University of You: The Path To Self-Education Part 1

Is the ability to be successful in work and life learned at school?

To search for the answer, let’s start by looking at the formal education of one of my business idols, Richard Branson.

Best known for his world record attempts and showy business tactics, Richard Branson dropped out of school at the age of 16 to start his first successful business venture, Student Magazine.

By the time he was 24, he bought his own island in the Caribbean. At a healthy 63, he now is worth $4.6 billion.

Richard Branson has dyslexia which caused him to be a poor student, but he used his other abilities, less appreciated in school, to build his Virgin empire of over 400 companies.

“I have never enjoyed being accountable to anyone else or being out of control of my own destiny. I have always enjoyed breaking the rules, whether they were school rules or more general rules such as the idea that no 17-year-old can edit a national magazine.” — Richard Branson

Sir Branson (he was knighted in 1999) is in good company. Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, Bill Gates, and Dave Thomas are all billionaires who dropped out of college.

Even Albert Einstein struggled in traditional schools.

As a student, Einstein was a creative problem solver, but he hated the rote, disciplined style of the teachers at his Munich school, and he dropped out at the age of 15. Then, when he took the entrance exams for the polytechnic school in Zurich, he flunked –passing the math part, but failing the botany, zoology, and language sections.

On his second attempt, Einstein passed the entrance exam to Zurich Polytechnic, but barely graduated and finished near the bottom of his class. He might have failed completely without a great deal of help from his girlfriend and fellow student, Mileva Marić.

Because of his poor academic standings, Einstein was not able to gain a teaching position in any of the European Universities. Once again rejected by the traditional education system, Einstein became a patent clerk to support his family while he worked on his revolutionary ‘Theory of Relativity’.

The above dropouts all had something in common, they didn’t quit school to hang out on the couch all day, they quit school to start their own journey of self-education.

Self-Education Part I: Why Are Schools So… Old School?

I grew up in and spent a few years teaching in American public schools. I have my opinions, but this isn’t an article about my views of the current system. This post is about self-education and how you can make learning a part of your daily life.

However, some background information will help you understand why school systems are the way they are and avoid common educational pitfalls.

A Brief History of Industrial Education

The universal education movement started in America in the late 1800s and was adopted in most other industrialized parts of the world soon after.

The system was created between 1890s − 1920s when 80% of United States’ rural population moved to cities to take up the millions of new factory jobs.

The migrating workers took their children to the city with them. The children, no longer working on the farm, needed a place to go during the day. That place was school.

The schools were modeled after the new factories. Bells to indicate the end of a shift, separate facilities for different subjects and education performed in batches based on student’s date of manufacture, were all ideas taken from industrial production.

Schools emphasized getting the right answer and subjects were generally limited to reading, writing, and math — the skills the industrial economy needed most.

Student conforming and norming was gained through a process of teachers giving predetermined work and passive engagement with the material through lectures and fear.

The fear was that if you did not do well on tests (now standardized), you would not get into a good college or have decent career opportunities.

The industrial education system was built around the conditions required for factory work. And institutional momentum has caused them to carry on practices that are no longer relevant in the current information age.

Seth Godin, American author, entrepreneur, marketer and public speaker, recently spoke about his views of the outdated school system on the James Altucher Show. He said,

“Society has changed. Industrialist built schools 100 years ago to train people to be obedient factory workers…”

“The problem is, we don’t reward obedient factory workers anymore. We are not creating any good jobs where you are paid to do exactly what you are told. Because if we can find someone to do what they are told, we’ll find someone cheaper than you.”

Peter Thiel, billionaire entrepreneur and venture capitalist who cofounded PayPal, also makes an apt historical analogy of the current education system.

“The state of higher education is much like the indulgences of the Catholic church before the reformation. They kept on charging more and more for salvation while offering less and less in return. Eventually, the system could not justify itself.”

Old School vs. New School

Below is a comparison of the lessons taught in the current industrial-style education system and lessons that would be better suited for our era.

Godin continues, “The future belongs to people that can do two things and this is the only thing we should teach in schools.

  1. To Lead
  2. To Solve Interesting Problems.

We don’t do either of those.”

What You Can Do

With a better understanding of why traditional education systems are not built for the 21st century, in parts 2 and 3 of the self-education series, you will learn how to opt out and find your own educational path.

You’ll see how to best use the abundance of free information available online and the tools to capture your lessons so they can be referenced to solve interesting problems.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.