How Education is Ruining Your Life

Since the industrial revolution it has been widely assumed that sustained economic production is best arranged through corporations. After all, corporations are the only entities capable of acquiring and operating the capital-intensive means of production required in an industrialized state.

Because of the reliance on the corporation, we set out to design an educational system in its mirror image. The linear journey from first to twelfth grade, then bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees systematized learning in a way that turned people into interchangeable parts and valued mobility.

Attainment of the highest grades of education confers the ability to teach within it, for anyone so dedicated to the educational treadmill is preselected to share its values.

The large scale corporation upon which our industrial educational system has been built no longer exists as it once did in the United States. However, we continue to build cogs for this machine as though nothing has changed.

Death of the Corporation

When large scale corporations first came to be, they were built around the idea that people can achieve more by investing together than they can alone. This is intuitively obvious when you consider that the endeavors they were undertaking were things like railroads and shipbuilding.

Through World War II and into the 1970’s, most large corporations had balance sheets to match: they used big iron, or made big iron. But starting particularly in the 1980’s, corporations started to be more about ideas than about capital, and the challenge turned to removing things from the balance sheet. Winning corporations maximized profit on minimal assets (and liabilities). Production (big iron) was moved to China, Mexico, and elsewhere and off of balance sheets.

The logical conclusion of a process like this is an Enron or a Goldman Sachs; one built predominantly on ideas and on trading, with almost no physical assets. The bulk of the workers we were producing with our educational system might be suited for a job at GM, while Enron needed every last PhD to keep its web of trades flowing. And it turned out that in the end neither GM or Enron was a long term proposition.

So here we sit with the same educational system we had in 1910 producing people for the economy of 2010, when the economic landscape has obviously shifted dramatically.

The Lie of Mobility

Think 1955. If your father was told, “Bill, we’re transferring you to Kansas City,” he went. And off you’d all go, uprooting children from schools, breaking apart extended family, divorcing people from a personal understanding of place. But this was all OK, and in service of a great big beautiful tomorrow! Corporations borrowed the idea of “transfer” from the military, and as much as the “transferees” might not have always enjoyed it, they endured it because they were convinced that corporations (like the military) were a kind of higher calling.

Fifth grade in Kansas City was pretty much the same as fifth grade in Boston. People adjusted. And they forgot about their previous home, or at least came to not miss it, like an animal being sent to market learns to adjust along the journey.

After graduation from high school, you’re faced with a “choice of college.” You’re asked inane questions about what you want to study (unanswerable at that age), shown some brochures, and make a fundamentally random choice about where you want to spend the next four years of your life. And you go. And you study something (probably not what you set out to study). And it’s OK. You meet people, and your life takes some path.

Regardless of the particulars of whether you get a job doing what you studied or when that actually happens (it often doesn’t), one thing is true: by this time in your life you’ve probably been uprooted once or more and had your home ties effectively severed.

Our educational system is designed to promote an ersatz fungibility of place and to denigrate people’s relationship to extended family by offering instead a false idol of corporate, industrial superiority. The fact is that place is a kind of human right, as is extended family. Any system that asks you to devalue a relationship with place or with extended family is evil.

It might be arguable that at one time, the educational system combined with its corporate industrial twin provided better overall outcomes for more people than the agrarian model that preceded it, but it does not logically follow that a new model cannot supplant the current one. This is particularly true when the corporate landscape is now more corporate than it is industrial and the emphasis has turned to creativity and ideas over machining and production.

The idea that place is fungible is one that belongs squarely in the last model and should be jettisoned going forward.

Why We Are Susceptible to Manipulation

Behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman suggests that we have two selves: an experiencing self and a remembering self. The experiencing self perceives the world in the here and now. Your experiencing self lives in the present and is happiest spending time around people you like. The surfer who just lives to be out in the waves is primarily existing through her experiencing self. The experiencing self, it turns out, can be happy just about anywhere and in any weather. Just find people you like and the rest follows.

The remembering self is another animal. The remembering self cares about story, and about appearances. According to Kahneman, your remembering self might trick you into taking a two week vacation instead of a one-week vacation because that’s a better story, but in fact you remember them pretty much the same way because there were not many “new” experiences in the additional time spent.

Your remembering self cares about money and mobility deeply. Why? No one wants to be remembered as the person who “didn’t do anything with their life.” Getting rich and moving around a lot adds dramatic, tangible plot-points to your story, which comforts your remembering self greatly. But your experiencing self can easily be less happy. What if you are unable to turn your money into people you enjoy spending time with? What if you move away from the people and places that bring you joy?

Is it so hard to see now why so many wealthy, jet-setting people are unhappy and commit suicide? Their remembering selves have spun great stories; their experiencing selves are miserable.

A Path Forward

Creativity researcher Sir Ken Robinson suggests that we need to reinvent our educational system upon a more agricultural model, rather than the industrial model. I’m not totally sure what that means yet, but I do agree that in the developed world we must adopt these values:

  • Creativity is valued
  • Learning is non-linear
  • Gifted children have a place to excel
  • Many learning styles are celebrated
  • Children are not medicated for ADHD and the like
  • Children have a right to fresh, whole food
  • Place is valued and cherished
  • Regions become self-sufficient

There is an emerging emphasis on regional innovation and regional self-sufficiency as an economic development strategy; this is a good start. But the long term task is to invent entirely new models for life-long education. What we’re doing now is building cogs with very particular defects for a machine that no longer exists.


#1 avdi on 02.15.10 at 4:22 pm

About a zillion thumbs up. As someone who has always been on the outside of the schooling establishment (homeschooled from birth and homeschooling/unschooling), I find it perennially amazing that most people accept the deeply arbitrary way the American education system works as the way education works, period.

Unfortunately, the education establishment is harder to uproot than perhaps any other edifice. It's not just that it's an entrenched, politicized, moneyed monoculture. It's that it is in a unique position to normalize itself and control the terms of the education debate. Most people, if they question the forms of education at all, question it within parameters that the system itself has set – should we pay teachers more or less? (not: should we have teachers?). Should we reward them based on seniority or test scores (not: do academic scores correlate with life satisfaction?). Should we teach dance or mathematics? (not: should teach, or facilitate natural learning?). Because the industrial schooling model is inculcated from an early age, most people don't even think to question the basic structural elements of it.

#2 Bob Smith on 02.15.10 at 6:31 pm

I agree with many of your points, especially those listed in the final section. However, I strongly disagree with this:
“…denigrate people’s relationship to extended family by offering instead a false idol of corporate, industrial superiority.”
A family member recently left for college. By that time, he was more than ready to leave the house. He still visits home regularly.
My issue with this article is this: While I have seen some of the problems you mention, you provide little/no evidence for the rest.
The type of learning you suggest at the end is something that could never become institutionalized.

#3 David Troy on 02.15.10 at 6:46 pm

Bob, it is easy to try to poke holes in this argument by pointing to individual examples. Surely there are people who have flourished in (or in spite of) our current system. That it is survivable doesn't make it optimal.

What I am arguing about is the design of the system, and the morality of its design. I believe it is designed to produce outcomes that are fundamentally immoral, and beyond that, ill-suited to the challenges we face today.

As for evidence and additional argument, these are things that I intend to offer in subsequent blog posts. In the meantime, if we want to debate, let's debate about how our system should be designed.

Lastly, I am not suggesting that people shouldn't “move out of the house,” but am instead suggesting that a society made up of people who are systematically divorced from connections to place is one that makes poor governance decisions and I will illustrate that point in detail in an upcoming post.

#4 Gorm Casper on 02.15.10 at 6:48 pm

Dave, I agree with most of what you say, but – and maybe it's because I'm not from the U.S. – I think you're making it sound worse than it is. If you're not working in the educational field however, and all you read and hear is what the news has to say, then of course you will be misinformed. Let me comment directly on a few of your bullet points:

* Creativity is valued (It already is! More than anything. I agree it should be valued and nurtured even more, but I don't think that we aren't. You can say that standardized tests does not reward creativity, and I would agree with you.. let's get rid of such nonsense. But on a whole, creativity is certainly valued. One of the worst things that has happened in this regard for US education, was the “No child left behind” law; and I'm doing everything I can for Denmark not to follow along.)
* Gifted children have a place to excel (I am not saying you are wrong here, but areas where this has been attempted, has had a drop in average performance. So we should be very careful in how we go about this and what it is we wish to accomplish.)
* Many learning styles are celebrated (Variation in teaching methods has been shown again and again to be good. But there's a whole industry about “many intelligences” and so on, that is best just ignored (ie. read other stuff instead). They're expensive, inefficient, and really does not add a whole lot. Research confirms this.)

@Avdi, Some of the major questions within this field are close to those you ask for. For instance: What's the role of a teacher with the emerging technologies? (to which the answer of course can be “none”). Or what should the school be teaching kids? (Basic skills in subjects like math, German, and so on? How to learn? How to function in today's society? — Robinson btw. has a great point on this, that we don't what the future looks like). To simply state that these questions are not being asked is wrong and ignorant. No, they are not the topic of TV shows or political speeches (especially not in the U.S.), but they *are* being asked and they *are* being addressed.

#5 David Troy on 02.15.10 at 6:57 pm

Gorm, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

I would suggest that things are worse in the US than perhaps you realize, and that things in Denmark may be a good deal better.

For the record, while I do not work in the education industry, my family participated in the formation of a K-8 school in 1980 which I attended from 1980-1985; I saw a lot of the inside of the industry and have some limited first hand experience on what makes a school work.

That aside, please don't mistake my bullet points as examples of things that “are not being done” which “need to be done”; that's not how I intend it.

Rather I am thinking of this as a design problem and offering those key values as design constraints for a new approach.

I think a key problem is how we get from where we are to a new approach, and I submit that this is extremely hard to do. I am not sure that the existing educational establishment has the ability to change itself.

It's quite likely that new models need to be developed external to the existing system that expose the old models to some level of creative destruction. The trick is how to do this in a moral fashion. I do not know the answer.

#6 Gorm Casper on 02.15.10 at 7:44 pm

Yes, I like your approach. It's more constructive than I first thought.

I think there is hope however. At least that is what I see. Things *are* moving, but there will be no revolution anytime soon. And in my opinion, that's a good thing. Evolution is better – although I also wish it would be faster.

I don't know the right answer either.. maybe you are right. External systems. The world coming and knocking very hard on the established educational system's door. It might very well be the case. 🙂

#7 avdi on 02.15.10 at 8:41 pm

Gorm, I said “most people don't even think to question the basic structural elements of it”. Are you saying that most people ARE asking these questions? Do you really believe that? Because I think it's pretty clear that while some academics may ask these questions, the vast majority of people never question the basic structural forms (centralization, class stratification, periodization, didacticism) of schooling, and those things are *definitely* not a part of the national political education debate. That debate seems to center around details like how much of the year kids spend in school (see Obama's recent statements).

#8 abachman on 02.15.10 at 8:48 pm

I can't recommend Ivan Illich's “Deschooling Society” enough (full text:…, on Amazon:…).

It's the foundation for much of John Holt's and John Taylor Gatto's opinions on education and society. They tend towards “education is dangerous in any quantity”, but are worth reading. I started with Holt's Teach Your Own (…) and Gatto's “The Seven Lesson School Teacher” (

It also is at the root of the Network of Learning pattern in “A Pattern Language”. I wrote a bit about this on my blog (…). My current opinion is that the changes you're looking for won't happen in the large, but in the small.

I believe that an educational system that changes the way things work for everyone will look much the same as what we have now. Public education is industrialized, would it really be better if it was modernized? In your own observation of the changes associated with the progression to a post-industrial economy, you see that the logical endpoint of corporate-ism is Enron and Goldman Sachs. As long as we're trying to force education through the same mold (must: be large scale, work for everyone, maximize returns), the end result will be the same.

That's a big reason why I've pulled my kids out of it. I don't want them to get the Enron experience, which appears to be the best the system can offer.

In the words of John Holt, “My concern is not to improve “education” but to do away with it, to end the ugly and antihuman business of people-shaping and let people shape themselves.”

I don't want to spend my time education bashing, though. I don't want to base the decisions I make for my children on a negative, “we do what we do because of what we are not doing” doesn't make sense, long-term. Like I think you're saying, I'd rather be looking for better ways to bring my kids up to be fully functional, healthy, capable, smart, wise, happy adults. I happen to be looking to create my own systems and networks for that task, though, instead of looking to someone else to provide them for me.

That is, building on what is good and positive in the place where I am, I want to provide my kids (and any others that I can influence) with the opportunities and experiences that will best allow them to flourish, since the existing systems provided for that purpose (public and private education facilities) are grossly inadequate to the task.

(sorry if this is a re-post, disqus isn't showing me my original comment in context)

#9 David Troy on 02.15.10 at 9:01 pm

Adam – thanks for the thoughtful comments. As mentioned, a lot of what I presented in this post is foundational for later arguments that I intend to make about regionalism and regional self-sufficiency.

I agree that it's important not to define one's actions strictly in the negative, and whenever schooling is turned into a political discussion I think everyone loses. Learning should not be turned into a cudgel of yet another round of culture wars.

In my own case, I have ended up sending my kids to private schools that I think do an excellent job of nurturing my kids' particular character. That costs some money, but I think on balance and combined with all we do at home is a good solution. Good education costs money any way you slice it: through tuition, time spent on the task, or in home values to “purchase” a free public school. There's no free pass.

In the end, I will not argue that any systemic change is realistic right now, only highlighting that the system as designed is deeply flawed and that new models of regional self-reliance might be worth investment.

So I guess I am tackling the problem in reverse: if the current system produces certain effects, and those effects are stupid, let's aim towards effects that make sense, and that will in turn eventually lead to a change in the underlying system.

Stay tuned for the next post.

#10 Alex Cornwell on 02.15.10 at 9:24 pm

I love everything about this article, although there is one point which I should be elaborated upon:

Children should not be medicated for ADHD, but as they change into adults, they should be given some type of amphetamine in order to be productive. ADHD in an adult has symptoms kind of like an exacerbated laziness and the medications really help.

#11 David Troy on 02.15.10 at 9:28 pm

I am sure there are particular cases where any one of a number of medical approaches can be applied ethically and productively.

But a simple question: Where will we get the world's supply of drummers? Of manic artists? Of radically different thinkers?

I just watched “Temple Grandin” and she was way out of the box as a thinker; the education system did everything it could to reject her but she found a way through.

Instead of trying to medicate away intellectual diversity, we need to find ways to amplify and celebrate it.

#12 Gorm Casper on 02.15.10 at 9:45 pm

Avdi, yes; I'm in a bit over my head here, as I don't really deal with US education. (I have absolutely no idea about or interest in what Obama has to say on the matter for instance). But let's be honest here, most no one knows very much about these things. It's a highly political topic, so they think they do; but they don't. They read whatever the news feed them, and that's it.

I'm saying that people who works with these things on a daily basis definitely *are* asking these questions. Absolutely. At least that is my experience. If you include everyone and their dog in “most people”, then I couldn't agree with you more. But just as no chemical engineer would expect me to have anything valuable to say about the chemical composition of paint, I wouldn't expect him or her to have anything valuable to say on this. I can only applaud that you want them to… and that you want them to participate in the debate. But “most people” simply do not have sufficient knowledge about the topic to do so.

It's not the revolution that you seem to want, but isn't it something, when some schools are experimenting with being full-day schools? Or when a school is created entirely on the principle of “many intelligences”? I don't always agree with the direction the experimentation is going, but I do recognize it as trying out new forms. Baby steps. Small incremental changes… just programming or web design. 🙂

#13 Alicia Rodriguez on 02.15.10 at 10:33 pm

David, thanks for your comments. I think there is a fundamental larger question to be asked that might inform a new LEARNING system (vs. education system). What is the future that we are educating our children for? Our current educational system has worked to produce the kinds of followers that most organizations require – cogs in the wheel. That has been the past. But we are moving toward a future that is highly ambiguous and that requires what I call High Velocity Thinking – TGV for the brain. We are doing poorly in terms of looking through the lens of what is required to be learned to meet that future and instead our system of education is tethered to self-motivated agendas (public schools meeting test scores) instead of a collaborative approach to learning and teaching that actively involves stakeholders.

My son is in public school even though his Dad is a principal at a private high school. (We can't afford the tuition – that's an irony!) He takes a test and scores 90% but when I ask what he learned he tells me he got a 90%. I ask him questions and discover he is a genius – at playing the system – but hasn't learned much at all.

I think our values are skewed to “getting the right answer” instead of asking “what are some possible answers, some diverse ways of looking at problems and situations”. This is beyond education- it is in our culture.

A better approach might be incorporating more dialogue and inquiry (divergent thinking) into all our systems to access the best thinking and most creativity. Not all kids learn the same or look at any given problem from the same point of view. Instead of harnessing the imagination of a child, we drug them or guilt them into following rules that no longer make any sense. Little wonder that as adults they may check out. Or on the positive side, become amazing entrepreneurs because there has been no place for them in traditional organizations.

Moving to convergent thinking and action after tapping all domains of learning (intellectual, emotional, somatic, spiritual/meaning making) stands to bring out the best in children and adults. We tend to put the cart before the horse.

#14 Mr. Mr. on 02.15.10 at 11:24 pm

I like my browser set this way.

#15 jcromartie on 02.15.10 at 11:34 pm

I was about to comment that this really reminded me of Deschooling Society, but you beat me to it. I'd be surprised if David hasn't read it yet.

#16 Blake Jennelle on 02.15.10 at 11:36 pm

Dave you are pulling together strands from so many disciplines here, it's like watching fireworks. You have a new subscriber!

Not sure if you've read Seth Godin's new book Linchpin — if not, I think you would like it. He talks about the same economic shift you are noticing and how the education system and our expectations around career are lagging behind.

#17 Alex Cornwell on 02.15.10 at 11:43 pm

I do see your point in eliminating the problem of a dormant mind at its roots.

I just don't believe that medications like dextroamphetamine conflict with intellectual diversity. It simply stimulates those with little motivation to be a producer. People who take these drugs aren't in a category of dormant, robot-like minds. You seem to have confused them with pot heads! Drummers and manic artists are usually on a cocktail of illegal substances.

There is a large population of recent college graduates who are far beyond their roots, and are in need of inspiration – at any level. What can we do for them?

When I ask people why they haven't considered making their ideas come to life as an entrepreneur, artist, etc, they describe financial burdens as an excuse.

Give some financial slack to entrepreneurs: Start your business now and Barack Obama will send you a low interest loan and an autographed Lamborghini!

#18 betaphi on 02.15.10 at 11:53 pm

Hi Dave

In graduate school I had to design a classroom of the future. I based my classroom on an effective model I'd seen used with our district's teen parent program. These girls were given a syllabus showing what they were expected to complete by the end of a grading period. Because of morning sickness, doctor appointments, work, etc. they were given the freedom to come and go at their discretion and to work at their own rate on whatever content they chose. The work was all online, and it was geared toward 80% mastery, which required them to actually learn the content before they could proceed. They could get input from each other or from the lab teacher, who served as a facilitator/manager rather than instructor.

It worked unbelievably well. Because they were actually learning, their self-esteem soared. They weren't under any real pressure, nor was the educator in charge.

Online education might not work for every student, but it would be nice to have it as an option for those who need to go faster or slower in order to optimize their learning experience. So many high school students have jobs these days. Satellite centers should be available in every community where students could come and go and work online at their own rate. With fewer educators to pay, the centers could afford to stay open much later than regular schools.

I've been scoring SAT essays for the past five years. Students are honest in their essays because their anonymity is assured. Many of them express exasperation with the sit down/shut up/do your work methodology that goes all the way back to the Boston Latin School of 1635. You'd think that in almost 400 years of schooling children, we would have come upon some better ways to go about it, but public education has not fundamentally changed even with the advent of computers.

In another course, I had to work with a group of teachers to design a school of the future. My group saw little change apart from green belts and better food. I imagined community centers where people of all ages come to learn, and four pods around the center where one could chose to work on mind, body, spirit, or . . . I forget the other one. Figuring out how to fix education is difficult; actually fixing it will be even harder because it will require slow, incremental change over time. I see this as a job for the private sector.

#19 David Troy on 02.16.10 at 12:40 am

I've not yet, but it's in my queue to check out. As I've alluded to earlier, much of what I wrote in this post was to lay some groundwork for some later arguments, and my primary interest is in regional self-sufficiency.

Thanks for the leads; will definitely be taking them into account.

#20 Darrell on 02.16.10 at 2:14 am

A lot of pop psychology here.

* Creativity is valued

Yet nearly every teacher appreciates the more creative, engaged students.

* Learning is non-linear

…which will produce people who cannot think clearly? This goal makes no sense. Is that intentional? I would love to see the nonlinear job talk that lands someone a job.

* Gifted children have a place to excel

Gifted children have this funny way of turning every opportunity into an advantage for themselves; the less-than-gifted do not. Are the gifted students really the top priority here?

* Many learning styles are celebrated

“Learning styles” are a myth. For the best current research, see Pashler, H. McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork R. (2008) in a very readable paper titled “Learning styles: Concepts and evidence,” in Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

* Children are not medicated for ADHD and the like

You realize of course that parents put children on medication, not schools.

* Children have a right to fresh, whole food

More pop psychology. What research has tied “whole” food to educational outcomes?

* Place is valued and cherished
* Regions become self-sufficient

Your emphasis on relocation is overstated. The vast majority of people do not move out of their immediate area, and when they do, they usually do it once temporarily (to college and back). The problem you are describing is one that applies only to the upper class.

#21 David Troy on 02.16.10 at 2:37 am

These bullet point suggestions are not suggested to be criticisms of the current system as much as design constraints for a new, future model.

It may well be that much of my criticisms apply to students in the upper-middle class. If that is true (which I do not believe), I do not accept the notion that this makes them somehow less valid.

With respect to food and education, look at the work that Tony Geraci is doing in Baltimore city schools. Real food helps kids succeed. Sugar-laden processed garbage creates secondary health conditions and affects attention and behavior.

#22 Sean Tierney on 02.16.10 at 5:49 am


Agreed that we're clinging to a legacy educational system that was originally designed to output factory workers. The product of that antiquated system is not what we need anymore- in fact we need the exact opposite today: highly-differentiated, creative individuals.

Instead of teachers as blacksmiths tasked with smelting down students to a common substance and then hammering them into cookie-cutter shapes we need teachers as banzai tree sculptors who observe and work with students to draw out and accentuate their strengths. They should help celebrate and amplify their differences and encourage discovery and experimentation.

I wrote an essay a few months back on this topic with some proposals on concrete things we can do to make this transition:


#23 avdi on 02.16.10 at 1:24 pm

Unfortunately, in the US at least, a form of your argument is used to shut down educational debate. You say of non-educator “I wouldn't expect him or her to have anything valuable to say on this”. Well, here it's assumed that the only people “qualified” to discuss these questions are professional educators, and the professional educators are the ones who are the most invested in the status quo. It's very rare for a professional educator to question the system that guarantees him or her a job for life. It happens (See e.g. John Gatto), but it's unusual.

#24 gregorylent on 02.16.10 at 4:46 pm

ivan illich, deschooling society, from, maybe, 1972? … lots of people since, know about education, but change is not in the cards … ever? i dunno, the mass-consciousness is paralyzed, and the smart ones cannot get through the inertia

#25 Moving Away from Joy » EppsNet: Notes from the Golden Orange on 02.16.10 at 6:14 pm

[…] Your remembering self cares about money and mobility deeply. Why? No one wants to be remembered as the person who “didn’t do anything with their life.” Getting rich and moving around a lot adds dramatic, tangible plot-points to your story, which comforts your remembering self greatly. But your experiencing self can easily be less happy. What if you are unable to turn your money into people you enjoy spending time with? What if you move away from the people and places that bring you joy? — Dave Troy […]

#26 willbradley on 02.16.10 at 5:37 pm

With regard to the vast majority of American K-12 students, I would say that creativity is not truly valued nor are gifted children truly given a place to excel. The institutions may (if you're are extremely lucky) pay lip-service to these by creating a “special program” for such things, but by and large the most-valued thing in these institutions is controlling its students (i.e. “keeping them off drugs”) and thus shying away from free-form exploration and creativity which is (rightfully) seen as contrary to the education system. Thus I find institutional education necessarily lacking since the institution can't cope with (or effectively support) a hundred thousand decade-long apprenticeships.

#27 willbradley on 02.16.10 at 5:38 pm

With regard to the vast majority of American K-12 students, I would say that creativity is not truly valued nor are gifted children truly given a place to excel. The institutions may (if you're are extremely lucky) pay lip-service to these by creating a “special program” for such things, but by and large the most-valued thing in these institutions is controlling its students (i.e. “keeping them off drugs”) and thus shying away from free-form exploration and creativity which is (rightfully) seen as contrary to the education system. Thus I find institutional education necessarily lacking since the institution can't cope with (or effectively support) a hundred thousand decade-long apprenticeships.

#28 Courtney on 02.17.10 at 4:19 pm

I have been thinking about this quite a bit lately, and you shed insight on a piece of the puzzle that was missing for me. Of course, I think you must read Ivan Illich! Please check out my blog if you are interested in this topic. (In today's post I incorporate your idea about school's lag behind the transition from an industrial economy to an information economy). Cheers, and keep on writing!

#29 John Chiochetti on 02.18.10 at 3:30 am

“How is Education Ruining your Life”…maybe a bit more dire than I would say, but there is a problem with the process of education in this society. The constant rising expectation of achievement for all is compressing the educational system; where years ago having a High School Diploma was a ticket to a solid working class future and the idea of a college education was the path to achieve creative and excellence above the norm…today a College Degree is the price of admission to even entry level jobs; many college graduates working jobs that in the past were filled with high school graduates and even those without the diploma.

The result is a manufacturing mindset applied to secondary and post secondary education. The resulting forced expectation has squeezed the creativity and inspiration from education…replacing it with standard, productized students who know how to execute the minimum acceptable procedures of a certain discipline. This is most rampant and disturbing in engineering and science education.

#30 The changing nature of work « Andrew Spittle on 02.18.10 at 12:58 pm

[…] goes along with a thought I had after reading Dave Troy’s piece a couple days ago about how “we continue to build cogs for this machine as though nothing has […]

#31 betaphi on 02.19.10 at 12:02 am

I remembered what the fourth pod was. It was art, as in designing and perhaps building anything, with elegance, beauty, and function as goals.

#32 Theresa on 02.19.10 at 4:59 am

The title of this posting got my attention. Like Avdi, I was homeschooled for most of my life and never thought much of the educational system based on the half-year I spent trying out public school in the 90's. It was almost exactly 10 years ago that a discussion with you, lost in Baltimore on the way home from an Orioles game, inspired me to go back to college – a decision that changed my life. I don't remember the details of the conversation, but the point was that it didn't matter what I majored in – that I should pick something, stick with it, and get it over with. You were right. I would not have landed the job I have now if that conversation had not taken place.

Your advice back then highlights a problem we still have today. I don't really believe that I learned anything in college that makes me a better employee than I was before. But the system of higher education has a monopoly that is supported by parents and employers (large and small). Education is promoted as a means to an end – the end being a better opportunity for financial security – with little value placed on creative or intellectual growth. For most people that so-very-expensive piece of paper also known as a college degree is necessary just to get an interview. It's a cyclical problem. Employers need a way to select applicants without having to speak with each one, and they use success in college and graduate programs as a filter without much regard for whether the applicants retained anything they learned in those programs. Most parents just want their kids to go to a reputable college and get through in hopes that it will help them land an interview after graduation. Colleges aren't going to change their ways until employers and society start valuing something beyond the ink on that piece of paper.

#33 davetroy on 02.19.10 at 11:41 am

I remember that night, and I stand by the advice I gave you then and I'm glad it turned out well!

My particular complaints at the moment are around the overall design of the system and how it devalues place relationships. I'm not sure we're going to soon get past the 'college degree required' phenomenon when it comes to employers/employees.

My preference would be to create a world where people are taught, and practice, Effectuation (see my recent post on it). Effectuators create their own universes and simply get things done, and then no one questions their credentials.

I'd also submit that learning is absolutely essential, and we need to create environments where people are enabled to continuously learn. But, as you point out, our current system only intersects with learning some of the time.

A mind that has been set forth to pursue authentic intellectual inquiry and use it to shape the world around them is a powerful force. We need a lot more of them.

#34 Richard D. Cushing on 02.22.10 at 4:22 pm

As the father of nine children, all but one being home schooled through high school graduation, I certainly agree with you on many of the negatives of our public education system. I would, however, like to add a few adjustments:

1) While the Industrial Revolution certainly had an impact on the move to public education, the public education system as we know it was NOT designed primarily as a tool of corporatism. Rather, it was explicitly designed as a collectivist tool of the state. The goal was collectivism with a view to the easy management (i.e., manipulation) of “the masses.” This, in my opinion, is more damning than a corporatist aim.

2) By removing children from their homes, where they would dwell in a naturally defined heterogeneous age-group setting, public school systems place children in age-based peer-groups that tends to build a collectivist mentality by encouraging them to go-along to get-along. The weak become the oppressed and the physically strong (or strong-willed) rise to dominate (illicitly, if not explicitly). “Wisdom” no comes from only two sources: the state-supplied instructor and the will of the majority. There are no “elders” in this community.

3) What education occurs is directed at mediocrity, not excellence. Excellence is reserved for the elite that are able to opt-out of public education and take another route to ascendancy .

#35 Learning By Accident — Dave Troy: Fueled By Randomness on 03.05.10 at 12:58 pm

[…] recently wrote an essay about how our educational system is an artifact of the industrial revolution; designed to produce […]

#36 how to get good grades? on 10.02.10 at 10:14 am


great dude ….i think no body write about it. i want to say that education never ruining your life rather then it makes life good.

#37 neo on 09.22.11 at 5:56 pm

The incompetence of education is not incometence at all. It is being done purposely and is merely masking an agenda. Those who control the world aim is to churn out as many mind conrolled brainwashed monkey workers as they can, to support the elitist class. Why do you think they discourage critical thinking and incourage repetition, of what is often falsified information. They implant beliefs, and basically do not actually teach anything useful, but rather indoctrinate their students to think the same way as the system, alas creating a bunch of mind controlled zombies.  BTW I like your article thanks it was a pleasure to read 🙂

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