I haven’t posted for a while, but well, I’ve been thinking a lot about stuff, and watching a lot of TED Talks, as well as reading Seth Godin’s blog a lot, so this is going to be quite a long post, and there’ll be a lot of references to various TED talks, as well as Seth Godin.

Watching the TED Talks helped me really realise something. It showed me how uninspiring school really is, especially in today’s culture. I’m learning a lot from watching these talks, and I’m being much more inspired than school ever made me. Has education today really become that dry? Ken Robinson in his talk (and I recommend you watch it) thinks so, and I personally agree with him. And I admit I haven’t thought about why, but I think his explanation seems really plausible. Education and the school system started out to train workers for industry. Another reason for this, I think, is the culture of immediacy in today’s society. Those of you who know me will know that this has been on my mind for quite a while. And I believe this is one of the huge failings of today’s education. From young, kids are trained for immediate results. They’re faced with countless assignments in an insanely short period of time. It’s all about learning the fastest way possible, and not the best way possible. They want the fastest results, and then if possible the best ones they can get (in that time). The emphasis is always on quantity not quality. Education today seems focused solely on helping students to get a job as quickly as possible once they leave the system. This is not what education should be. Education should be about the process, not the result. But maybe that’s unrealistic in today’s results based society. But you can’t fault one for dreaming, can you?

A direct result of this culture of immediate results is mediocrity in students, well-roundedness. Students want jobs as fast as possible, and the best way of ensuring that is to not take risks, to ensure they can do everything decently. There’s this emphasis in today’s culture (even in the school which I was from, which was supposed to be a specialised school) on well-roundedness, being a well-rounded student. While I agree well-roundedness can be a useful trait, for example being able to socialise well as well as being academically capable, the extent to which education is doing it is unnecessary, and possible harmful. Hasn’t basic economics shown us that specialisation is on a whole more effective than trying to be good at everything? Sure, basic chemistry or biology is useful to a pursuit of physics, for example. But is a college level understanding really necessary? I highly doubt it. What it does, at least in my opinion, is one of two things. Taking the physics vs chem/bio example from earlier, one of two things could happen. The student could improve his chemistry or biology knowledge (areas which he never intends to go into and has little interest in, but does out of necessity) but he would be hindered in his pursuit of physics. Yes, he’ll probably still go far in physics, but had he truly been able to focus his attention on it, he would probably go further. A second possible outcome is that he doesn’t bother about the other two subjects and focuses on his area of passion. And how are these outcomes viewed? The first is generally viewed as better by society. Even in secondary education today, triple science students are more highly valued by society than double science students. What this encourages is mediocrity, being average in everything, instead of being exceptional in one thing. Kids (and the people in education) need to realise that in order to do something exceptionally, sometimes we have to quit other things, and focus our energy on just one task (as said in Seth Godin’s new book, which I’m eagerly anticipating the release of).

In the words of Seth Godin, “We’ve been taught that fitting in is far better than standing out, and that good enough is good enough.

Which might have been fine in a company town, but doesn’t work so well in a winner-take-all world. Now, the benefits that accrue to someone who is the best in the world are orders of magnitude greater than the crumbs they save for the average. No matter how hard working the average may be.

I’ve never met anyone… anyone… who needed to settle for being average. Best is a slot that’s available to everyone, somewhere.” (from http://sethgodin.typepad.com/the_dip/2007/03/index.html)

I personally tend to agree with Seth Godin’s view. What we need are leaders, innovators, people who will take risks to step out and go further than others. It’s only then that society will develop, that society will improve. But this is not going to happen if we train our kids and youths to be afraid of failure, to want immediate short term results. It’s not going to happen if we grade students on everything that they do. This form of grading, this system of education, will only encourage students to not discover new methods, to not push the boundaries, and to just settle into the status quo of doing things the way they are told to. I can’t help but imagine that if Edison was in today’s society, in our society, the light would never have been invented. Can you seriously imagine anyone in our society doing something over and over again, attempting (and failing) something 100 times before succeeding? I can’t. Today’s students would probably try once or twice, and after they failed, just give up, and not pursue it anymore. Van Gogh didn’t sell a single painting while alive. In today’s society, he would probably have given up on art because the immediate results were not seen. More examples can probably be found, but basically, I think it’s painfully obvious that without risk, that with the focus on immediacy, true progress will never be made. To really do something significant, one has to be patient and take a risk. Unfortunately, today, immediacy is rated so highly that no one is willing to do that. Kids are trained not to take risks anymore, but to do what is tried and tested, so they can get definite results. The only problem with this approach is that the results, while definite, will be merely mediocre.

Practicality hinders progress sometimes, as to progress, to be revolutionary, we have to take the risk and go beyond what’s been done before, to go beyond what’s known and try something new. To be significant, you have to step out and do something that seems impractical or unreasonable (Seth Godin again). But today, practicality is valued so much that nobody seems to be willing to take that step out. Nobody is willing to be different. Galileo was placed under house arrest because he dared to go against the norm and say that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe, and isn’t it great that he dared to? Who in today’s world will have the courage to do something like that? Barely anyone, in my opinion.

Another effect of this culture of immediacy is the rush it brings to everyone’s life. It’s disheartening to see my peers all working so hard, all being caught up in the mad rush of homework and tests and such. Our society does not know how to slow down, and even the kids are hurting from it. This process of slowing down (that’s another TED talk) is something we really need to do. We’re in this rush for immediate results in everything, and I believe it’s hurting the quality of our lives. Even kids have no time to sit back and enjoy life. Is it any wonder then that inspiration is hardly found, that more often than not, people find lives dry and uninspiring, that nobody is inspired to do anything significant. The inspiration is there, no one is given the time to look for it.

There’s a lot more that I want to say about various other topics, but I think this post is long enough, and I’ll save the other stuff for another day. I would encourage you guys to just sit back and slow down in life, but few would listen, and few would have think that they can, that it’s out of their hands. But just because society views it as better does not mean that we have to follow it. If nobody takes the risk of stepping out, society will never change. I guess that’s my basic point, we need to be willing to take risks in order to make a difference. And today’s education system does not encourage risk-taking, in fact it discourages it. And in doing so, I believe we’re in fact hindering the progress of society. There are potentially great thinkers in today’s generation, but they are being “educated out of creativity” as Ken Robinson so aptly put it. They are being educated out of innovation, and out of taking risks, and surely that is not a good sign for society.