loading words...

Dec 13, 2018 19:13:03

The case for doing well in school (part 2)

by @vickenstein | 955 words | 🐣 | 218💌

Victoria Maung

Current day streak: 0🐣
Total posts: 218💌
Total words: 55041 (220 pages 📄)

(part 1)

I used to take school too personally. I resented the mindless drones who seemed to only commit their time to memorizing facts and figures. I lamented the vacuum of creativity. I distracted myself with busy work, such as part-time jobs and organizational administration, ultimately diminishing the value of my hard-earned tuition money. 

Overall, I neglected to treat school strategically. Those who understand the value of school never present it as an end-all to your life's self-actualization. Rather it's a ticket to buy-in to "the system." Getting a degree is the epitome of "shoot for the moon, and you'll land upon the stars." 

School legitimizes you in the eyes of employers and people who can give you opportunities, according to someone I know. In other words, it's a career lubricant. Even though grades aren't a measurement of how capable of a team player you might be (because the relationship between grade-point average and job performance is not tenable), it shows that you are able to achieve objectives that are important to the social structure you live in. 

We hear too many stories about people like Dav Pilkey, who even with ADHD and a slew of other behavioral problems, created the massively popular Captain Underpants series. Or college-dropout founders like Zuckerberg, Wozniak, or Dorsey. These stories become deeply anchored in our logic, and a disproportionate number of people begin to chase the unicorn dream, when your typical value/hour of college work yield is actually higher (concept demonstrated in video titled The Magic Economics of Gambling).

If you look at the pedigree of those who fill the upper echelons of society, you'll see that most of them are of top college pedigrees: Framebridge's Susan Tynan, Wayfair's Niraj Shah, Zuckerberg, Dorsey, Ohanian, Obama, just to name a tiny few. If not college pedigree, they're likely alumni of top consulting firms (like McKinsey, BCG, Bain, which hire top-performers from top colleges): Sandberg, Gorman, Pichai, Rice, Romney, Donahoe, Scott Cook, etc. 

Rather than saying pedigree determines success, doing school well likely signals to such people that your professional values likely align with theirs. Success is social, and school is an indicator that you buy into the same system they have. Your schooling is an attention hook. Even though pedigree is overrated in many cases for filling out specific job functions, there's something in the brew that is churning out internationally aclaimed leaders.

With the advent of technology and resulting democratization of education, this paradigm is surely but slowly shifting. This structure is gradually being shaken up with the likes of accelerator programs or self-guided learning via MOOCs, but the prevailing system is still largely one based on the old institutions and norms.

If anything, doing well in school is a proxy for how good of a strategist you are. Perform in school tactically, and separate your emotions from the process. Even admissions are point-based. The people of the law admissions sub-reddit frequently discuss the statistics of admissions and nuances of different applications required for different schools. Rejection shouldn't be taken personally, but rather as a strategic deficiency in your application. (From that perspective, your average law student is already good at telling people what they want to hear, which itself is a predictor of business success.)

Doing school is somewhat like participating in numbers game. It was useful for me to impersonalize schools by thinking of them as businesses. As a grossly oversimplified example, the American Bar Association restricts the numbers of lawyers in America to keep quality and salaries high. The phenomena also occurs in other professional specialties. For instance, residency caps exist in medicine because that funding comes from combinations of negotiations between private insurance companies, teaching hospitals, and government, not from the demand doctors we need as a country.

Yes, academia is riddled with problems. The college-industrial complex makes it hard to extricate financial interests from policy and moral interests. Academia has a high-barrier of entry for those deprived of access to education and mentors or those saddled with family problems. And sometimes certification requirements may seem arbitrary. For instance, one of my friends had no problem filling the responsibilities of a payroll administrator once properly trained. However, that job would have ordinarily been only allowed for those with the proper certification.

But for my conscientious objectors of the system, if you want to advocate for a change in the system, you understand it inside-and-out to help transform it culturally and legally. Bad Genius, a Thai heist movie, does an excellent job of critiquing an academic culture heavily contingent on exam performance. This movie features Lynn, an academic genius who helps her friends pull off the biggest cheating scandal for a large sum of money. Lynn's decision at the end of the film demonstrates how best to effectively take down the system that this movie satirizes. 

For now, school is the most egalitarian (barring socioeconomic nuances) tool towards a better life. There is a reason why international students aspiring towards upper social and geographic mobility (a) emphasize the importance of education, and (b) tend to major in STEM. In that discipline, there is a stronger correlation between grades and success. The field speaks a universal language and tends to be respected and demanded internationally. 

Today, doing well in school can only set you up for future success. For anyone that eschews school, maybe there's an intrinsic fear of failure and rejection that needs to be addressed. Maybe it was a simple lack of perceived relevance. Both were true for me. I lacked existential confidence in my studies during my undergraduate years, and in retrospect, I wish I had seen the bigger picture earlier.

  • 1

    @vickenstein I would like to point to a recent podcast episode on Akimbo Seth Godin's podcast called Stop Stealing Dreams released on 11/27/18. He makes some very thought-provoking points by asking the simple question, "What is school for?" That said, as someone who was successful in the US public high school and university system, I can vouch for the fact that it made me a successful participant in the "career" machine. I have learned, however, that my experience has put my at a disadvantage when trying to break out of the system and forge my own path as an entrepreneur. I look forward to continuing to read your thoughts about education.

    Brandon Wilson avatar Brandon Wilson | Dec 14, 2018 19:14:36
    • 1

      @brandonwilson Thank you for your time reading and for the share! I skimmed Seth Godin's manifesto here (https://seths.blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/stop-stealing-dreams-print.pdf). There are many great ideas in there, like the shift towards value creation over utility in manufacturing. Even though I find that some of his ideas a bit desultory, he certainly lives up to his reputation as a master marketer / communicator!

      The way I interpret the manifesto is that Godin takes issue with the current approach in attitude that education takes. When he speaks out against "compliance" and "memorization," I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and think that he isn't saying that kids shouldn't learn the pythagorean theorem or they shouldn't know that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. I think he's trying to say we should have an inductive approach where kids, by their own volition, seek answers and work collaboratively. And that, I agree with.

      However, as with most things in life, there are two sides to everything. I can't imagine effectively teaching a class where the curious kid raises his or her hand every second to interrupt the teacher (esp. for something that the teacher was going to get to anyways), at the expense of the learning of his/her other 28 classmates. Sure, the curious kid might end up feeling short-changed, but at least the other 28 classmates would walk out of class that day having mastered the concept learned that day and in a better position to challenge said concept in their future. Rather than calling it student "obedience," maybe there's an attitude shift if we call it respect for the teacher--just my perspective (lord knows their jobs are hard enough without being accused of being brainwashed tools that only serve to indoctrinate their students into zombies to meet state-wide learning goals)! (This anecdote also reminds me of the perennial debate of the role of parents vs. schools in childhood education...)

      I think companies and schools are doing well by gradually adopting a more liberal approach to education nowadays. My past internships and jobs have all encouraged me to create a role for myself, and I felt strongly capable of doing so given foundational knowledge I acquired in college, both from lectures & assignments and in leadership roles in organizations.

      You know what--I never really felt that my educational experience squashed my creativity and curiosity. After all, isn't that what science/math fairs, art projects, book fairs, and essays are for? Maybe this is a chicken-or-egg problem, where Godin feels like schools are formative in the negative attitudes traditional students have towards these.

      I'm curious as to how specifically your experience made it difficult for you to become an entrepreneur. Was it because your school/discipline rewarded rote memorization or your teachers weren't properly incentivized to genuinely care about helping students learn? I'm just wondering because I am lucky to be currently attending a school whose professors care about our professional interests and passions, that encourages participation in student accelerator classes, offers startup pitch competitions + scholarships, arranges meetings with patent attorneys and venture capitalists, and much more.

      Victoria Maung avatar Victoria Maung | Dec 15, 2018 19:02:27
  • 1

    @vickenstein Thank you for this quality essay! One thing I want to add: the whole "school sucks" propaganda is a rich country thing. Go to any developing country, and you can notice how school systems and teachers are much more appreciated. My guess is that we are taking free massive education for granted.

    Basile Samel avatar Basile Samel | Dec 13, 2018 19:33:24
    • 1

      @basilesamel that's a great point. there's no perfect school system, and I've always been fascinated by why there's cultural differences in attitudes towards education divided along different social strata, like income level, country, gender, etc. Maybe there is a correlation between the way government structures their education systems as well!

      I tried being country-agnostic in writing this, but I guess I'll just disclose down here that I'm a born-and-raised American currently attending school here with all the luxury and privilege of choice that it comes with!

      Victoria Maung avatar Victoria Maung | Dec 13, 2018 19:46:35
contact: email - twitter / Terms / Privacy