A blog post I wrote back in September titled The Khan Academy is not that good suddenly made some small rounds on Twitter the past couple days, giving me a couple hundred views, spiking my otherwise modest traffic, woohoo! Many thanks tweeters! It is now the most popular blog post I’ve ever written. Which isn’t saying much, but getting comments and other people’s opinions is always nice. Although, you know, this is about education which, like religion and politics, people naturally have very strong opinions about (myself included).

One guy tweeted something like “I quit reading when he said education was about jobs” (though I’m not sure why you would tweet a link to a post you quit reading). Which is too bad, because that’s a very interesting point… I stated:

The big thing people seem to forget or ignore is that everything ultimately comes down to employment… whether or not you can do a job, and whether or not employers will recognize that you can do a job and hire you.

This is a vital point. That this made at least one person quit reading might be the source of most of our educational problems (here in the US, at least).

Firstly, I’m not sure how this view is wrong. I’m certainly not saying that one cannot pursue topics they are interested in. If the person has an ounce of intelligence, they will probably try to pursue employment in an area that interests them anyway or become a teacher. Ultimately, if you want to live, you need food, and usually shelter. You will have to pay for those. You will have to get the money from somewhere. You will, therefore, have to work for a living. How will you be able to work? You will have to learn. How will you learn? You will go to school. If there are no employment opportunities in an area that interests you, and you do not have the resources to create your own, you will have to convince an employer that you can do some task for them. You need to do this to live. If you don’t do this, you will die. Live or die, make your choice.

So, there’s student directed interest and employment needed to live. What else could education be for? I can’t think of anything else. What else is there?

But then a group of old people sitting around a table say “Hmmm… what should we make kids learn? How about the phases of the moon and the names of the local rivers? Yes. Yes, that seems good. We will be smarter than Japan in no time.”

Um… WHY? If you’re interested in the phases of the moon, you can Google it. If you’re interested in the names of the local rivers, again, Google it, bam, you’re done. (If you’re really interested, you’ll memorize such things on your own without being forced institutionally.) When are you ever going to be in a situation in which you have to know the phases of the moon or the names of the local rivers and have no way to look them up? Why is that so important to prepare kids for? Without interest from the student or a need from employers, that material is not educational. It is useless. It is Hannifin’s Supreme Law of Education: Knowledge that you don’t use is useless.

Secondly, don’t most people already agree that this is what college is for? If someone was able to get a great (and secure) job with a great salary right out of high school, what parents would still recommend going to college? Isn’t good employment the entire reason our culture makes such a huge fuss about having to go to college? About having to get a degree?

Thanks for reading!


EDIT: I guess I should point out that I’m not trying to imply that employment needs to be thought of as separate from life, as if it has to be some institution you’re trapped in for certain times of the week instead of living your “real life.” And I’m also not trying to imply that you must have a boss. Perhaps instead of using the word “employment” I should say that education ultimately comes down to “a means to live.” And preferably “a means to live well.” Maybe that will make more sense. (Nor am I trying to imply that huge salary is the most important thing. But you will obviously need a salary of some kind.)


EDIT: I think a lot of traffic came from this particular tweet. The tweeter, David Wees, has many other interesting tweets and an interesting blog which I hope to explore more of at David Wees’s Blog. So a thank you to Mr. Wees for the traffic.

Categories: Philosophy