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An informal, stream-of-consciousness reflection on business ideas, events and issues in modern business, modern life and with some specifics to the web-software industry by Paul Tomori, Internet Entrepreneur

School: A Frivolous Indulgence?
By Paul Tomori
Saturday, July 11, 2009 at 22:25:40 (EDT)

I once heard a great classical performer/composer (Paginini I believe) answer the question as to whether he ever had music lessons as a child.... His reply... "I had a few, but not enough to hurt my playing any". I remember thinking it was a strange, but somehow wise response.

Over the last 10 years, I have fantasized occasionally about going back to school to study some area of interest and get the benefit of a few more letters after my name. I really loved University and it all went by so fast. However, being in the industry I am in and being constantly challenged to keep pace with new technological developments where I am innovating and problem-solving round the clock, I have concluded something very counter-intuitive about the notion of going to school: it might slow down my learning! This is not a statement originating from arrogance, I assure you. Truly, my knowledge about the world is a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what there is to know. However, what is the best way to acquire new knowledge and to assimilate that new information with one's existing mental constructs? Is the best way to sit in a class where interactivity and engagement is hindered by the common practice of having a teacher drone on for 90 minute chunks twice a week? I think not. When going to University, a typical class runs like that. You don't interact or do anything hands-on. In between classes, how is continued learning achieved? On your own! So, really, you either know how to learn "on your own" or you don't. And once you know how to learn on your own, school seems like a potential ball and chain to the learning process. It just seems incredibly inefficient. Furthermore, because everyone else in the class is exposed to exactly the same messages and is expected to perform the same studies and readings, I think creativity is stifled by the inherent homogenizing of the students.

Of course, perhaps I am just the right example of what school is supposed to produce: someone interested and relatively capable to undertake self-directed lifelong learning. Perhaps the whole point of school is to feed and nourish the young mind until the individual has become a viable self-learner. That's when you graduate and the academic umbilical cord is then severed so you can march on independently. If so, then bravo school! Thank you for the guidance and tools (but don't expect to see me anytime soon!).

I could also qualify this counter-intuitive opinion of school a thousand ways of course... For example, my view is not to say that it isn't necessary for surgeons and other certain professionals to have formal training and testing (i.e. schooling). After all, we don't want such people entering our workforce with mere cracker-barrel smarts (though I'll take a surgeon with formal AND informal training combined any day over a surgeon with just the formal training). What it comes down to is... what is your desired area of expertise? Is it better to self-regulate the advancement of your knowledge? Do you have discipline and perseverance necessary to forge on in the face of challenges? Are there resources available for you to self-learn where needed and to fill any gaps in your understanding as you go? If so, perhaps self-directed learning is the way.

Even if you fall short of natural smarts in some areas, like me, you can usually make up for that with a daily ritual of exposing yourself to new knowledge and by engaging your mind through habitual commitments to learn. Such discipline abhors school and relies on the miraculous pedagogy of relentless repetition... i.e. get up in the morning and go to work... every morning... and actually work... actually engage your mind... actually welcome problems and challenges that will make you think.

One can see where Bill Gates' mind was at when he dropped out of University in order to launch Microsoft. One can see where Sergey Brin and Larry Page were at when they too dropped out of school to launch Google. I don't think anyone would say their dropping out was a misstep and a success-killer.

This is not to encourage dropping out in any way. If someone reading this thinks that is what I advocate, then read again. Some jobs REQUIRE schooling and the testing that comes with it. Some people's style of learning REQUIRES them to be in a structured setting. Some people can't learn effectively from books, but must be informed verbally. We're all different. I am merely speaking from a position where in my particular line of work and with my particular style of learning and with the fact that I DID go to school and stay through completion already, going to school again for my present areas of interest would not serve me well at this time.

I know for sure now that in my particular areas of interest and with my highly self-motivated personality type, self-directed learning is by far the most efficient way for me to achieve new wisdom and knowledge at this time in my life. I have never believed that a person goes to school, gets their education, then applies that knowledge to their career until they retire. The world is evolving too fast for that and continued employment prospects require constant new development and expansion of learned information. My father, who was a school teacher himself might be shocked to hear me say this... or if he were a learned man, perhaps he would be quietly proud: To go back to school, for me, at this time in my life, would be nothing more than a frivolous indulgence.

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. - Albert Einstein
The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education. - Albert Einstein
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