School vs. Education

By Larry John

I write this short commentary knowing that my ideas on education vs. school will not be widely accepted. We all have a lot of time and money invested in the “school system.” We naturally don’t want to admit that something may be “wrong.”  I never write with the hope of gaining followers or acceptance.  I write for my own personal enjoyment and I share what I write in the hope that it will stimulate others to think.

I have been having conversations about the importance of education with friends and family for some time now, and I have concluded that we have the ability to become great and prosperous though education. I believe strongly that a formal education is only the beginning; we must continue to learn throughout our lives. We must never stop learning. An education is what separates us from other animals. We have the ability to learn beyond our natural instincts, thus increasing our quality of life as we continually educate ourselves. Even though many of us have gone to “school” and graduated from high school, college, and received postgraduate degrees, we must continue to search for new knowledge and understanding to better ourselves, our families, and our nation. However, just because we have graduated from “school” doesn’t mean that we are “educated.” School is a PLACE where learning may or may not take place. Education is a PROCESS where learning does take place. Education gives us KNOWLEDGE. APPLICATION of that knowledge shows that we learned something. School is a PLACE we go to get an education or knowledge, but just because we “go” there doesn’t mean we received any knowledge or education. Also, just because we may have learned something, if we do not incorporate, internalize, and apply that knowledge it makes little difference in our live or the lives of others. Education is the process whereby we better the quality of our lives.

We have one basic problem talking about this subject of school vs. education. It is similar to the old story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. We don’t want to admit that perhaps the Emperor is naked. Most of us are “products of the system,” meaning that we went through the public school system, we put in our time, we graduated, and went on with life thinking we were educated. Leaving that education behind, we went on with our lives having no “real” future need for school. Most of us never go back to “school” unless we don’t like our jobs, our careers or we want to “better” ourselves financially. Many of us went to school to get what I call “the ticket,” or the graduation certificate or diploma, that we felt we needed. Many of us needed the “formal ticket” because without it, we couldn’t become teachers, lawyers, bankers, administrators, etc. Many of us got “the ticket” because the “state” required a diploma for the jobs we wanted. Many of us got the “ticket” because many corporations required a “ticket” in order to be hired. Then there was the much smaller percentage of us who went to school to LEARN.  A few of us got the “ticket” as a by product of the experience of LEARNING, meaning that we went to “school” to learn and as a result of our learning we received a diploma. But for whatever reason, most of us went to “school” to get the “ticket.” We needed to “graduate” to accomplish our goals. We passed the tests so we could “graduate” not because of any desire to “learn.”

Education and School are two words that traditionally have been used synonymously. But to me, and many other thinkers, they are no more synonymous than an apple or orange. Apples and Oranges may both be categorized as fruits, but they don’t look or taste the same. So the premise from which I write this commentary is that I believe that even though the original goal of going to school may have been to become educated, the current reason for schooling is to PASS and GRADUATE.

Now before you violently disagree with my premise, let me explain. In the last few years I have interviewed several hundred teenagers and adults and asked them questions about their “school” and their “educational” experiences. When I ask high school students why they are going to school, their number one reason is to be with their friends. The secondary reason is to graduate so they can go to college or a trade school or get a job. I have never had a teenage student tell me that the reason that they are going to school was to “learn” and be “educated.” They are going to school to PASS and get their diploma so that “the ticket” will allow them to MAKE MONEY. They believe that their diploma is the key that opens the door to MORE money. Learning may be something that happens in the process or not, but the important thing to do is PASS and “get the ticket.”  I have interviewed many college students and most of them say exactly the same thing. When I ask them why they are in college, the number one reason is to graduate and get the career and job they want. They never say, “So I will have the KNOWLEDGE I need to be a _______.” They would always say they needed to GRADUATE to BE a _______. Now maybe the “graduation” statement implied learning, but I believe that GRADUATING was more important than LEARNING.

I once talked to a young, successful car dealer. When I asked him about his college experience, he was very forthcoming about the fact that he and his friends basically “played” during his college years. He explained how he and his friends would pay other students to take their tests, do their homework, and even go to their labs for them. He just wanted to GRADUATE so he could get his diploma and get on with life.

I have interviewed countless adults and asked them “what did you learn in school?” There is always a 5-10 second pause followed by “I really can’t tell you much. I did like going to school. I loved playing football and being with my friends, I loved all of the social activities, but I don’t really remember learning much of anything in high school. I know I did. But I can’t remember anything… really.” When I asked if they really learned very much after the 6th grade? Most of them told me, “not really.” So, is PASSING the “barometer” of learning? I don’t think so. It should be “learning” means you can pass, but that isn’t the case many times. What I learned the most in school was HOW TO PASS tests. When I was in college I was there for one reason…to GET THE TICKET! Everyone I knew was there for that very same reason. I already had the job I wanted when I went to college; I just wanted to have the “plaque on the wall.” I never bought any of my assigned college books. I have an incredible talent for memorizing anything in about 2 hours, so I would go to the college bookstore and “scan” the chapters that we were being tested on, go to class and most of the time I would ACE the test only to forget most of the information a few hours later. I was going to college to PASS, and if some learning happened in the process…fine. But the objective of college for me was to PASS and GRADUATE. So what did I learn in college? I learned to PASS. When I talk to most people who graduate from college, they tell me basically the same story. They were in college to PASS. They were there to GRADUATE. They did whatever it took to PASS, even if that meant hiring people to do their work. Even if it meant cheating, they had to PASS and GRADUATE. That was the “real” reason they were there. Passing was more important than the education. “Getting OUT of school” was and still is more important than “getting something OUT of school.”

One of the problems with “school” is that in order for the classroom school system to really work it is important that the students be “quiet” and listen. Teachers think that “teaching” means teachers talking and students listening. Students asking questions must be held to a minimum. The problem with this system is that if a student has the ability to learn concepts faster than the rest of the class, many times boredom occurs or if a student learns slower than the rest of the class the student is left behind or slows down the rest of the class. One of the smartest men I know never graduated from high school and the reason he gave me was that he was bored with school. He couldn’t just sit there and wait for the rest of the class to “get it” and as a result he dropped out of the school system. The “system” was not for him. The “system” is not for very many of us. Education happens when the student is ready. Not all students are ready at the same time. I think that educational systems similar to the Montessori method of education, where student’s progress at “their” rate, seems to work the best, but the public school system can’t afford this method of education. The public school “system” or method is primarily LISTEN, SHUT UP, and PASS THE TEST. If you can PASS THE TEST you are educated. Learning to PASS THE TEST is the method of the SYSTEM. It doesn’t mean that you are educated. It only means that you know how to take TESTS. There are actually classes in school which offer to help students PASS TESTS. They don’t teach the students to THINK. They teach the students to PASS. A very close friend of mine was a straight A student from the time she was in Kindergarten through college graduation. She never got a B. But ask this lady to THINK and she can’t “THINK” her way out of a brown paper bag. She can “regurgitate” facts and figures, formulas and classifications, but she couldn’t logically figure out what to do with her own life. She was an A student in “school” and an F student in “life.” As a result, she just follows the directions and ideas of other people and never has learned to THINK for herself. She is a wonderful person but is constantly “sucked in” to all types of “fringe” THINKING she receives from others. Shouldn’t the purpose of “education” be to allow us to THINK for ourselves? I think so. But what the public school system seems to do is teach its students to THINK THE SAME. Get in line…or get out!

So, what is the real reason that we require our children to go to school, and after the “required” years are over, we continue to encourage them to stay in school for many more years getting advanced degrees and certifications? When my Dad was in school, most people went through the 8th grade and then entered the work force. The world needed these young workers who were living on farms. My Dad graduated from high school and went to one year of college before he entered the work force and people thought he was stupid to be in school so long. During my “school time” most people graduated from high school and about 25% of us went to college. Many of that 25% graduated from college, many didn’t. Now-a-days most people don’t think that a college degree is enough. You need to go on to get your Masters and Doctorate degrees in order to compete in today’s world. I would like to agree, but I don’t. I think the reason we as a society try to keep students in school as long as we can is so they WON’T enter the work force too soon. If workers were to enter the work force too soon, vying for jobs currently held by the “older” worker, the “older” worker would lose his or her job because the “younger” workers would work for LESS money. There are only so many jobs to go around.  Frankly, the “younger” workers can work harder and longer than the older workers are willing to work…and again for LESS money. After all, the reason that we started the PUBLIC SCHOOL system in the first place was because the RICH wanted to get more productivity from their workers, and the best way to get more PRODUCTIVITY out of workers was to TRAIN them and educate them so they could work smarter and more productively for your business making you more money. We still profess that same philosophy today when we say, “Stay in School. Make more money.” Businesses are willing to pay more for an “educated” person than they are for a “non-educated” person. The reason is that businesses think that they will get more PRODUCTIVITY out of an educated person. If that were not the case, why would they pay more? Now can you imagine the problems that would ensue if all college students suddenly left college and went out looking for jobs? The nation would be thrown into a state of confusion and economic depression. The unemployment figures would skyrocket. But if businesses could hire younger workers to work harder for less money, they would. After all doesn’t most of our “education” happen when students LEAVE school and get ON THE JOB training?

In my advertising business we often hire college graduates directly after graduation. They have spent the last four-five years getting a degree in advertising or marketing hoping to land a job at an agency like ours. It never fails, without exception; they tell me that they learned more about advertising and marketing after four weeks working for the agency than in four years of college.  Why is that? It is because college is NOT a trade school.

A college education gives you a “liberal” education and “some” training in your major. But no one just out of college could come to an agency like ours and start being productive immediately. Productivity is “taught” by the business. We may hire students that have shown a “propensity” to study hard and pass tests, but we did not hire experience. Give me experience any day. After all, many of these so called “graduated students” in some cases “cheated” the educational system by just getting by in order to graduate. They didn’t learn anything about advertising; they learned how to pass the advertising TESTS, and most straight “A” students I have interviewed haven’t learned how to THINK. They have learned a new “vocabulary of business” so they can “talk the talk” but they certainly don’t know how to “walk the walk.” They have learned everything there is to know about flying an airplane for example, but you wouldn’t want them to fly you to New York because they have never flown a plane. They may know about all the controls and what they do, they may even know what makes airplanes fly, but again they have never flown the plane. They lack the experience to take off and land, let alone how to do it in a snowstorm. They can “regurgitate” facts and figures but they can’t use that knowledge to THINK. THINKING is not taught in school. We teach our students to memorize facts and formulas but most of the time we don’t teach them how to practically USE the knowledge received in school. So we have hundreds of thousands of “educated fools.”

There is something wrong with the SYSTEM. The “school” system stopped working years ago, but just like the story of the Emperor’s new clothes, everyone is afraid to be the first to TELL THE TRUTH. The system is broken and can’t be fixed. The system is like a dead horse that we continue to feed and whip. But we think the way to get the horse to do better is to feed it more, but the horse is DEAD. Feeding it more isn’t going to make it jump up and start pulling the plow again. It is DEAD. Whipping the dead horse won’t cause it to work harder either. THE HORSE IS DEAD. You can feed a dead horse all you want and whip it to get up, but it is DEAD. The public school system died several years ago but we continue to feed it more and more, hoping it will live again. It’s not going to happen. In order for us to continue as a world leader our nation has to change our educational system to encourage students to THINK and LEARN not MEMORIZE and PASS.

The system encourages PASSING more than LEARNING; illustrated by the fact that “the end justifies the means” and thus we keep “Dumbing Down” our children and our nation. Passing is more important than learning. For example, I know a family where the kids always get A’s in school, but the fact is their mother is getting mainly A’s. She actually does most of their homework for them and drills them on the ANSWERS to the TEST questions. Yep, the answers to the test! Teachers tell me they have to get their students to PASS or they and their school get less money. So these teachers are now passing out many of the important tests in advance and telling the students to look up the answers and then when they take the tests they PASS because they already know the questions they are going to be asked. Passing is more important than learning. So this dedicated mom takes the tests, looks up the answers to the questions, and then has her children MEMORIZE the answers to the test questions. She researches, writes, and types up their reports and papers and gives them to her kids to take to school. She says that she does this to help her children.

Because grades are so important, many parents feel they must take an active roll in their children’s education. But many parents are really just taking an active roll in their children’s “school” experience, not their “educational” experience. Nothing is learned by the students when the parents do the work. Parents want their children to have good GRADES so their children can go to college. For that reason, the “end (parents doing the work) justifies the means (passing with a good GPA).” Without a doubt, in most cases GRADES are more important than learning. Now we are beginning to suffer the consequences of that faulty thinking. We have ALL “danced the dance” and now we will ALL have to “pay the fiddler.” As long as GRADES and PASSING are more important than learning and thinking, we will all suffer as individuals and as a nation.

There is no doubt that getting good grades and passing tests have become the main reasons to go to school. Sure, being with your friends is important during the Junior High and High School years, but the closer you get to those college years, getting good grades and passing classes surpasses the importance of learning for most students.

What is funny to me is that no one has ever asked me, or anyone I know, what our grades were in college. The prospective employees want to know if you graduated from college, but they never asked me what my GPA was. I will have to admit I have been an entrepreneur most of my life. I have never had to say that I graduated from college to get a job. I have always REBELLED against the fact that a DIPLOMA is so important to some people that I went as far as to get a Ph.D. via an internet college in London. I “challenged” their classes based on my “real life” experiences and I got straight A’s in marketing from this college. Even though some people have noticed that I have Ph.D. no one has ever asked me what my grades were, or which college gave me my Ph.D. I dare you to tell me the college your doctor got his/her medical degree from. I even dare you to know if your doctor is an M.D. or D.O. I bet you don’t know if your doctor graduated in the top third or bottom third of his/her graduating class. The funny thing, is you trust your Doctor with your life just because somebody or some institution said he was a doctor. He/she may have gotten the degree in Arizona, New York, Mexico, India, Canada, Argentina, or England, but you trust your doctor with your life. So where they got the degree, who gave the certification, what the grades were, or if they cheated on every test doesn’t matter to you. You are just comfortable to know that the “state” said they could “practice” medicine, and that’s good enough for most of us. The same holds true for lawyers and most “so called” educated professionals including teachers.

Speaking of teachers, Charter Schools do not require that their teachers graduate and be certified by a university or the state. We have teachers teaching our children who didn’t even graduate from high school themselves. Not that that is important to me, but it is true. I have several friends in that category. Now I am not insinuating that they are not good teachers. I am just saying that Charter Schools have proven that you don’t need a diploma, stamped by an “accredited” university, and certified by the state for a teacher to be a teacher, and they probably do as good a job as a college certified graduate. Just how can this be?  Well, teachers tell me the same thing as my new advertising employees. They learned 100 times more about teaching the first month as a teacher than they did in four plus years of college.

The importance we put on grades and passing has become so all-important to students and parents that the whole learning experience has become more about WINNING the “grade and passing” game than PLAYING the “learning and education” game. Shallow thinking even goes as far as to say that if you are a C student, based on your GRADES and your grades alone, you’re less of a person than an A student. Our kids really believe that a C student is not as good “a person” as an A student, and this is all based on GRADES. Well the logic just doesn’t flow. My daughter Jackie went to Montessori school from preschool through sixth grade, and she had a wonderful “learning” experience. She would always tell us, “I am so smart.” Well as you may or may not know, the Montessori educational system has no grades. You just work and learn at your own individual rate and the teachers help each student progress and learn at each “student’s rate.”  Sure, there are some class projects, but mainly the system of learning is at the individual student’s rate. You do your “work” at your personal rate of learning. So when our daughter, Jackie, started Junior High school she still thought she was pretty smart until she started taking her first tests in seventh grade.  She came home from school one day and said, “I think I must be stupid. I can’t seem to pass the tests they give me.” Well, she wasn’t stupid at all. She just didn’t know how to take tests because she had never taken a test. Once she learned how to take a test and learned to know what to learn and not to learn to pass the test, she started getting A’s and B’s. Now she is a pretty much a straight A student and thinks she is pretty intelligent. The point of my story is that “learning” made her think she was smart and “grades” made her think she was stupid. Grades and learning are not synonymous. Passing is not synonymous with the ability to THINK. Passing tests only means that you have the ability to memorize and regurgitate facts. It doesn’t mean that you can apply the knowledge for anything more than passing the test.  By the way, Jackie is now a junior in High School and she is taking her PSAT’s.  That’s the pre-SAT test.  She is taking this practice test so she can score higher on her SAT’s, one of the required “tickets” to get into a good University and she bemoans the fact that she could have started taking this practice test last year.

When I interview people about their educational experience in school, most of them tell me that they really didn’t learn anything NEW in grades 7-9 in Junior High School. They just learned “again” at a higher level of understanding basically what they learned in Elementary School. Then in High School they just learned “again” basically what they learned in Junior High, which was pretty much what they learned in Elementary School. Sure there are some exceptions like Algebra and Trigonometry, but for the most part, education really happened in Elementary School. If you decide to go to college you will find that the first couple of years of college you are only learning what you learned in High School, which for the most part is what you learned in Junior High School, which is for the most part what you learned in Elementary School. What you learn in your “major” the last 2 years of college is less than you learned in the first 2 weeks of “on the job” training when you got your first job after college. Interesting, huh?

Here is the real crazy part about school. You don’t have to pass grade school to go to Junior High School, you don’t have to pass Junior High School to go to High School, and you don’t need to graduate from High School or even get a G.E.D. to go to college. You just have to be “old” enough. If you are 16 or older you can go to college without graduating from High School. Home-schooled children do it all the time. Parents home school their kids from the time they are born and if they want to put them into public school they can at any time, and they enter at the grade of their “age.” Or like I said, if a young adult is 16 years of age or older they can go to college. I know a family who home schools their children and then at age 16 they enter college. Their children graduate from college 2-4 years ahead of other High School graduates.  Now how crazy is that? Even our colleges don’t think that a high school education is worth anything.

Now I want to digress a little here and talk about money. Just MONEY! There is no question that “proof of education” or a degree will increase a person’s earning power. It can also be said that it is more prestigious to be a High School Coach than a Garbage Truck Driver even if the Garbage person make 3 times as much as the coach.  Making more money doesn’t mean that your quality of life is better. However, statistics do suggest a direct correlation between the level of education attained and the amount of income earned. Income rises as education increases. For example, a high school graduate can expect to get a job that will earn about $30,000 a year according to government reports. Whereas an associate degree will earn about $40,000 a year and a bachelors degree will earn about $50,000. A master’s degree will earn you about $60,000 and a doctorate about $70,000 a year. This is an average however. Schoolteachers with advanced degrees earn a whole lot less in most cases, where as business professionals with business degrees can earn more with the same amount of time invested in college. But when you take into consideration the “earning power” lost while a person is in college, many times the increased income is not as good as it first appears. For example, if a high school student can make an average of $30,000 a year and a college graduate can make $50,000, how long will it take for the college graduate to make more than the high school graduate? Let’s say that it takes 4 years to graduate from college, which can be done if you carry a full load. While the college student is getting “the ticket” the high school student will make $120,000 ($30,000 x 4). Let’s say the student entered college at 19 years of age and doesn’t start earning his $50,000 until he is 24 years of age. If indeed a college graduate can land a job that makes $20,000 more a year beginning at age 24 the college student will be 30 years old before they “really” make more than the high school graduate. But if a person decides to get their doctorate and can land a job that makes $70,000 a year, and given that it takes 8 years to graduate from college and get the doctorate, the student would be about 28 years old before he could earn the $70,000 a year. In that time, the high school graduate has earned $240,000 ($30,000 x 8). That means that the student will be about 33 years old before he starts making more than the high school graduate. Now add to that the cost of getting a college education. If you go to a state college, the cost is about $4-6,000 a semester, a private university is $10-15,000 a semester, and an Ivy League college like Harvard is about $60,000 a semester. For an undergraduate degree you need a minimum of 8-10 semesters so you are looking at a cost, just to get the degree of $40,000 to $600,000. So you can tack on 2-12 MORE years to pay for your education. Is it any wonder that many people are 40 years old before they start making more than a high school graduate?

The only problem is that the higher paying jobs are a lot harder to find and keep than the lower paying jobs. It is simply the economic law of supply and demand. There are a lot of lower paying jobs available and fewer higher paying jobs. Sure, there is more supply, (people with high school educations) but there are a lot of jobs (demand) for these people. Now I don’t know about you, but the “value of education” as it relates to income is somewhat in question. That’s why I believe there is only one path a person can take to insure he will make more than $70,000 a year and always have job. People need to start their own business and after a period of time make $200-300,000 a year (or more) and have LOTS of job security. For the “HOW TO” you need to read my first book “The Four Pillars of Wealth.” … back to the “real” subject.

The public school system costs you and me a lot of money. We pay more of our tax money on “education” both federally and locally than any one expense category. A FREE Public School system is anything but FREE. We pay for it whether we have children in school or not. It is a very expensive “babysitting institution of lesser learning” if you ask me. Do we really need a PUBLIC school system for anything more than what it appears to be, a very expensive “baby sitter” keeping our children off the streets, out of the work force, and allowing both parents to work? This is a “justified” tax so you and I can make more money by sending the kids off to school so we can go to work and make more money. Perhaps that is why we keep talking so much about this DEAD HORSE we call “school.” We need our children to be watched while we work. Sure we hope they “learn” something in school (and some do), but one of the real reasons we want the kids in school is because we need someone to watch our kids while we are at work. So we pay for PUBLIC Schools to watch and “baby sit” our kids so we can earn more and pay for all the things we think we want and need. I am not kidding. I really believe that is one of the main reasons most parents send their kids to school. It would cost too much for one parent to stay home and teach and educate their children. After all, we are going to pay for public schools one way or another, so why not send our kids there. Families need “two incomes” these days. So we send the kids to school and let the teachers teach and take care of them… and if the students learn something in the process…all the better. Schools keep teachers employed and students off the street. How bad is that?

School vs. Education! Did you go to school (a place) or did you get an education (a process)? Did you learn facts and figures to pass the tests so you could graduate, or did you learn the facts and figures so that you could enjoy a better life? Where is the school system headed with schools and teachers being rewarded and judged by our federal and state governments based on the test scores of their students? How much teaching can take place when educational funding and higher pay for teachers is being offered only if their students PASS tests? Is there something wrong when teachers say they don’t have time to “teach and educate” their students anymore because they only have time to teach them how to PASS the federal and state TESTS? Is it any wonder that countries like China are leaving us in their dust when it comes to education? Is THINKING a lost discipline and PASSING more important than learning? Are we going down a road from which there is no return? Can we fix a system that can’t be fixed?

I think it is time for a new system of EDUCATION. There is no shortage of new methods for educating from the Internet to Life Schooling that would cost a lot less and teach and educate our children a lot better. Most kids know how to read and understand math better by the time they are 5 than we did by the age of 10 thanks to educational TV, videos, books, the internet, more devoted parents, and private courses. There is no shortage of methods to educate, but there is a shortage of people who want education rather than school for their children. Most don’t even understand there is a BIG difference. If you want to be educated you don’t have to go to school. If you want your children to be educated you don’t need to send them to school. Families who teach their children at home prove that all the time.

Can you learn to read and not go to school? Sure you can. Parents teach their children to read all the time.  Reading can be taught without going to a school. That’s why HOME SCHOOL or LIFE SCHOOL is so successful. Can you learn math without going to school? Sure! Can you learn almost anything without going to “a place” called a school? Yep! Education is a process and the educational paradigm has changed. We are still teaching our children in schools with methods that have been used for over 200 years or more. It is time for a change in our THINKING. It will take a willingness to THINK and change and not just follow years of blind conformity. There is no question that we have plenty of options and methods other than the DEAD HORSE we call SCHOOL.  

We can’t start changing and improving the educational system by starting from the TOP, asking government to change and then hoping it will filter down to our children. We need an EDUCATION REVOLUTION.  We have to start the revolution one student at a time. We have to start with our children and grandchildren to prove it can work. Then we can expand the education revolution one family at a time, one community at a time, one city at a time, one county at a time, and one state at a time.  Then perhaps if all goes well…one nation will be OUT OF SCHOOL and well EDUCATED. Think about it.