No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
In good cartoonist form, Scott Adams starts with a killer hook: “Why do we make B students sit through the same classes as their brainy peers? That’s like trying to train your cat to do your taxes—a waste of time and money. Wouldn’t it make sense to teach them something useful instead?” in his WSJ article “How to Get a Real Education.”
He goes on to relate his personal experience of taking initiative and creating para-business ventures throughout his college years, demonstrating the fact that he learned management, loopholes, buy-in and other crucial business skills outside of a classroom. He asserts that instead of filling students’ heads with art history, physics, chemistry, calculus and classic literature, we should be cultivating entrepreneurial skills by teaching them to (1) combine multiple skills rather than trying to master one, (2) fail forward and view failure as a process rather than an obstacle, (3) be where the action is, (4) attract luck by DOING something, (5) conquer fear by learning to enjoy things like public speaking that scare the rest of the population, (6) write simply, and (7) learn persuasion.
One part of me is very attracted to his line of reasoning. I’m going to assert (with no expertise to back me up) that since the Industrial Revolution, most educational organizations are set up with a single directive in mind: create human cogs for businesses. Unfortunately, the Industrialization is moving overseas and we are not training our kids to ride the wave of the Informational Revolution that began two decades ago–where creativity will be more important than conformity, and risk-taking more necessary than compliance. If our schools are going to create worker bees, they need to create a new kind of worker bee, and training them to be entrepreneurs may be the perfect remedy.
Another part of me is repulsed by Adams’ definition of “Real Education.” I believe education should be a whole-soul endeavor, training an individual’s heart, mind, and body to be unified in pursuit of the Good, the True and the Beautiful. I’ll agree that art history may not be immediately applicable for non-curators, but it opens your eyes to see what human beings are capable of creating, trains you to recognize beauty, and hopefully, empowers you to walk confidently into an art museum or gallery with healthy anticipation and enjoyment. Physics may be ruled by Einstein, Hawking, and Sheldon Cooper, but even just the elementary introduction I received from my dad in high school was enough to cause me to be blown away by the complexity of the universe, and I certainly play billiards and Angry Birds with a much keener awareness thanks to my basic understanding of vectors and velocity. What does it hurt knowing that there are over one hundred elements and you only know the abbreviations to two of them and the rest end in -ium? While you may never be a rocket scientist, taking a class in calculus should at the very least give you a valuable dose of humility. And, of course, my personal soap box: classic literature. Heck, literature in general. Why should we make ninth graders read Romeo and Juliet or freshman undertake the Iliad? Because (1) reading well is an essential asset in a world of print, (2) reading literature thoughtfully develops the critical thinking functions of your brain which allows you to engage the rest of life with curiosity and the ability to problem-solve, (3) literature allows you to experience multiple lifetimes before you’re halfway through your own, hopefully deepening and broadening your soul with compassion and wisdom, and (4) it incorporates you into the fold of Humanity writ large so that you realize you are not an island, but instead the youngest of a long line of brothers.
My solution: Get a world-class, classical liberal arts education to become a good person, then go on to a master’s program to learn a useful skill. In my case, entrepreneurship.