Education And Learning Are Not the Same Thing

Everyone remembers the stories of one kind or another that, growing up, your fed-up parents told you to get you to behave. If you don’t eat your veggies, Santa Clause is not coming by the house this year. Or, the Tooth Fairy does not collect the teeth of little girls who don’t brush them. The shapes and sizes of these colourful threats invariably will differ by country and culture, but one warning given to children above all others is pretty universal – If you don’t go to school you will live a life as a homeless person, probably alone, and probably in a gutter somewhere.

Education in itself is crucial, spanning across the world as a fundamental human right. But here in the West, the institution of education has taken on a mystical aura. It is so much more than just learning, it has become the magical solution to all things. The words ‘go to school‘ is akin to ‘happily ever after,’ otherwise known as the final word, the end of the story – Prince Charming finally marries the peasant girl turned princess, and little Bobby finally goes off to the university of her dreams- happiness from this point on is guaranteed, that’s it, The End.

We have been fed this ideology since we were first inducted into the annual August ‘Back-to-School’ shopping set. Going to school is not just a begrudging requirement, it is a necessity. No school, no future happiness we are told, black and white, simple as pie. Since no one wants to live a homeless life in the gutter we obediently go to class, then another, and another, patiently waiting for life to happen to us just as soon as we finally receive that degree or diploma.

Whether those overjoyed fairy tale princesses ever did achieve eternal happiness after the wedding we’ll never know, but it is possible to question a graduate on how their lives turned out after the degrees were given. Upon what green pastures are you finally now living?  Did all the time and money committed to education bring about the economic safety net you were expecting? Did the life you did all this learning for ever materialize? Are you happy, healthy, not homeless at least?

There is a different answer post-grad to those questions for everyone, but one universality rings true – you don’t find real life between the pages of a book, or the four walls of a classroom, or from the words of your teachers. Real life happens in the real world, where formulas don’t always work, theories get broken, and reactions can change. The real world is chaotic and messy, something that a neat and organized thesis paper never will be.

Don’t get me wrong, I love learning. It is the vital function we need to check on ourselves to make sure we are still here. If breathing (check) means you are alive then learning (check) means you are still living. It is the constant seeking of knowledge, of living in a state of becoming rather than a stagnant being. Education on the other hand, is the institutionalization of learning, it is fostering the false belief that without the standardized and structured systems set up to ensure we are ‘learning along their lines’ we, in fact, are then not retaining information that is useful or necessary.

It is hard not to fall for this type of thinking when all along the way we have been taught that education is the key, that it’s the only right pathway to getting to where you want to be. Where that is doesn’t really matter, because education is a one-size-fits-all solution guaranteed to make your parents proud and your bank loans even prouder. It does not factor in such unnecessary details as learning about writing will not do the writing for you, or finishing culinary school does not actually open up a restaurant. If you read about swimming all your life, the first time you fall into water may still be your last.

Getting an education is important, and in some cases may be the only way to get you to your goal. But in most other cases it can become easily just another barrier as a stepping stone forward. If you are making the need for education an excuse to keep you from starting, do not forget that for thousands of years people created masterpieces without ever earning a degree to their name. No one told them they didn’t have the credentials to do be doing what they were doing, they just created.

If there is something you want in life, find the courage and the capacity within yourself to say, I will do it. Focus on that voice and listen to it, it is all you really need to achieve. Let it lead you to where there are lessons needed to be learned, where the experiences are needed to be gained. If you are afraid that you do not know enough, or have none of the right tools, that’s okay. These things will come as you move to unfold the mysteries of your chosen craft. Edison did not understand the mechanics of the light bulb on the first try and you may not understand the nuances of rhyme on your first poem. It’s perfectly alright. You will figure it out, one day and one step at a time, and you will be good at it. Why? Because you’re learning.

So let go of this notion, whether you’re thinking about taking another Masters or a Masterclass, that education is the quick fix to guaranteeing your life on your right path. Ask yourself, is this really necessary? Do I really need a piece of paper to tell me I can be what I want to be? Or is it just me, myself, that I need to convince?

Go, get out there and test your mettle. The world awaits your gifts, we need your gifts!


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