Education vs Reality


I wanted to build upon Anne’s post last week regarding human development and the importance of a sound education system. I found her post right on point, especially because I just finished reading Stop Stealing Dreams (what is school for) by Seth Godin (you can download it for free here).

I am most familiar with Seth from his books and blogs on marketing. However, this work was slightly different. In Stop Stealing Dreams, Seth talks about America’s education system and how it is completely outdated. He states that we are not educating people to function in the new economy but for the manufacturing-focused economy of the past.

I found this interesting, especially because I can relate. Commonly in my adult life I have felt like I wasn’t educated or trained to handle the tasks that professionals face on a daily basis. These are things that were overlooked in my K-12 education. I don’t once remember a teacher saying, “Here is how to manage a project, work in a team, or handle a difficult personality.” Perhaps I was sick that day. College helped some, but it didn’t prepare me for what I faced outside of the Ivory Tower.

I remember my first job out of school was working as part of a four-person production team. We created hardbound visitor guides that were placed in hotel rooms. Revenue was based on ad sales.  At one point our team was producing 16 books a year. Did my education prepare me for the pressures of working with three other people with personalities different from my own? Was I prepared for the stressors of working under extreme deadlines? Did I feel comfortable reaching out to customers regarding their ads? The answer to all of these questions was a resounding no, but I had no choice but to figure it out. After a lot of trial, error, and learning through experience, I found the answers to these questions. I realized that I had left school without the key skills needed (communication, leadership, teamwork) to succeed.

We keep talking about how the strategic skills are what really matter, skills like communication, leadership, and teamwork. These are the skills that are needed in this new economy. Very few of us head to a plant and put widgets together. Which, according to Seth, the old educational system was designed to teach us. We are now constantly connected, thrown together into different situations, and are expected to make things happen. Most of these situations don’t have a rule book. There are no rules. They are unique to the transformative economy we find ourselves in. We either sink or swim. The only skills that are going to save us are those strategic skills. But how do we get these new skills if our educational system is focused on us sitting in lectures and completing assignments home alone. Isn’t it better to work in a group and combine the collective knowledge of the team towards a problem?

Developing these skills is now falling to companies and individuals. Organizations are struggling to find talented individuals to fill their teams, and employees are struggling to find their place. Perhaps it is time to look at the beginning instead of the end.

I lucked out as my love of learning and excellent mentors have helped me over these hurdles. However, life is a marathon not a sprint. There is plenty I still need to learn. I just need to stay flexible and push myself to keep growing.

Have you faced these same issues in your professional life? If so, how did you grow professionally?

Please Share!




  1. Education cannot be complete just because you have come out of school and also it cannot address all the possible scenarios of various individuals.
    Primary aim of education is to give students power of observation and lateral thinking. When this combined with patience and eagerness to learn the student harnesses his raw knowledge into useful work.
    One thing education at home teaches is adaptability apart from emotional and community quotient.
    Amongst all the quotients the easiest to acquire is knowledge quotient and the most difficult is emotional quotient. Many a times in the journey of life the student fails to cross this hurdle and thus confuses not only himself but society around him.

  2. The perspective that education systems are outdated has, to a certain extent, a level of validity. The world has changed considerably since I was at school, as has the operation of the economy. A large part of this may result from the fact that computers were so big when I was at school that businesses needed a huge room to house a computer which could barely manage a game of battleships without crashing.

    In my view, school and the workplace are inherently interdepedent. Without school, people would have incredibly small and cliquey social circles – mum, dad, and other direct family members, and maybe neighbours. School teaches us how to interact, and that there are different personailities to deal with – apologies for the stereotypes, but we all remember (or may have been) the moody arty type, the sporty type, the geeky type, etc…..

    Equally, school teaches us the basic foundations needed to progress into the world of work. It is the specialisation at university which helps us to adapt further, and to question and influence development.

  3. Thanks for your responses – Surya, I think you are right about knowledge aspect of education. It is easy to learn now, especially with the Internet. Information is only a click away. The emotional aspect is a lot harder to figure out. The answer isn’t on a Wikipedia page.

    James – for me, one thing that made interacting easier was going to grad school. There was a lot more teamwork, and I was working with people from around the world. I think experience and constant learning really go hand in hand.

  4. Crystal
    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on skills. I think the challenge you highlight has existed throughout history; there are commentators in most eras who complain that formal education fails to prepare people for the future.

    I gu3ss one might argue that educational basics are more about creating a framework of knowledge and a capability to learn, rather than the skills associated with deploying that learning. After all, what is the point of being a great communicator if you have nothing of substance to communicate about (Yes, I know, in that case you become a politician); what likelihood is there that you would be a valued member of a project team if you di dnot have in-depth subject matter knowledge to contribute etc.

    The world could not operate with everyone being – or aspiring to be – a leader. Indeed, there are many who would argue that the US ‘problem’ (if it has one) is the inability of today’s emerging workers to subjugate themeselves to the disciplines of leadership and followership. They all believe they are great communicators and – even worse -have really interesting things to say. Their parents and the schools exhibited far too much respect for their vacuous ideas and sub-standard work because it is so important not to undermine self-esteem. And this has created a generation that is convinced about its own abilities, that there is no need to apply effort to learning, that their in-built ‘skills’ are sufficient in themselves to merit high-paying employment.

    Maybe Seth has this one completely wrong. Perhaps it is actually far too little discipline, far too little expectation that you must actually prove your merits and far too little substantive context that allows people to flourish in the world of work.

    A final point. In the past, most people wanted to join big companies or work for large local employers. Today, according to The Economist, about 65% want to be ‘entrepreneurs’. So that suggests ther is in fact already a massive change in aspiration – and maybe it isn’t the ducation system at fault, but the wider social infrastructure that would free up all that talent to communicate, lead and manage projects.

    But before we leap to that conclusion, it is important to understand what they mean by the word ‘entrepreneur’. For most, it means being self-employed, working from home and not having the discipline of regular job. So what it actually indicates is that we are perhaps raising new generations that are far more self-indulgent and wanting to work on their own terms. Quite where that is taking us, I don’t know – but it doesn’t suggest that teamwork or leadership are especially big on the agenda. As for communication, I am sure Facebook will take care of that!

    • Hi Tim,

      I appreciate your response. I think it is very important that we have these conversations on education. It seems that aspirations are changing. Honestly, I find the shift fascinating. I think as long as these types of conversations are happening, we are at least moving in the right direction and acknowledging the change. I think we are living in very exciting times right now. It will be interesting to see where it takes us.


  5. I would have to disagree with you. I haven’t been in college very long but throughout high school, I was required to work in numerous groups. I was also under tight deadlines. Granted, some of my class actually required that (newspaper for example) but, not all of them did (English, math, etc); and we still had group projects regardless. Maybe it was not explained that part of the point of working in a group is to learn to work with others, but the concept was still applied. I find it hard to believe that you never worked in a single group throughout high school and college, and I also find it hard to believe that you never had to work with someone who has a difficult personality.

    However, I do believe the educational system itself is complete crap. Education today is motivated by standardized testing and results in teachers pushing memorization as opposed to learning. The system should be thrown out all together and replaced. I would go into what I think it should be replaced with but I would end up writing a novel and I don’t think either of us have time for that right now…. lol.

    • Hi Victoria,

      Thanks for your insights. I didn’t work in a lot of groups in high school to be honest. I did work in groups in college, but it wasn’t until I got into a master’s program where group work was mandatory and constant. I think l that working with a team in a professional environment is different than it is in school, and perhaps that isn’t something that can be replicated. Maybe the difficult personalities in school didn’t bother me as much because I only had to deal with them for one class or project 🙂

      I agree with you about standardized tests. I am a horrible test taker. I know there are people trying to change the system, but you are right we would need a lot more time to discuss!!

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