What’s Wrong With Our Educational System?

Yesterday one of the people who rents a room in the house I also rent in and I had a conversation. He is on his way out, moving back with his parents in order to study something, computer generated art, that he hopes he can make money with. You see, he’s an art major. He doesn’t need to study things like color theory, or composition. He knows that stuff. What he needs is the knowledge of how to make it work digitally. What he’s going to do is sit down with Adobe Creative Suite and Lynda.com and learn how to do things until he’s proficient enough at it to make a living.

Anyway, while we were talking something he said really hit me. He said that he wished that somebody at his school, the University of Colorado at Denver, had taken enough of an interest in him to tell him a few things about the real world. You know, clue him into how important the digital world is. He said that all of the people who he went to school with who studied digital art are doing very well, while the best he can do is a part-time job at the Denver Art Museum. As we were talking it became apparent that the problem wasn’t really with somebody saying that to him. The problem was with mentoring.

I’ve thought about the problems with our educational system off and on again for quite some time. Lately, I’ve been onto this realization that the basic problem has to do with the system’s purpose. The system is not designed to teach people how to be entrepreneurs. Instead, it is designed to teach them to work for somebody. There is a very great bias, even in the fine arts it would seem, toward giving people all of the skills they need to do a job competently, but not the necessary skills or understanding that people need in order to see those skills within their place economically. Now, everybody does not need to use that kind of vision in order to go to work for themselves. Some people don’t have that temperament. The thing is, though, that not understanding it makes for workers, even, who see themselves as alienated. And it leaves those who do want to work for themselves in the dark when it comes to an understanding of how to do that.

It’s difficult to feel purpose if you can’t see yourself as part of something that has purpose. Business is in business in order to meet demand for what it has to offer. Meeting that demand is what gives it purpose. Making money is a side-effect. It is what happens when a business engages in the marketplace of human need or want, and can meet that need in a manner where a profit can be made, so that the business can at least support itself. Otherwise, those needs either go unmet (until somebody with better vision comes along) or are taken care of on a more social scale. Learning how to do something enables a person to do a thing more quickly, or with greater complexity, or in some other way better than those who can simply give those things a try at what we might call an amateur level. But if that’s all a person gets from an education, then what do they know? They at least know how to work for somebody else, don’t they?

The thing is, people who can merely do cannot see the bigger picture, the one that contains meaning. How many times have I heard over the years when studying something like math how the people around me “couldn’t wait for this class to be over?” Going back to Junior High School the number one gripe about such subjects was how irrelevant they were. Guess what? They are irrelevant when they are taught the way that the educational system teaches them, wholly out of context to their role in helping a person understand life and life’s opportunities. Math really is important, but you can be a math major and still not understand why. You can also work hard and feel no connection with those for whom you do your work. It isn’t that the numbers lie, rather you don’t know what they mean.

The same problem that alienates people from work is also beginning to alienate people from modern life. Big data is a new buzz word. There is a lot of excitement about it. Guess what? It’s mostly being used by big business, and not by little guys. And it is also rising up along with a huge groundswell of fear about personal privacy and identity protection.

I’ve encountered some of this same fear in my nascent attempts to launch my web development business. People don’t seem to understand that if you are going to go into business you have to tell the public about yourself or your business, or both if your business is that closely tied to who you are. People who go into business ought to know enough about why they are going into business such that they can say it with an economy of words. They also ought to know enough about who they are trying to sell to such that those words mean something to them. Big business understands this. Small business seems halting at best. Big business understands that the more they know about you the better they can meet your needs or wants. The scary thing that goes with this is that they also understand how to create demand in you that you never had before. Yes, you are that malleable.

If a small business adopts the attitude that they can make you buy their product or service, usually they are barking up the wrong tree because they don’t really know anything about you. What they are really saying is that they have wrongly interpreted the role of demand in the equation and instead think that they are in business not to meet it, but to make money. This kind of small business can succeed, but often never knows why. If a big business, however, has that attitude it is very likely that they do know something about you and are trying out an angle that they have designed based upon that knowledge. Unbeknownst to  you, they are acting upon math.

Isn’t it high time that the public became more aware of the math that is working all around them? I mean, more aware of what the data that is flowing in this modern world means, both to them and to businesses. Shouldn’t it be so on such a level that your average trailer park dweller can tell what is happening, such that they can choose to be dupes if they want to, or to think and feel for themselves? I think that begins with education, the kind that all along introduces subjects like math within a context of relevancy, such that a person can see what the subject means to them in whatever walk of life they identify with. I also think this can only come with an entrepreneurial emphasis behind such teaching, such that the intention is that the student owns this knowledge for their own purposes, and not to pass some level of proficiency in order to accomplish somebody Else’s.




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