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Is Education The Answer?

I asked a question on Ask 500 People that received an interesting response. My question was:

Are colleges just an organized means of passing ignorance from one generation to the next?

First, let me explain that I worded the question to really spark a response – it’s called link-baiting and it worked. Some of the immediate responses I received were downright rude, but the overall voting is what had the impact.

Thus far, 42% of the voters have said yes!

That I asked the question doesn’t mean that it’s my viewpoint – but it is a concern for me. Thus far, my son’s experiences at IUPUI have been amazing. He’s a Math and Physics major who has garnered a lot of attention through creating relationships and networking with the staff. His professors have really challenged him and continue to do so. They’ve introduced him to other students who are excelling in their studies as well.

On television and in online discussions, I continue to hear one’s education referenced as the deciding factor on many a person’s authority and experience. Is education proof of authority? I believe a post-secondary education provides three important elements to a person:

  1. The ability to complete a long-term goal. Four years of college is an incredible accomplishment and provides employers with the proof that you can achieve as well as provide the graduate with the confidence in his/her abilities.
  2. The opportunity to deepen your knowledge and experience, concentrating in a topic that you choose.
  3. Insurance. A college degree provides a lot of insurance in gaining worthy employment with a decent wage.

My concern with education is that many believe that education makes one ‘smarter’ or gives them more authority than those less educated. There are countless examples in history where thought leaders have been ridiculed by those well-educated… until they proved differently. They are then treated as the exception, not the rule. One remark on the question worded it perfectly:

…it appears repression, as opposed to expression, is becoming almost ‘enforced’ in many cases. Exposure to diversity, on all levels, is the ‘fun’ part of a college education. To me, this exposure is what the educational experience should be about. I feel the PC have / are severely limiting free thought.

Billionaires and Education

Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest person to make Forbes’ billionaire list. Here’s an interesting note on Zuckerberg:

Zuckerberg attended Harvard University and was enrolled in the class of 2006. He was a member of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity. At Harvard, Zuckerberg continued creating his projects. He roomed with Arie Hasit. An early project, Coursematch, allowed students to view lists of other students enrolled in the same classes. A later project,, was a Harvard-specific image rating site similar to Hot or Not.

A version of the site was online for four hours before Zuckerberg’s Internet access was revoked by administration officials. The computer services department brought Zuckerberg before the Harvard University Administrative Board, where he was charged with breaching computer security and violating rules on Internet privacy and intellectual property.

Here’s a student at one of the most prestigious universities in the country who showed brash entrepreneurial talent. The response from the university? They tried to shut him down! Thank goodness for Mark that he continued on with his efforts and didn’t let the establishment stop him.

Do We Teach “How” vs “What” to Think?

Deepak Chopra asked a question on Seesmic about intuition. I’m not going to give his question justice, Deepak Chopra is at the forefront (in my humble opinion) of today’s philosophers and theologians. He has a unique perspective on life, the universe, and our connectivity.

One response to Deepak was that the person’s education provided him with the ability to accurately interpret elements in his environment to provide him with ‘intuition’. Is that intuition? Or is it biased or prejudicial? If generation after generation is educated with the same ‘proof’ and the same means of interpreting variables – are we teaching people how to think? Or are we teaching people what to think?

I’m thankful for my opportunity to attend college and my dream is that both my children graduate college as well. However, I pray that as they become more educated, my children’s education doesn’t lead them to acts of hubris. An expensive education doesn’t mean that you’re smarter, nor does it mean that you’ll be wealthy. Imagination, intuition, and tenacity are just as important as a great education.

William Buckley, recently deceased, once said, “I’d rather be governed by the first 2000 names in the Boston phone book than by the dons of Harvard.

Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is the founder of the Martech Zone and a recognized expert on digital transformation. Douglas has helped start several successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to launch his own platforms and services. He's a co-founder of Highbridge, a digital transformation consulting firm. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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  1. Doug – OUTSTANDING post!!

    I’m not a fan of our current educational system. I agree completely with the notion that it is just one generation passing ignorance to the next.

    I believe we need to be teaching our you to THINK. To often we are taught simply to remember and recite.

  2. While I am not aware of how the US organises and provides it education system, I have some understanding of the UK system. It sucks..

    Not going to go into a rant into politics, but our current government ( want 50% of 18 year olds to achieve a degree at university ( … The problem with this?? It lowers the value of a degree.

    As such a degree is becoming worthless, and its more important to achieve a credible result, so that you can study a PhD or masters.

    The purpose of a degree is to give the ability to take information from many sources, and turn that into understanding. Its not what you learn, but how you do it.

    1. Jez,

      That’s an outstanding point. If everyone in the country got their degree – then a degree becomes the bare minimum again. Perhaps jobs that don’t require a degree will require one when everyone has one.


  3. Hi Doug,

    If you look at your own reasons that higher education is important, you’ll see that none of them include learning how to think.

    The closest one is #2, which gives you the raw materials with which to think. The reply to Deepak Chopra’s question which you mentioned was, I think, addressing this point. Intuition needs raw materials on which to work. The more you know, the more likely it is to happen.

    Is college a way to pass on the generations current ignorance? Looked at negatively, yes. Looked at positively, it is a way to pass on the current level of knowledge. If you’re lucky, you find teachers and mentors who inspire you to go beyond that current level of knowledge.

    For most people, though, college is a glorified trade school, a way to make connections that will further their career, and a halfway house between childhood to adulthood.

    1. Hi Rick,

      I didn’t put it down as a reason because I really don’t think it’s what is achieved with modern post-secondary education. I honestly have no more faith when hiring a college graduate than I do hiring a high school graduate that they have the creative skills that are needed to succeed in today’s workplace.

      I’ve said before that I want both my kids to get their bachelors (at minimum); however, I don’t believe that getting the diploma is going to assure them of success. I only believe that it will insure them from failure.


      1. You said the magic word: creativity
        Using the imagination/creativity properly is the way to learning and inventing and that doesn’t take secondary education. But I think most of all,we must learn to ignore negative emotions which block the way to proper thinking which blocks the way to proper/positive action.

  4. I have come to believe that the most valuable thing that one can get out of college is something didn’t include. I think the best reason to go to college is to compete and collaborate with peers, And the better the school the better the peers as one strives to the level of their peers. Especially when those peers can from different experiences and/or different cultures than me.

    I got far more out of studying with other students and being involved in extracirricular activities with them than any other aspect of college.

    Unfortunately there is a large segment of our population (~42%?) that fears colleges, especially the better colleges, because they force students to question their own predjudices and preconceived notions. Far too many people would prefer to just believe what they want to believe and thus surround themselves with others who enable their myoptic attitudes as they restrict their world view. After all, the best way to believe what one wants to believe is to ensure that there is no evidence to the contrary.

    If we are going to move forward as a country, as a world, as a human race, people are going to have to get past this pathological need to stifle anything that contradicts their rigidly-held world view. Unfortunately, based on what I’ve seen happen over the past decade, I don’t hold out much hope that most people will actually put aside their clinched ideologies for that to actually happen.

    1. Mike – that’s an excellent point. I come from a diverse family and we’ve lived all over the country – but for many, this is the first time that young adults are put into contact with other cultures beyond their neighborhood.

      I honestly don’t hold out much hope either. I think people vote with the ‘wind’ and don’t put any thought into it anymore. The 2 parties have mastered manipulating the lemmings.

      1. I don’t think its the parties so much as the people. Especially people who gather in groups and special interests like 501(c)s and “think tanks.” It will never change until the people wake up and realize they are being played for pawns.

        Part of my point was more that the people has such ingrained ideologies that they beg to be manipulated. It’s not the party’s faults they pander to people’s ideologies and pit them against “the others” to gain their power. The parties have just learned how to achieve their goals, to get elected.

        “Liberal” and “conservative” are some of the current polarizing labels where groups manipulate people by preaching ideologies and demonizing some idealized and easily identified other group that in many cases doesn’t exists. These people use fear and divide by religion, race, sex, sexual preference, culture, geography, nationalism.

        When I was young we had “the cold war” but after that went away I thought we had a new world order that could operate on commerce and live in peace. My god naive I was.

  5. Dad,

    I thought you’d enjoy to see who else had this opinion…

    “… unfortunate national traditions which are handed on like a hereditary disease from generation to generation through the workings of the educational system.”

    -Einstein, 1931

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