The Goals of Education

February 2, 2009

"To what extent do our schools serve the goals of a true education?" To answer this question requires defining what the "goals of a true education" really are. I don't believe there is any one specific goal, so answering this question requires analyzing education from several angles.

One commonly-stated purpose of education is to prepare students for the "real world" - to "succeed" in the "maze of life." No doubt, the many years of schooling have an impact on a student's knowledge and the student therefore learns some things which may be useful in the workplace. After all, common perception says that students need to graduate from college in order to "be successful." But the complete truth is not so straightforward. Students spend thousands of hours studying topics that have no practical use in the vast majority of fields. The skills that have practical use only account for the fraction of the skills required in an occupation. And unfortunately, contrary to popular belief, the average student who graduates college makes only a little more than an average starting salary.

A prime example of the practical (or rather impractical) state of learning is personal finance. College students typically graduate with a large amount of debt that they must immediately pay back by working a job. Yet little personal finance education is provided, if at all.

Another goal of education is to teach students how to socialize and communicate - both informally and later professionally. Without teamwork and interacting with others in school, students have a hard time succeeding later in life. This is a major reason for perfecting writing styles and learning new vocabulary. Then why is it that the time students used to have for talking with friends is being cut shorter and shorter even when socialization with peers has been proven to be more effective at building vocabulary than traditional curricula? Why is it that socialization no longer means learning the behaviors of other human beings and communicating but instead obeying the rules and standing in line?

By harming socialization, school kills creativity and reasoning. School instills fear, overwhelming students with the possibility of getting a bad grade. Unnecessary control, brainwashing, and discouragement harm the possibility of independent thought by teaching a mindset of conformity, measured through grades and tests. Those who do not conform destroy their chances of "future success" at a good university.

To a pessimist school is designed so that people will listen and obey when their boss yells at them and tells them to work overtime. It's no wonder that a vast number of billionaires were high school and college dropouts.[*] To another pessimist school brainwashes students to conform and support corporate and political agendas. Why else would the pledge of allegiance be forced upon students at such an early age, when they don't even understand its words?

Perhaps this is all for the "greater good of society." It's true: the whole job of schools is not to teach students basic facts and useful skills. The most fundamental mission of schools is to teach students to be good citizens and good neighbors - to cooperate with others who need their help. School does teach students ways of life that benefit society as a whole, for example by promoting recycling. A classic example is the sharing that school promotes, which the business world does not. Since school is about promoting the goodness of basic human nature, money is of secondary importance, and school should not teach how to become the richest person. But even for the "greater good," educational organizations are easily allowed to be manipulated. Besides harming creativity and independent thought, schools often (unintentionally and unknowingly) follow big business with the mindset that teaching the ways of big business is necessary for student success in the "real world" of big business. And this is true - assuming success means receiving a job in which the former student is manipulated by corporate executives who, while workers are laid off, receive ever-increasing salaries of hundreds of times the average workers' salary. Does it ever occur to most schools that they don't need to and perhaps shouldn't only teach their students the way of the biggest company in a field when alternatives exist? School administrators often claim Microsoft software has to be taught because it's "the industry standard." What they don't realize is that teaching proprietary software condones a consume- consume mentality (rather than a creative, intellectual, or independent mentality) and that their argument is baseless because the software in ten years will be so different that only a few concepts - like restricting rights through licenses - will be relevant.

But even at the root level, current curricula has a fundamental flaw. Concepts are introduced, covered very quickly, and then left behind because it's time to move on to the next concept. This teaches students to memorize useless facts for a test. After rushing through and concentrating on memorizing facts, equations, and concepts for tests, the student loses any real intellectual interest. Focusing on the "concepts" doesn't help either because it means memorizing opinions, which is even worse than memorizing facts. Material learned through current methods is quickly forgotten when it's no longer necessary for grades. With a loss in interest and a loss in knowledge, current education has not had the long-term positive impact I think it should have.


  • Bill Gates is the richest man in the world. He dropped out of Harvard to work on Microsoft.

  • Paul Allen founded Microsoft along with Bill Gates. He attended Washington State University, and dropped out in his sophomore year.

  • Michael Dell made his billions by building computers. According to one of his teachers, "he'll never go anywhere in life." Dell attended the University of Texas at Austin, but dropped out to custom-build and sell computers.

  • Donald Newhouse built his family business into a publishing and television giant, including Vanity Fair, Glamour, and The Learning Channel. Don Newhouse dropped out of Syracuse University.

  • François Pinault owns the Gucci brand and has owned Samsonite luggage. Pinault dropped out of high school.

  • Jack Taylor founded and owns Enterprise Rent-A-Car. He dropped out of Washington University to join the Navy.

  • Steve Jobs, of Apple, dropped out of Reed College in Portland, Oregon after only one semester.

  • David Murdock owns Dole Food Company (including the Dole pineapple). Murdock dropped out of high school.

  • Ralph Lauren of . . . well isn't it obvious? He dropped out of the City College of New York after two years.

  • Sir Richard Branson owns the Virgin brand, including Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Radio, Virgin Music, and Virgin Books, and over 60 others. He never finished high school.