them and use them as a foundation, but your entire focus will have changed. By the time you're managing it will have changed several times. And there is nothing that you learned then that you could not have otherwise picked up.

The point here isn't that college is unnecessary... it gives you a leg up if you can afford it, and places you under the tutelage of people who are willing to focus their attention on teaching you... but that continuing education is VASTLY MORE IMPORTANT. If when you leave school you think it's "over"... then it is. You will most probably fail. But if you are willing to continue to learn, you will succeed, regardless of your level of formal education.

I have a huge library acquired over the years. This is not an exaggeration: the weight of my books exceeds the weight of my other personal possessions combined. I acquired them over a period of many years, and I've read (almost) all of them. It was expensive to acquire and expensive to move from place to place, and worth every single solitary penny. These days we're so much more fortunate to have the Internet. We as individuals have access to the combined intellectual wealth of a PLANET. If you regularly employ it, and you can separate the succulent fruits from the pile of crap they grow in, and approach the information you find not as dogma but as topics to be considered and weighed, then you will have an education worth diamonds. And you get it for free.

You even have access to college courses through sites like Coursera, Open Culture, and MIT Open Courseware. Search Google for more... you'll be surprised.

Now sometimes you need to get a certification or a degree in order to pursue the career you want. Perfect! Do it! That's a prime example of targeted education for a tangible result. But here's the VERY most important thing. If you take absolutely NOTHING else from what I'm telling you, believe this... it's true 99.999% of the time: It doesn't matter what you get credit for... it matters what you KNOW. Your self-improvement is for your benefit. Don't waste a bunch of time seeking the validation of others when it is not important to do so. Learn for its own sake. School is ALWAYS in session.

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