I’ve felt ambiguous and conflicted about education for a long time, because it inspires while it stifles. But here are two ways it has always resonated with me.
One is learning for learning’s sake. Now looking back, and without sounding nauseatingly cheesy, there is something pure and unadulterated in the joy of soaking in the world. I was never a science person. But I still remember in Grade 11, the excitement I felt bubbling from my belly, when trying to explain to my mom the idea of atmospheric pressure and rain formation and somehow likening it to the pan on the stove that was steaming our vegetables for dinner.
But I am also diabolically practical. So this form of learning left me feeling somewhat indulgent. Coming from a family where money was never something to be taken for granted, I always felt slightly guilty if what I was putting in my brains was somehow not contributing to the process of attainment that would eventually be responsible for putting food on the table.
The second source of turn-on is the sometimes masochistic pleasure of having to perform under pressure. Yes, I am perfectly aware of what that sentence sounded like. But the truth is, when overwhelmed to just the right degree, education has contributed greatly in honing my “getting-things-done” skills.
For me, education hit the right spot in high school. It was broad enough to sample from, yet challenging in its particularities to stimulate quite a bit of brain activities. But university, not unlike technical colleges, tends to churn out specialists, whether in the fields of art history, chemical engineering, or accountants.
The often repetitive and dogmatic field of business studies made me more cautious, practical, and cynical about the institutional delivery of education. It also iterated the value of an education by continually flashing dollars signs in front of students in the forms of sponsored conferences, prized internships, and the ultimate plushy fruit – a prestigious, high-paying job.
After a couple of years of manipulating spreadsheets, I returned to school and picked up, then subsequently dropped, the utopian study of politics. Slightly disillusioned over the ivory tower dissection of some irksome subjects, I turned to the idea of educating myself.
Needless to say, we live in a time when knowledge dissemination could not be greater and more easily accessible. The only thing required of us is our time and attention. After divesting myself of school, I had all the time in the world. I can safely report that, if you have the time and patience to learn, then there’s someone out there willing to teach you how to do it, most likely for free.
My point here? Learning does not always need to take place in school, nor does the departure from a particular time in our lives signal the end of learning. Unbeknownst to us, when we put our heads down at jobs, our exposure to the world narrows significantly. But learning need not stop there – if not for the selfish reason of keeping ourselves relevant in this ever-changing world.
Less than half a decade ago, marketing itself revolved around the 5 Ps, whereas now it would seem dinosaurous to teach it without incorporating the power of social media and consumer dialogue throughout the online space. A couple of years ago, we approached the financial market through the lenses of Black-Scholes. But nobody in finance today would be taken seriously without acknowledging at least some of the fatal shortcomings from which modern finance was built upon.
When I felt less than inspired during my working life, the idea of education or school always gave me hope. I think the promise of education allows us to temporarily shed the shackles of our jobs in whichever its current incarnation may be, and open our eyes to new possibilities.
Now that I am working through my version of DIY education, I think I have found the right balance again. In an informal and self-controlled setting, learning can be more liberating and more rewarding than what most of us have experienced within the hallowed halls that our parents paid dearly for.
picture source: ~shimpo