I think our entire attitude toward education is flawed. We spend years in primary school and then secondary school believing that the point of it all is meeting arbitrary goals and being measured on our ability to memorise facts and formulas. That‘s bad enough.
What’s worse though, is that when we finally reach the end of that tunnel, we go through a graduation ceremony and treat it like a happy funeral for our learning period. People give speeches, everyone reminisces about a part of their lives that is over forever. It’s a celebration of the fact that your learning is finished and completed.
We then believe that after only 18 years of our lives, we have gained the information and experience we need to deal with the next 60–70 years. That’s crazy. It’s a crazy attitude, but it’s one that almost everyone slowly adopts.
When School’s Out, Learning Lets Out Too.
I think a lot of people reach the end of their school journey, go through graduation and then stop learning. They stop seeking out new information and new lessons because they’ve already been there, done that. They literally have a certificate.
And so the entire period in which they were at school being required learn something that would improve their lives or equip them for the real world, that becomes their only education.
Sure, they can go to university or college and extend their formal education but they’re back in the same sprint that they ran in high school. They’re trying to get through a track as fast as they can, and jump every hurdle. Like in high school — they’ll probably learn a lot. I’m a big believer in secondary education, so I don’t want to drag it through the mud.
But they will reach another graduation ceremony and gain another certificate that says they’ve ticked the boxes and learned enough. It is complete.
The focused learning just stops. They might be forced to learn some new skills at work, or go through a mandatory course. But they won’t try to learn something just because they want to independently improve themselves.
This isn’t the fault of the schools. Not completely at any rate. This is the fault of parents who turn their children’s education into a painful, constant struggle. It’s the fault of education theorists and government regulators who are tasked with deciding what information, from the entire store of human knowledge, should be crammed into a little over a decade of schooling.
It all adds up to create a negative, dragging, shitty attitude to learning anything.
You Don’t Have To Let Yourself Graduate.
Here’s what I believe. I believe that structured learning doesn’t answer the entirety of your educational need. I believe that it doesn’t answer even 50% of it. I believe that it lays the ground work for the rest of your life as a learner.
When you view your schooling and your college education as being the foundation, not the entire block, you can start to build on it. If you spend every single year until you die ensuring that you have continued to learn, that’s going to change your level of understanding, readiness and general insight.
I think the greatest thing a person can do after their formal period of education is complete is dedicate at least some portion of their time, every day and every week, to learning. Really learning. Reading and viewing and analysing the information necessary to learn a skill, a fact, a new area of expertise.
If you never let yourself graduate, you will never let yourself stagnate. You won’t fall back on old, out dated beliefs, or forget the important principles and lessons you learned before. You will keep your mind active, and your edge sharp.
You have so many opportunities to learn. Right now. From videos on YouTube to entire volumes of incredible, important books that are available as a free download on Gutenberg. Not to mention the on-line courses that will let you learn about almost any subject. Or failing that — Wikipedia.
The point is, your learning really doesn’t stop because you left school. It stops because you think you’ve done enough. And if you don’t take responsibility for continuing your education throughout the rest of your life, you’re the one who will pay for that.
Joan Westenberg is an award winning Australian contemporary writer, designer and creative director. She is the founder of branding and advertising firm Studio Self. Her approach to messaging, communication and semiotics has built her reputation as a writer, and she has been named as one of the leading startup voices in Australia by SmartCompany.