Education and Schooling

Mark Twain once said, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” In addition, Albert Einstein said, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.” Can’t you tell the difference between schooling and education? Schooling usually occurs in early life and is a structured process limited to the school site, homework assignment, and exams. Education is a lifelong process, non-structured, and takes place anytime and anywhere. You can go to school and still wind up uneducated. On the other hand, you can get educated without having to go to school. Let me cite a few famous examples:

Mark Twain (1835-1910) was a writer and humorist without going through formal schooling. He used to educate himself in the public libraries. His famous works include: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, etc.

Michael Faraday (1791-1867) was a physicist and chemist who did not go to college. He established the concept of electromagnetic fields, later fully developed by Professor James Maxwell. Among his many inventions, Faraday’s electromagnetic devices set up the foundation for electric motor technology. Despite his little knowledge of higher mathematics such as calculus, Faraday was appointed Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. For all his contributions, Faraday is considered one of the most influential scientists in history in the same league as Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, and James Maxwell.

Thomas Edison (1847-1931) had only three months of formal schooling because his mind kept on wandering, according to his teacher. At young age, Edison sold candies and newspapers on trains, supplemented by selling vegetables elsewhere. In his first job as a telegraph operator, he met a fellow worker and inventor named Franklin Pope, who allowed Edison to work in the basement of his home. Some of Edison’s early inventions came out of there such as the stock ticker and electric vote recorder. Edison held more than 1000 patents in the US alone. His most famous inventions are: the phonograph, motion picture, and the incandescent light bulb. Edison was also a successful businessman having founded 14 companies, General Electric being one of them.

In our generation, we have billionaires whose entrepreneurial passions caused them to drop out of college. The most famous trio is: Bill Gates, Steve Wozniac, and Steve Jobs. Wozniac later left Apple and completed his bachelor degree.

The above examples do not conclude anything negative about schools, but I wish to offer the following opinions:

Talents do not necessarily develop from schooling. More likely than not, great talents that change the world tend to develop outside the school. Why? No existing system can make a great talent out of a person. The person has to develop his/her own talents by self, and by interacting with other people and surroundings.

Then what do we need schools for? Schools are supposed to serve the masses. Great talents account for only a minute percentage of the masses. They represent an outstanding bunch, who either gets tired of school or drops out of it for good reasons. They will be able to take care of themselves and make it big in society. For ordinary people, we need schools to help develop social discipline and thinking at young age. At a later stage, we need schools to teach working skills for young adults. We also need universities where people can pursue advanced research in their special fields of interest. This spells out the practical purpose of schooling.

Besides preparing the masses for the practical things such as social discipline, knowledge, job skills and advanced research, schools should have a higher purpose, that is, to develop the students to become better citizens, and if possible, leaders of their communities. Many great universities of the world have succeeded in this higher endeavor of developing good citizenship and leadership.

Although exams are important serving as a test for how much you know, they should not be overly emphasized. Exams are only mechanical procedures that fail to confirm many good qualities, such as to see if a person has good thinking, creativity, sensitivity, passion, ambition, determination, perseverance, empathy, humility, entrepreneurship, communication skills, management skills, and so on. One of these qualities that you possess, if strong enough, will propel you to great success, and make you a better citizen or leader. If a school system emphasizes too much on exams, it will fall short on its higher goal of education. It will produce a whole bunch of paper pushers who only know how to follow the rules and procedures that somebody else has set up for them.

(January 2012)

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