Formal Education Lost its Relevance Yesterday


The rules to life and living is changing before us.

I’ve always accepted the truth in the words “there’s nothing new under the sun”. Whenever I hear someone touch on it or tell a story with that bottom-line I yell, preach.

When you know something, there comes a time the idea gains a life on its own. And transforms your world view in the process. The same truth with a different result. It’s like a hen sitting on its egg- for 21 days it’s just the same but there’s more to it beneath the surface.

The shell cracks.

Before now, I had a few set plans. Things I’ll like to do for the rest of my life. And I didn’t fancy the idea of settling for the common pattern I saw around me. I decided I wouldn’t follow similar patterns of those around me. The idea was simple. People work hard on their nine-to-five obligations and don’t go beyond middle class. Repeating the same process with the hope of a different outcome will be stupid.

Out went normalcy- I find it unattractive.

Work hard- sure. But what I wouldn’t do is get comfortable on a nine-to-five like they all have. It’s been tough. And I almost lost my sense of direction in the process.

I had a theory. Although incomplete I set out to find truth and fulfilment- not the way they define it but in a way I find meaningful. I didn’t have the full picture. But I knew those around me either didn’t have enough of what I desired or didn’t have it at all. So their path wasn’t worth following.

Lately I’ve been reading and I found something.

During the renaissance you had a mishmash of fields. Think of the Renaissance man and you picture a bearded genius. The j.o.a.t, master of all. The polymath (and I don’t mean mode9).

They understood that life happens to all and the well-rounded man will fare better than any other. Besides, who says man’s ways should be set in stone like the Ten Commandments? Huh?

Let me clear that up. Animals are set in their ways. They are not clamouring for change in diet or social structure. We do. But why do we limit the need for change to only a few areas? Is that how it should be? Who says?

Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have a set of principles we live by. Saying that will self-defeat the idea I have by the way. My point is this: those we refer to as being the best minds- Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Einstein and the likes forayed beyond one area of human affair. To them it was all one and the same.

The need for specialization came with the industrial age. Areas of thought divided to provide a work force for the growing industries as fast as possible.

Einstein was a philosopher as much as physicist. His formulas came through a thought process which he then proved through figures.

Observations first.

Ideas became formulas. Today we lap up formulas without the type of thought process that birth them. The same formulas we dish out at our work stations with no further innovation. It’s worse in Nigeria- outdated curriculum aplenty.

I’ll give an example of the Nigerian experience here. I studied English in a University between 2007 and 2011. And I just discovered the works of Daniel Everett that he made public in 2005. Where He points out that language doesn’t follow generic origins as Chomsky proposed. Each language, he says, results from the uniqueness of the culture of its speakers. I’m Yoruba and this rings true. But I don’t remember being exposed to this smart man’s idea. Sorry Everett. I should be in the field churning out paper assailing Chomskyans right now.

Back to the topic.

So what am I saying here? We are past the industrial age. The world is grappling with the possibilities in the clouds, think ICT. Will the solution proposed to provide a quick industrial work force be right for this next phase in human existence? No.

Here’s why. Automation has disrupted a few fields. There’s the fear that smart machines will take over. Emails have reduced our need for postal services and the internet is changing media as we know it. With that, those who can’t keep up have either reached retirement age or fear the internet of things to come (see what I did there?).

Fear not. Scratch that, be very afraid.

Where do we go from here? Remember when I quoted “there’s nothing new under the sun”? Of course the internet is new but the way to prosper in its age and beyond isn’t. You can say, let’s just get object specific with a relevant skill. Well, that’s what led to this issue by the way. There’s a coming snag, I promise you. And educating our minds above and beyond a specific area is the way around it.

People are quick to talk about how Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg and a few others are school dropouts. My theory is, they realised how limited and dogmatic their thought process will be with a formal education. So they took their education into their own hands. They became curious in every area of human endeavour.

Read up on Jobs and his spiritual walk and you’ll see how it found its way into Apple’s product designs.

There was no professor over their shoulders dictating how to think and what to think about. Or in Nigerian public schools where you’re seen as suffering from I.T.K (I too know; knowing too much. Punishable by lower grades).

Zuckerberg learned Chinese for personal reasons. But if you agree with Everett’s school of thought you’ll see his new skill will expose him to ideas unique to the Chinese cultural experience. Won’t it be swell if Facebook’s product policy is from some ancient Zen scroll.

And there are few other guys in this range. But I fear you may not know them. Since it’s not on the pop culture syllabus.
These guys went back a few centuries, that’s all. In today’s evolution, it’s survival of the rounded (shout out to Kim K’s derriere).

So, I wasn’t wrong after all. The idea of not being boxed in by the system was right. The conclusion should be — go forth and open your mind. Drink from the fountains. Not some distilled alternative in the society’s watering-hole. So help me God.
Be curious. Unless you’re a cat.

This piece first appeared here. And is republished with the consent of the author.

Image Credit: Ian Barbour Via Flickr Cc

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