A lot of my friends recognize me as a quick learner, seeming to imply that I’m just lucky, as if I was born with an inherent ability to learn.
I wasn’t born a child prodigy. I didn’t have five thousand digits of pi coming out of my mouth at the age of three, and nor was I exceptionally gifted at anything. In fact, I was the last person in my kindergarten class to learn how to read.
This is a kindergarten progress report that my teacher wrote. It talks about how I have been unable to recognize my e’s. (Ironically I got the same comment about being unable to recognize my e’s in the next report too)
And even though I wasn’t always a fast learner, I had a curiosity that got me into a lot of trouble, both good and bad. My curiosity led me to explore airplanes, ask horrible questions, and completely annoy everyone who was within earshot.
It wasn’t a inherent ability to learn and retain information that got me to where I am today, but my undying curiosity.
There’s a huge difference between learning that driven by performance and learning that is driven by curiosity. Learning that is driven by performance will always value the results over the process, and only learn enough to get by. Learning that is driven by curiosity has no set goal in mind, because it seeks to learn with an open mind. Learning that is driven by curiosity will link new things together, causing a much more complete and holistic picture of the world.
That way, when new information is processed, someone with a more connected, intuitive sense will be able to make connections and learn things much faster than the person that is simply trying to memorize facts.
The role, price, and value of a university degree has been constantly changing.
The role, price and value of college and a degree are three aspects of post-secondary education should be considered objectively in order to keep an up to date, relevant perspective of education.
The Role of a Degree
The role of college is vastly different than it was fifty years ago. Fifty years ago, people attended college as a source for information because that was the only place that you could get it. The information given at school would prepare you for a career in the field of your choosing. College trained you to be a worker.
College degrees used to be seen as an elite sign of mastery and preparedness to work the job that you were trained for. In certain cases such as law or medicine, this is still the case. However, for all other cases, this has changed. The barrier of entry for many careers are now beginning to drop the requirement of a college degree.
College used to be the only way for people to get into or rise above the middle class, because it was seen as the way to secure a better future. There has even been claims that students who graduate from college make one million dollars more in their lifetime than people who don’t have a college degree.
However, in today’s world, the role of college is not as clear. Some people claim that college is a rite of passage for teenagers; a transition between childhood and adulthood. I’ve heard arguments that college is about learning to manage your own time, learning how to interact with people, and developing yourself personally.
One thing is for sure though, college today plays a very different role than it did fifty years ago, challenging a lot of the traditional notions of education.
The Price of a Degree
The next reason, price, doesn’t have too much debate around it. The cost of getting a degree has skyrocketed beyond belief. In fact, Chase is no longer making new student loans because the student loan market is no longer sustainable.
This is sad, because the price of a degree continues to rise. It isn’t uncommon for parents to begin saving up for their child’s college education the moment their child is born, or teenagers signing themselves into decades of debt to pursue a degree.
The Value of a Degree
In today’s world, a degree may help you get your foot in the door, but it doesn’t do much more than that. Millions of students are graduating with degrees, saturating society with an overabundance of students who have internship experience, degrees, and other things that make it difficult to properly assess a job applicant.
The general trend is that when more people have access to a certain product or service, the competitive edge of the product or service diminishes. The same is true for college degrees. The more people that have degrees, the more difficult it becomes to distinguish talent.
The fact that someone has a degree today doesn’t mean terribly much. Having a degree simply tells me that an individual spent a few years of their life doing homework and taking tests from an institution, and they did well enough on their exams to receive a piece of paper. A degree tells me nothing about a person’s work ethic, their dreams, their ability to communicate and work in a team, or even how much they actually know.
Ultimately, college isn’t for everyone, and I would argue that based on the price, value, and role, that it isn’t meant for most people.
Humans are social creatures, hardwired for relationship. It’s hard to imagine a day completely empty of social interaction. Even if you were to spend an entire day in solitude, you are still spending the day relating to and conversing with yourself.
Being the first three weeks of school at UCSD, many of the freshmen are exploring different campus organizations, trying to find communities where they belong. While talking to them about their new experiences and relationships, I hear phrases such as “they’re really friendly” or “I feel welcome”.
When it comes to college groups, first impressions and reputation spread by word of mouth make a huge difference in the first couple of weeks. Newcomers have only a couple of interactions to judge an organization with, and it often boils down to how they are treated and how they feel.
However, people don’t crave friendly interactions; they crave friendships. They interact with friendly people in hopes that they can build a friendship.
It’s really sad how it seems that college students are generally worse at making friends than kindergarteners are. It’s because kindergarteners aren’t trying to be friendly, they’re just trying to be a friend, where as college students worry about things like image, impression, social norms, etc.
Being friendly and being a friend are two seemingly related virtues, but the two do not always come in the same package. The person who is as friendly as Barney the dinosaur isn’t someone who I would necessarily want to be friends with.
Friendliness is usually associated with a warm smile, perfect conversation, genuine attitude, etc. But a true friend is someone who will say it as it is, not hide things from you, and be completely honest and real.
The irony is that friendships aren’t based upon being friendly, they are based on a connection that is much deeper. In all my experience, I’ve been able to boil down friendships to two main components: interacting with each other, and having a genuine desire to share multiple aspects of life with each other.
Friendships are some of the most powerful things you could ever invest your time in, so don’t reduce it down to merely “being friendly”.
Productive (adj) – having the power of producing; generative; creative: a productive effort.
Homework is something that has been done for generations. It is something given by teachers for students to do in order to solidify the concepts and skills learned in the classroom. Performance on homework has always been used as a standard across entire classes in order to compare people.
The goal of homework is from what I’ve gathered, twofold. One characteristic is to obtain practice and the other seems to be research.
The goal of practice is most evident in math, where homework is done to reinforce concepts and methods into a student. Practice is about doing things over and over until it becomes easy or natural.
The goal of research is about obtaining knowledge, and outputting it in some form, whether it be analysis or presentation. Research usually includes putting information into your own words, indicating that you understand the information.
These are all practical, beneficial learning goals, but the way that it is presented in homework is often very bland and unattractive, often leading to the exact opposite effect.
Homework that is done by an individual is usually one in thousands. All of their classmates have done the exact homework, and students for years beforehand have probably done the exact same homework assignment.
Homework isn’t generally a thing that is framed and cherished after it is returned. Homework is usually thrown away after it is finished, because there no longer is value in keeping it.
We’re stuck in a system of education that makes students perform among one standard. But no one in the workforce does this. Companies don’t do the exact same thing as other companies, and neither do employees do the same thing as each other.
So in the truest sense of the word, most homework assignments within the current education system don’t allow students to be productive, because students are spending their time doing the exact same thing as each other.
I would like to propose that if we allowed students to work on projects that carried significance in the world, giving them the freedom to be creative, then they would no longer be bored, uninterested, and disengaged in school.
If we allowed students to learn by solving problems that don’t yet have solutions in the world, we are unleashing them to truly learn and innovate for the future. Then the teachers job is not to be the one that lectures and grades, but the one who facilitates and asks questions.
Learning by doing homework is great, but learning by changing the world is greater.
This is the cost of attending UCSD for fall quarter of 2013. That is about $14661.87 more per year than what it cost to attend the University of California in 1956, or a 17554.6% increase.
Last school year, I attempted to find out where exactly the money being paid for tuition goes, and it took me nearly two weeks of searching, talking to administrators, before I finally found it somewhat deeply embedded inside a link on Google. I couldn’t even get a breakdown of where tuition goes.
Searching for a Breakdown of Tuition
It’s much more difficult than expected to obtain such a breakdown. I thought I would be able to find it online, but it was nowhere to be found. The next logical assumption would that I would be able to find out simply by walking into the registrars office and asking the secretary. When I walked in, it was quite alarming when I found out that most of the administration didn’t even know where our money was exactly going or even where to get the information.
Not only does this illustrate the weakness and frailty of a centralized, bureaucratic system, it also illustrates that students have been brainwashed to pay money into a black box without questioning where it goes. I was probably one of very few people to ever make such a request to the secretary at the registrars office that he gave me a funny look.
Second, the fact that no one was able to provide justification for charging me $4915.29 for tuition makes me question if the money is even used efficiently. There’s probably a higher chance than not that if administrators did release this information, students would be unhappy with how much superfluous money is being spent.
So my next step was attempting to talk to someone higher up in administration authority to find out. Unfortunately, I had no idea who to contact or where to start, so I turned to the “Uncollege Network” on Facebook for help.
The responses were overwhelming. The most helpful comment by far was a comment telling me to look on IPEDS. After a quick search, I found the breakdown I was looking for. It’s available for all schools online, but here is a quick taste of what I found for UCSD.
Looking through this information, I realized a couple of things. I first realized that the core revenues added up to be about $400 million more than core expenses, meaning there is about $400 million going unrecorded.
Out of 30,070 students, 53% take some sort of a loan averaging $5003. That’s nearly $80 million dollars in loans just for UCSD students in the year of 2011.
The College Education Bubble is Bursting
Chase recently announced that beginning in October, they will no longer be issuing new student loans.
This is extremely significant, because student loan debt is, not surprisingly, over $1 trillion. Banks are realizing that the money being lent for student loans are not being paid off, so it makes little sense for banks to give out money they won’t get back.
The value of a degree has diminished while the cost of it has skyrocketed.
But something deep inside our culture and our perceived value of a degree is keeping us from letting go of it. The irony lies in the fact that most people admit that college does an inadequate job of preparing for the real world, but people still need a degree to get their “foot in the door”.
The reason why companies and culture still see a degree as valuable isn’t because it means that a person is prepared for work, it’s because they have no idea how to compare people otherwise.
College education is in real need of a revolution.
“Too often, youth are left out of conversations that impact their education and their future. We believe that when policy discussions take place, all young people deserve a seat at the table.” – Student Voice
Education is not only for students, but should be about students. However, much of the way that decisions are made in education systems have nothing to do with the benefit of the students. Most of the time, the priority of decisions in education is about what would benefit the school, regardless of whether or not it benefits the students. Decisions are made by administrators trying to market and sell their university by finding attractive ways to brag about their students.
And because of the way that the system shuffles and pushes student priorities aside to build the school brand, students are trained to simply listen to what the institution tells them in order to receive a mark of credibility from the system.
In order to bring reconciliation to such a problem in education, students must realize their voices and speak up when they are being treated as cogs, manipulated into paying unreasonable amounts of money to an institution that doesn’t help them practically. The time that students spend in school should be respected, and their voices should be heard.
Unfortunately, for most students, we have been brainwashed to the point where we don’t see the problems with education, and we have no idea how to speak up or what to speak up about.
The Student Voice Digital Backpack, a project that I have spent the last month working on, is a collection of resources that helps students learn ways they can have a voice in their education.
The role of a teacher is evolving. As industries, technologies, and the needs in the world change, so does our approach to preparing the next generation for their lives ahead of them.
In the past, teachers presented information in an organized and systematic manner in order to distribute valuable information to students. Schools were the only place that students could go to learn, because knowledge was completely centralized at the top with the elite professors and researchers. Knowledge was not freely accessible.
But teachers are no longer the ordained link between knowledge and students. Anyone with an Internet connection can access any piece of information known to mankind. In today’s world, the industry is no longer looking for workers who just follow instructions; machines are putting compliant workers out of jobs. Industries are hiring workers based upon what unique abilities they bring to the table.
Thus, we should be raising our students as individuals who are able to collaborate as classes, not as individual classes that compete as students. Students can no longer be treated as products of a factory line, because industries are no longer interested in pools of homogeneous workers.
Schools need to realize that every individual has a story, whether a teacher, student, or administrator. Schools need to realize that these stories are not disruptive to education, but highly necessary.
“What if teachers actually shared their personal stories with students who were willing to listen?” – Daniel Kao
In the most recent Student Voice chat on twitter, participants joined in on a conversation about how to give safe spaces for students and teachers to share their voice.
Among the topics that were discussed were teacher feedback, communication, discussion, and even classroom and school hierarchy. But among the chat, a thread of human connection was undeniably
“i think if students knew it had a big enough impact they would feel empowered by the responsibility” – Gabbi Morgenstern
“[Teacher]s must help create a culture of respect and invite student voice in diff ways. [Teacher]s must build relationships and know [student]s well.” – Laura Robertson
It’s nearly impossible to bring inspiring academic education to students when their basic human needs are not met. Every human has a need for relationship, trust, communication, and love. And just as companies and marketers are realizing that sales are very much an emotional decision, schools need to realize that education is also very much an emotional process.
When students are taught by a teacher who believes in them, trusts them, and wants them to achieve something above and beyond what the teacher themselves have achieved, students will naturally become more passionate and excited about learning. How would your high school experience be different if your teachers told you, “I am here to share the lessons I’ve learned so that you don’t have to make the mistakes that I did. You were born to change the world, so let me help you do that.” at the beginning of the school year?
Motivating students to succeed means more than simply giving them a reason to study. Students need to know that they matter. But it’s difficult for students to feel like they matter when they don’t have a voice. For too long, schools have been run on a one way street where teachers speak to students. But in order to foster healthy communication and a shift in academia, we must give students the opportunity to respond.
If we can’t even give our students a voice, how can we expect to give them an education?
I started blogging in the winter of 2012, mainly sharing thoughts that were on my mind about things that were relevant to the things in my life. As time went by, a thread of learning and education came up repeatedly in my posts.
Learning and education became a significant theme for me because I began noticing the deep flaws that exist inside the current education system.
As Sir Ken Robinson and many others have begun to pick up on, a very significant problem in the education system is that it is very much a factory model, importing and exporting students on a specific schedule in a specific mold. The factory model of education has not only restricted the creativity of students, but has caused the industry to refer to people as “Harvard grads” like they would an automobile brand.
But as a result of the factory model of education is the lack of emotional support for students. By default, the factory model does not allow space for students to connect to teachers on a real and human level. Occasionally students will meet a teacher that believes in them more than they believe in themselves and completely changes the student’s life, but those are few and far in between.
When a teacher plays a role deeper than simply presenting information, students are able to connect with the teacher and learn on a deeper, more powerful level. When a teacher connects with students, they help students to excel further than they themselves have, and that’s when our industries will really begin to advance.
To connect with a student looks different in different situations, but the main premise is that connecting with students means that students and teachers can see each other as human beings, and can be friends.
In high school, I had a teacher who shared her gchat with the class, and allowed us to chat with her outside of class about almost anything. As the year went on, suddenly I felt a connection to that teacher that I have never before experienced with any other teacher. It helped me to learn in her history class a lot more effectively.
Standardized testing is a very incomplete way of measuring a person’s capabilities, but the reason runs deeper than the fact that standardized testing puts students in boxes. Standardized testing ignores people as individuals, ignoring each person’s story, process, and progress.
The current system teaches students that their story doesn’t matter, who they are is irrelevant, and that the best thing to do is to be quiet and follow directions. But if we are really to raise a generation that will change the world in a positive way, we must teach students to take initiative, to lead, and to be powerful individuals.
When schools begin valuing students for their stories, experiences, and thoughts, we do more than put information in their heads; we put purpose in their lives.
Recently, as a part of a Pathways general body meeting, I got to meet the man who started the organization. Pathways, an incubator that is an organization at the University of California San Diego, helps connect students with ideas for companies with financial resources as well as mentoring.
Christopher Yin, a recent graduate from UCSD, has thoroughly thought through concepts and principles about startups, entrepreneurship, and other business practices. Being an entrepreneur who has taken big risks, the things that he has to say are undoubtedly fascinating, at the very least.
After nearly three hours of listening to Chris, here are my main takeaways.
Advice is mostly useless – Being someone who is constantly reading blogs online, watching talks and reading books, this challenged my notion of content consumption. The point is, you can’t take another person’s life and make it your own. The people, places, and circumstances will always be different no matter what, and blindly following the path that another person took makes absolutely no sense. Learn to make your own decisions based on what you know, not solely what other people tell you.
Find the one thing to go after – Don’t be a jack of all trades. Chris, being the entrepreneur who had every finger in a different company, realized that trying to do everything gave him nothing to show for anything. Trying to do a million different things left Chris with a very mediocre skill set in a large number of fields. The takeaway here is to focus on one thing at a time, and become significant and influential in that area.
Test the market – Your idea will never survive first contact with the market. The market will always respond contrary to your expectations, forcing you to change and refine your plans and ideas as time goes on. What actually happens will always turn out differently than what you envisioned. The only way to know how the market will respond is to step out and begin developing and testing your idea.
Don’t be tempted by opportunities that aren’t for you – Sometimes you will get an offer that looks appealing, but does not align with your life purpose, goals, and passions. Don’t get suckered into taking an opportunity that is not truly what you want to do. Focus on what you want to do as soon as possible, because the opportunity cost of switching gets higher the longer you wait. Dropping everything to create something new is much easier in your teens than in your thirties.
Do what you love to do – It’s easy to settle for mediocrity and get patted on the back for making conservative choices. But being yourself and standing out is much more fulfilling than being someone else and fitting in. Standing out is a risk, but so is fitting in.
Take everything people say with a grain of salt – Most of the time, people will share what worked for them and how they got to where they are today. But don’t just blindly accept everything they say as your own. Just because something worked for them doesn’t mean it was the best choice. Learn to challenge everything that people say, not in a cynical but a genuinely inquisitive way.
Everything you can learn in a class can be learned on the web – The value in school is not in the academics or in the learning. Anyone and everyone can learn to code online. Anyone and Everyone can look up resources on literally anything online. Schools are for teaching discipline, learning how to interact and deal with other human beings, and learning how to think. It’s a lot easier to test a new idea within a college community because everyone is always right around you.
Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know - One of the big challenges in working with startup companies is getting recognized by more established companies. Even if you have no idea what you’re doing, be confident in you do, and do the best work you possibly can. People will also recognize your drive, energy, and motivation to succeed.
Work with the smartest people you know – Find the smartest people you know, and work with them to produce something amazing. Do everything in your power to collaborate with them.
Think for yourself – School, culture, and tradition will always tell you what to think. The challenge is to listen to what other people have to say, but think for yourself and ultimately make your own decisions. Intentionally or not, people will occasionally say things that are twisted, incorrect, or with ulterior motives. The best thing that you can do (even while reading this list) is to think for yourself.
The biggest problem with schools isn’t the industrial system of standardization that most education reformers are saying. The industrial system is a big problem, but the problem of the industrial system is rooted in a much deeper problem.
The deeper underlying reason then, is that most of the time students aren’t given a motivating reason to attend school.
In the a video that recently went viral, Jeff Bliss stands up in the classroom to a teacher that wasn’t teaching effectively. Bliss, like any other high school student in the United States, didn’t see the point in doing worksheets.
Telling students that attending school gives them a better future isn’t a sufficient reason.
What students need isn’t a reason, but passion and purpose. When a student finds their passion and purpose, and isn’t afraid to fully go after it, students can learn no matter what system they find themselves in. Having a passion and purpose will allow students to make their own reasons for learning in every situation.
But instead of helping students cultivate passion and purpose, schools bombard students with a system that doesn’t value who they are as individuals, forcing everyone into one size regardless of who they are.
Not many students will care whether their school looks like a factory or not, but every student is looking for passion and purpose in life that they can spend their lives learning and doing.
It’s time the system stopped neglecting that.