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The Lies We Teach Our Children About Education

In The Weekley Blog

By Jeremiah Weekley
July 25, 2015 at 10:09 a.m.

It's puzzling to me when people tell me I’m being negative, when in fact I’m being a realist. To me there is a stark difference in a dream and a fantasy. A dream can be achieved even if the odds are slim. A fantasy is just that, and will stay just that. It’s not rooted in realistic expectations or goals; moreover, it is often cloaked as a dream for those who have big ideas yet no expectation of making them happen. Give me the dreamer with ambition and a strong work ethic any and every day over the fantasizer, no matter how wonderful their ideas may seem. As I often tell my children when they have an idea that I question and it seems to deflate their excitement, if it’s that easy to poke holes in your dreams then they probably weren’t valid dreams to begin with. Someone questioning or finding fault shouldn’t discourage a good idea, it should strengthen your resolve to prove it as legitimate and in turn leave you even more excited and determined to make it happen.

With that introduction and buffer for the commentary I’d now like to offer, let’s move forward. I’d like for us to stop lying to our children. Let’s stop this whole fantasy factory, feel good line of thinking and teaching that is actually an injustice to future generations. Let’s wean them off the euphoric fantasy milk we keep putting in their bottles. Let’s start raising and educating a generation of world changers that understand challenges, work ethic and most importantly failure and what we should make of it.

Let’s stop this whole everyone gets a trophy mentality. When our children don’t earn a trophy let’s use that opportunity to discuss with them how everyone has a unique set of skills and abilities. Then, let’s explain to them work ethic. Let them know that if they are fortunate enough to have both, then they’ll have a high probability of going far in that particular activity. Explain to them that an abundance of one over the other will also give them an opportunity to succeed. Let them know that if they possess neither, they’re wasting their time and everyone else’s. Let’s help our children identify their strengths and core competencies, develop the work ethic to see them through and turn them loose. Let’s prepare them for falling flat on their face and teach them this isn’t when you quit or abandon hope, this is when you learn, strengthen yourself in the areas you are then able to identify as a weakness and take another shot.

How is it that we live in a country built on innovation and ingenuity, yet our education system is structured more commonly as an in-the-box, one size fits all method? Better yet, how does this all take shape right under all of our noses to the point of acceptance? Our children aren’t all the same and educating them with one basic approach leaves them prone to failure from an early age. One great example is when we take all unruly kids who struggle to pay attention, sit still or learn in a textbook manner and label them as ADD or ADHD, medicate them and send them back to class. Class with all the other children who can either mold to fit the structure and be very average or those who excel from that structure and environment. (Yes, I understand that there are alternative forms of education but these are far from the norm and are often either charter or private school options.)

Why would we never consider an alternative form of education for these children? Why wouldn’t that come before medication or labeling them with a disorder? I know from personal experience in dealing with my wife and my stepson (both “diagnosed” with ADHD) that our education system and oftentimes our current society have often dissuaded our most creative thinkers who have a high proclivity for ingenuity and brilliant ideas. We’ve beaten them down for being so “different” and having a “disorder” that we’ve never stopped to see the beauty of these creative thinkers who don’t fit our box. If I possessed the creativity of either my wife or her son and their artistic expression coupled with my structure, discipline and resolve to see something through in a practical manner then I’d already have surpassed multi-millionaire status.

Why doesn’t our education system seem to understand and encourage the three basic types of learning and seek to employ methods for those very types of children while working in a basic understanding of overall rules and structures so as to benefit all learning types? If a child is prone to classical conditioning then let’s help that child understand the need to think outside of the box and develop the ability to create their own structure so they’re well rounded and able to make things happen. If a child is an out of the box and creative type, with an artistic mind then let’s work in just enough discipline and structure to help them actually achieve success rather than leave them with a life and career full of passionate beginnings that led to stalled and abandoned effort.

These thinkers only need a Steve Jobs to their Steve Wozniak or vice versa, if any partner at all. They need to embrace the fact that not fitting in a box can be a wonderful thing. They need to accept that not everyone will have the same strengths, passions, styles or learning methods. This isn’t bad. It’s beautiful whether or not our education system recognizes or encourages this.

The most successful systems of education work to identify with learning types and aptitudes early on and after this is established they focus on development directed to these identifications. This limits the amount of “finding myself” 30-plus year olds in their society.

Why do we insist on selling kids on the college education dream even when it means taking on mountains of debt? This is lunacy. Few if any children or young adults should ever be encouraged in choosing to enter college at the expense of tens of thousands of dollars of debt. We as a society need to better educate and prepare our children for this decision. If a major university or college is the absolute goal for a child then we need to educate them to prepare beforehand. Work to save money, apply for scholarships, etc. If that isn’t enough then we need to teach our children to be wise enough to choose a two year school that they can pay for as they go, excel in their grades and earn the scholarships necessary for the next phase.

On top of the debt, we leave these wet behind the ears college graduates thinking they’ve actually done something when in reality much of their accomplishment is debt and a heightened social life. This is insanity. All the degrees in the world mean nothing without practical skills and experience to go with them. Secondly, you may hold a degree in something but if you haven’t been taught to communicate effectively then you have nothing more than an expensive ticket to working in a box for the rest of your life.

It has always pained me to see bright people go to college and earn their degree be it in engineering, law, or any other field of study and then be boxed in by that very piece of paper they worked and paid so dearly for. The degree is only meant to open doors and opportunity that would otherwise be closed, not limit you to thinking your field of relevance is only found in narrow definitions of that profession. Don’t let your degree box you in as I so often see happen.

Those who really excel will often be those who possess strong communication skills and abilities, coupled with an education and understanding of their chosen profession. That education can be paid for at university or in many cases, self-taught through experience and a desire to learn.

If our children leave high school with the thought of earning a degree and expecting that degree to provide them with the necessary tools for their profession then we’ve failed them. These students will then fill out application form after application form and perhaps even receive acceptance letter after acceptance letter assuming that is all that’s necessary. These same future college graduates will pass by, over and around opportunities to educate themselves with internships, reading and otherwise searching out those who have done what they’d like to do. This is ignorance and it’s our fault for allowing and often even encouraging this thinking.

The mere concept of a four year degree being for everyone or being somehow “superior” to other forms of education is also a major fallacy in our current society. What we all fail to understand is that if a four year degree is for everyone then it has no inherent value. It’s bad enough as it stands now. I have hired, fired and otherwise worked side by side with plenty of college graduates who had no business being granted a degree of any kind. At least not if it’s meant to have any value.

To foster and share the notion that learning a trade or choosing an alternative route to four year degrees such as a vocational or technical school is an injustice. No matter how brilliant our engineers (which were once the backbone of our country and which we are now falling further and further behind in), they are of little use without skilled tradespeople to build and execute on their designs. Skilled and prideful tradesmen (and tradeswomen) have been and continue to be a major contributor to this country’s economic success.

To sum things up, we need to stop failing our children and start empowering them. We do this by allowing them to experience and learn from failure and defeat. We do this by encouraging ideas and innovation that provide a learning experience regardless of recognition and popularity. We look for and cultivate our children’s strength, talent, passion and work ethic and then build on this identity and prepare them with the necessary tools to be innovators, world changers and to provide a better and brighter future for their children. Lastly and most importantly, we teach our children that with power and knowledge come responsibility. A responsibility to accept and defend the weak, the defeated, the bullied and the underprivileged. A responsibility to use their power and knowledge to empower and educate as many people as possible in their lifetime.

I’ll close this by clarifying that I am not against post-secondary education. I am all for education in general. What I am against is the sham of selling our young adults into mountains of debt with the idea that this coveted degree will provide them with the skills and opportunity to justify the incurred debt, which is oftentimes not the case at all. I do believe in the value of a college degree when properly sought and do encourage those with the means necessary to seek just such a degree. However, I believe we should educate and encourage our future generations to value and understand the very real and credible alternatives to mountains of debt, such as education and workplace experience which can allow for a pay as you go plan or perhaps even tuition reimbursement, along with many other alternatives to selling their soul to debt before even getting started.

I also believe much of this education and awareness starts at home. Teachers and professors can only be expected to mold what we as parents have already put in place with our children. They are not glorified daycare as we so often make of our secondary education professionals. We as parents have become very lazy and entitled in our view of the education system. It’s time we accept responsibility for the messes we create and through our complacency allow. It’s time we start teaching our children at home about the basic values that will mean more than any single piece of paper they ever receive. Integrity, work ethic and a heart for others as a basic template.

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