Is Education About You?

Oh hi, it’s been a while! I apologize for the blogging silence lately – between buying a house, my wife graduating, a trip to San Francisco, and preparing for a move, it’s been a busy month! It may be a few more weeks until I can get back into a groove.

David Brooks of the New York Times wrote an interesting column about changing the message being broadcast to college grads today:

Worst of all, they are sent off into this world with the whole baby-boomer theology ringing in their ears. If you sample some of the commencement addresses being broadcast on C-Span these days, you see that many graduates are told to: Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture.

But, of course, this mantra misleads on nearly every front.

If you’ve read this site in any way, you’ll know this is completely wrong. David implies that all of this generation is entirely a product of their environment. It’s as if there’s no accountability for individuals.

Kyle Baxter and I had a twitter exchange where he asserted that it’s all about ownership.

This generation of millennials lack accountability and ownership. Our parents sheltered us (and many still do even during and after college) and never forced kids and young adults to live with the results of their choices.

Life is all about choices, and parents need to get better at giving them to their kids.

Today’s graduates are also told to find their passion and then pursue their dreams. The implication is that they should find themselves first and then go off and live their quest. But, of course, very few people at age 22 or 24 can take an inward journey and come out having discovered a developed self.

This lack of accountability is also the reason why kids can’t seem to find themselves. When you are sheltered from every decision you think that’s the way the world works. That’s not how you find yourself. Just like most things in life, finding yourself is born of constraints. A brain is fully developed at age 25. There’s no reason why by 22-24, someone can’t have something they stand for or enjoy doing.

They’re just looking in the wrong places.

It doesn’t have to do with forcing children out of developmentally appropriate settings. A 6 year old doesn’t need to be visiting Europe to “discover themselves.” It’s as simple as giving young people age-appropriate choices. Small choices for small people, big choices for big people. They need to live with the result of those choices. You choose to party your way through college and fail? You loose Mom and Dad paying for college.

On the flip side, David nails the second half of his article:

Today’s grads enter a cultural climate that preaches the self as the center of a life. But, of course, as they age, they’ll discover that the tasks of a life are at the center. Fulfillment is a byproduct of how people engage their tasks, and can’t be pursued directly. Most of us are egotistical and most are self-concerned most of the time, but it’s nonetheless true that life comes to a point only in those moments when the self dissolves into some task. The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.

This generation is quickly becoming one of the most self-centered ones in history. They don’t get married, they don’t have children, they only focus on themselves for half of their lives. Any married person in a healthy relationship will tell you that some of the greatest joy comes from marriage. I have discovered more about myself from being in a 7+ year relationship (nearly 1 year married) than I have from traveling through Brazil, Europe, and India in that same time.

That’s because life is born of relationships, not about yourself. Your job, your family, everything, it’s all about how you relate to the people around you.

Unfortunately, that’s the biggest failure point of our education system that I see – the fact that we focus on yourself. How smart are you? How much have you achieved? How high were your grades? That’s what people are encouraged to strive for. Until age 22, the standard of success comes from things that are generally irrelevant in life.

After you graduate, it’s all about how you relate. The most successful people are the ones that are great at working with others.

The problem isn’t that kids aren’t capable of knowing themselves. It’s that they aren’t given the chance to discover themselves and that as an education system & society, they limit your ability to discover yourself and put you into a box.

Where are the classes on managing money? Where are the classes about managing conflict? Time management? Organization? Self-Discipline? How to have a healthy argument/debate? More time is spent on memorizing the life cycle of a cell or the periodic table of the elements then things that can truly change the world.

Your education should be just as much about shaping you as a human as it is about acquiring knowledge, because knowledge can only get you so far in life.

May 31, 2011