Education vs. Experience

Quiz me on Romeo and Juliet, the cardiovascular cycle, the rate at which water flows into a cone, or the location of the Louisiana Purchase on a map and I’ll pass the test with flying colors. Ask me to set up a tent, cook a gourmet meal, sew up a hole in a shirt, or eat with proper manners at a fancy dinner and I’ll demonstrate exactly how not to do any of those things. Am I well educated because I can write an essay with four sources in under an hour? Or am I terribly misled to think that I am, when what really constitutes being educated is knowing how to do my own taxes? Well, to be fully educated, a combination of both schooling and life experiences is necessary. It is the power of the two coupled together that will lead ultimately lead to success, not one without the other.

Schooling is significant to the well-educated individual by providing necessary context and a level of cognizance to a person’s life. For example, it is important to know history in order to contextualize where a person falls in the timeline and learn from previous mistakes. It also helps in creating an understanding toward other cultures instead of living life as a bigot. This same concept can be applied to all school subjects, whether they help to set a person up for their career in finance, to do cancer research, or compose a symphony, schooling introduces a broad range of topics in order to spark interest in students. Once the base level of content has been established, education turns to intrinsic motivation. Being truly educated becomes less about breadth, and more about depth. Selecting a narrower range of topics will allow a person to be able to fully immerse themselves in those areas and become very knowledgeable in them. No one is knowledgeable in every field, therefore, being educated can not be defined by the number of areas a person is knowledgeable about. Rather, it should be about the knowledge one has in specific areas of interest, which are the areas that a person will find easiest to go out of their way to learn more about.

Being educated means learning how to think, rather than what to think. Over the years, schooling has also shifted away from content learning to critical thinking skills. Of course, that base layer of information must always be learned, whether it be through a formal education or through the internet in the new age of technology. However, having the ability to identify patterns, make connections, analyze, and draw conclusions are becoming increasingly emphasized in schools as a result of information being readily accessible at the touch of a button. For instance, the AP United States History and Biology exams, both exams for testing how “well-educated” students are in those areas, have shifted away from specific facts and more toward analyzing and drawing conclusions. For this reason, I had an easier time studying for these exams than years past, as I just had to learn large themes and big concepts as opposed to the specific facts. Although some context is helpful and still often necessary, many of the questions do not ask about the specifics of dates or molecules, rather they test whether students can identify larger themes or interpret data. Seeing 20,000 results on the internet and having the capacity to pick out the most important pieces of information and connect them together to formulate one’s own ideas and opinions is an important factor in being well-educated in the information age that is the 21st century.

However, being truly educated goes beyond what can be learned in the classroom. Education involves experiencing life; experiencing life requires stepping outside the halls of the secluded safe space where every student was subject to the same pressures. An informal education is responsible for helping a person assimilate into society and build relationships with other people. For instance, manners are not taught in school. However, they are significant in maintaining a person’s reputation while meeting new people or trying to fit into a professional environment. Out in the real world, where networking is the harsh reality of success, forming and maintaining relationships is indispensable. Social skills acquired in school, although they are helpful, will not be enough. Furthermore, after a formal education, it is important to pursue the use of what has been learned in school in the real world. Practicing foreign language in a different nation where it is necessary for communication will apply what has been learned in school and catalyze a person’s ability to speak another language. What a person learns from traveling and physically experiencing different cultures is much more valuable than reading about it. In general, the experiences in a real world setting are essential to give meaning to what is learned in a formal educational setting and will significantly improve a person’s skills and deepen their knowledge.

In addition to helping a person acclimate to society, an informal education builds self-sufficiency skills which are essential to being truly educated, and they are best learned through experience. Too many students find themselves thrown into college, still part of schooling, and they don’t know how to live on their own. How does one do laundry? What is cooking from scratch? In which aisle is the milk? Realizing someone else usually completed these tasks while students were busy preparing for standardized testing, students quickly begin to learn new types of skills their first years away from home. As soon as these skills are learned, they are thrown into the real world, where job competition is fierce, taxes are a thing, and everyone else has practically the same schooling. Although higher degrees of education do have a positive effect on employment, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the unemployment rate of young adults was higher in 2014 than it was in 2008 or 2000. It is the life experiences and life lessons, the full education a person learns along the way, that distinguishes a person from the rest of society, and makes them a viable candidate for a job or an opportunity.

In all, a person is only truly educated once they have struck a combination of both a formal and an informal education. The purpose of education holistically is to prepare a person to find a passion, and equip them with the ability to ask questions and seek out further knowledge in the real world. Asking questions leads to the search for answers, and although there will always be more questions than there will be answers, as long as a person has the desire to learn, they are best equipped to be truly educated.