Education’s Epic Fail

treewoman circa 1984

According to sundry internet gurus, you know, the ones that pop up all the time on FB and I have to say, even the ones offering courses in ‘content stategyzing’ (???) I’m supposed to blog on a reliably regular basis – or not at all. Well, last week was a wee bit busy and complex and turbulent and irregular and, as if that wasn’t enough, my Bialetti broke so I’ve been 4 days without decent coffee.

So I failed. Thought I’d be a couple of days late getting the blog out, turned out another whole week went by.

I ask myself, who honestly gives a ****? Far more importantly, the replacement Bialetti has finally arrived from Amazon and the smell of something dark and richly roasted once again sputtering into a warm silver pot is filling me with a renewed will to live.

I wanted to write about education, and career choices, and life experiences and I can’t quite believe I’ve got anything to say that’ll make sense but I’m going to have a go. Because saying what you want to say is important.

Don’t remember the order in which any of this happened but, while I was young, and still trying to find out ‘what I wanted to do for a career’, I tried out loads of things. Interviewed for the Air Force, took the Civil Service entrance exams, started a Business Studies degree, got myself onto a retail management training programme, gained secretarial qualifications (including the wonderful Pitman Shorthand, weirdest thing to learn and almost immediately redundant due to computerization). There was more, I was restless and easily bored, but I can’t remember the details, and the coffee’s ready…. Excuse me for a moment…..

Clearly I never had much problem getting through interviews and ending up where I wanted, at that moment, to be but there was always one interview question guaranteed to get me rolling my eyes, reaching for the right words, bluffing wildly. “So Jacqui, why do you want to be a lion-tamer/dental-practice-assistant/lifeguard/apprentice-locksmith?’

Crap. I didn’t know, and I don’t know now. My attempts to find the ‘education’ that would take me to that place of deep, abiding and committed interest went on well into my twenties. I even did a stint with the Inland revenue. Wtf? I guess it can be a very uncertain time for some people – if I’d been growing up today I might have taken on board the increasingly popular advice to call my fractured state of mind a mental illness and seek professional help (which isn’t btw available, the queue’s right out the door…)

Fortunately, I was doing my thing in the every-man-for-himself 80’s and nobody gave a stuff about young people’s anxiety. It’s also true to say that I do posess a relentlessly buoyant mental and emotional constitution so, for me, dressing up like Adam Ant, getting drunk and dancing all night worked a hell of a lot better than prozac.

Nowadays, when I confidently pen technical recommendations in a vocabulary everyday human beings can understand, I know the programme in my head delivering the goods has been fashioned from a million very different, very important life experiences. More than mentors, training, early job experiences and most definitely more than school (which I experienced as a persistent undertow I had to struggle against if I wanted to make any progress in life) it’s the stuff you can’t possibly put in your CV that means the most, and makes you who you are. It’s personal experiences that you come out of thinking, ‘Jeeez, I handled that, so I think I can handle anything…’ . And it’s life-happenings leaving you no choice but to endure that end up supplying you with sufficient grit to look any situation in the eye and say ‘don’t make me laugh, there’s no way you can put me down, I’m sorting this out.

The gulf between the delivery of ‘education’ and the challenging context of the fast-changing real world widens daily. Why is our approach to education, training and qualification so bankrupt? Why do I feel that I’ve educated myself in all the things worth anything to me? Why is it becoming increasingly obvious, especially to young people, that for the sake of their future success, their health and wellbeing, their right to self-fulfillment and, not least of all, their sanity they must find a way to contain the damage our education system can do, take heart, take responsibility and put themselves on a path of permanent self-development?

Well it’s a big question. I suppose what would’ve worked for mainly rural, illiterate populations 200 years ago, with no access to traditional sources of knowledge, has been neither valid nor useful for around 50 years now. But education, like so many facets of our embedded soci-economic system, is an industry and many powerful players within it are personally invested in the way things are. Change will be more like trying to uproot a tree with your bare hands (please don’t try this at home) than anything approaching a reasoned debate followed by positive action.

But there’s hope, because I’m gunning for it, I’m pretty sure my kids are, bet you are too, and we’re most definitely not alone.

Ken Robinson delivers a hugely entertaining and insightful message on this subject