On Education

This blog post was featured in the Huffington Post on March 23, 2015.

In Yugoslavia where I was born, or Albania where I spent my childhood during the war, one was expected to finish elementary school or was considered uneducated.

In Israel, if my memory does not fail me, you were supposed to finish high school or you were considered a failure. Not everyone was expected to study at a university.

In the United States, I find that you are a nobody if you do not at least have an undergraduate degree. You cannot get a good job. A high school graduate is like a drop out. A failure.

And today I notice that even a BA is not enough. You need a Master’s degree to be considered for a job with some future. My administrative assistant, for example, has a Master’s degree and her responsibilities are primarily that of a secretary.

What is going on?

For one, in my opinion, we are adding more and more material and information that a student must know in order to join the work place.

As young people tend to join the labor force later in life it is getting more and more expensive to prepare for the real world.

Do they require more preparation; or more credentials?

Is it all necessary?

The educator Ivan Illich wrote books claiming we were over-educating our society. That not all that is taught is necessary.

I agree. I believe a person should continue studying after graduation. The norm should be continuous education, not one of cramming as much as possible in early life and then dropping learning as soon as one gets a diploma. There is no such thing as being educated “enough.”

The world is changing fast and much of whatever we learn at school becomes obsolete rapidly or, without practice or some kind of incorporation into daily living, it soon becomes outdated or forgotten.

What is missing in present day education is the creation of a thirst for knowledge. That is the most important part of education. Its reason for being.

What educators need to build into our education system is a program and a curriculum where students want to continue learning for a lifetime. A curriculum that excites the student to find where he can learn more about a subject that has aroused his/her interest and passion. The point is the student recognizes there is more to know.

To prepare us for life we do not need to know everything. Nor a sample of everything. We need to learn to love to learn, to know where to find what we want to learn, what we believe is essential for us to learn.

Within this educational framework it is most important that one learns not only from books but from other people, as well as from stones and bees and stars. From everything. In short, we need to teach how much there is to learn from experience. To have an open mind. To let go of what one knows in order to learn something new about the same subject.

I, for instance, was a very poor student if measured by my grades in high school. I graduated with a D in English, a B in history, and a C in all my other courses. That was my high school diploma.

Given that as my high school achievement I should have become a janitor. But I never stopped learning.

When I graduated with my Ph.D. from Columbia my chairman took me to lunch and told me: This is not the end. This is the beginning. Now you know how much you do not know.

I have never forgotten those words.  They became my “religion”:  good education is not to know, but to know how much we do not know…and to develop a thirst that will enable us to know more.

When I lecture I make a point to communicate to the audience that whatever I am presenting to them is just an introduction. I make it a point to leave them frustrated at the end of my lecture.  I want to make them feel how much more there is to know. I give value in my lecture, but what is more important, I make the audience want more. Like a good meal. A good play. A good book. When you read the last page you feel sad that it ended. You wish there were more pages to read.

That is a good education for me.

Just thinking.

Ichak Kalderon Adizes