Education Occupies Wall Street

Decision Making in the Protests for OccupyWallSt

For many years people have been living their lives according to “the norms”. They grow up with the expectations that this is the route to follow:

  1. Go to school
  2. Go to university
  3. Get a Job
  4. Get a mortgage and buy a house
  5. Have a family and kids
  6. Send kids to school
  7. Retire (and travel)

The problem is that when following “the norm” they are discontented with the path, their lives and their choices. A “job” is not an enjoyable, fulfilling or purposeful use of our time. And, yet, we spend almost  30% of our adult lives working in a “job”.

How can we expect to enjoy our lives when a large portion of it we dedicate to an activity we do not enjoy?

So, first, I ask you to think about – and challenge – “the norm”. Is there another way to live your life and make it meaningful that would allow you to survive (financially) in our society?

Education – going to school and university – has been touted as the “road to success” by millions of people – including (my) parents. But the educational system has been built to be systematic and standardised. We are expected to “learn” content with a large group of people and with little personal attention from our teachers. This is not the teachers’ fault, they are locked into a system which they cannot change on their own. But, the result of our educational system is that we have millions (billions) of kids that know exactly the same things as each other, to exactly the same level of detail or depth.

So what’s the problem with that? To put it simply, you have no power if you are not substantially unique. When you apply to a job and you have very similar qualifications to the other 100 people applying to the job, you have no power in asking for the job. You are not unique.

Another thing to realise is that schools and universities are charging us a sh*tload for something that is freely available to every single one of us! The internet and what Google has done with it has turned the world into a knowledge and information paradise.

The education system is just simply the “internet spoken to you” through a teacher with a $XXX,XXX price tag attached to it.

You have a choice, pay for the same information by going to schools and university. Or, get it for free online. Just check out the Khan Academy for a great example.

Now, I am not suggesting that everyone should drop out of schools and university in favour of learning through the web. There are universities (and schools) out there that educate differently. They not only use content, but they focus on applied knowledge. Giving you the skills to use information, to solve problems, to think for yourself and apply all that learning to the real world is what has made the top universities in the world, the top universities in the world - Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, Oxford, Princeton, MIT…. These educational institutions are worth paying to go to because they actually give you valuable skills. These are skills that make you unique, allow you to demand a better income and pay off the loan you took to get there.

So, if you are going to a school or university now that is taught in massive classes, where content is shoved down your throat for $000′s of dollars. Check out google and see what you can get for free. Otherwise, start demanding more from your schools and universities.

Finally, I have been watching with anticipation the recent protesting around the world – the occupywallst movement. I believe it is the start of something indicative of everything I have already outlined above. The intersection of society’s discontent with their lives, their jobs, their education and the world.

They want justice, because they feel like they have been thwarted by a biased system. And, to be honest, they have reason to believe that.

However, the “uprising” seems to have no point, no obvious demands, no expectations, no goal…is that going to result in change?

I think we need to turn this hostility into positive action. For that we need informed leaders to stipulate the changes needed in the world, to identify solutions that require big shifts in the way the world works, and then to empower the people of this movement to achieve the new vision. This will turn a meaningless protest into a valuable change our society desperately needs.

If you want to talk about some of the required changes and how we might action them, please get in touch via email or twitter. Otherwise, let’s talk in the comments below.

14 Comments to “Education Occupies Wall Street”

Good post Justin and I agree what you are saying. There is one thing you didn’t mention though and that is a university degree gives you a piece of paper which gets you your first job. Many jobs and careers have a degree (sometimes it doesn’t matter what it is in) as a minimum requirement. They just want to know that you know how to study, apply yourself, and can get a qualification. Also, the univestity you go to has a big impact on the value of the degree. What you learnt and the skills you obtained don’t really come into it though they can be related.

The big problem with a university education though, and why it isn’t as effective as self-teaching like you propose, is that a university course takes a couple of years to be approved. In a lot of industries this puts what you are learning out of date. This is what I believe needs to be changed.

The education system is in need of a shake up to keep up with the progress of the outside world.

October 6, 2011 Reply

Great point about the education system being too slow.

However, as much as a Paper Degree has been representative of “knowing how to study, and apply yourself” in the past. I think this has very quickly become a poor indicator. Students have learnt to game the system and look good on paper. Some are great content-knowers, but poor employees/innovators. A paper degree is no longer representative of an intelligent person.

Alternatively, too many firms are hiring for the wrong reasons. Specifying that applicants need X years of experience and a degree, in many cases, just isn’t representative of a good candidate. In the case of my current job, I wouldn’t even have been looked at if that had been the case.

So two problems: (1) devaluation of a paper degree and (2) poor recruitment methodology.

I agree with you, but I am suggesting that it is not JUST education that needs a shake up.

October 6, 2011 Reply

Totally agree that the degree has become a poor indicator but my point was that if you want a job, generally you need one no matter how irrelevant it is. Society is now about ticking boxes – which is not a good thing!

Too many firms are terrible on the HR and hiring fronts. Hiring the “right” person for a job is extremely difficult. Most common performance predictors used in the selection process have correlation coefficients of 0.3 -0.5 or less. And that is when selection is carried out well. There is also a case of minimising risk – choosing someone with a degree and X years experience is seen as less risky for the employer than choosing someone without. The consequences of a poor hire can be huge.

Totally agree with those two problems. Though the second one should include selection – this is where many employers fall down.

Haha, I think a lot of things need a shake up. The world is progressing so fast it is leaving many systems and ways of doing things behind.

October 6, 2011 Reply

I think we’re forgetting that University was once a place for pure learning. Where scholars, academics, students(people who want to learn), came together to research, study, and learn with and off each other about the latest developments in the world. I don’t think it was a place for people to become qualified at any job or career. Today it’s pretty much turned into a place for a huge group of people who have no idea what they want to do in life and to hope that this piece of ‘paper’ will get them a paying job. Universities that was once at the very front of the world for developing new technology, theories, solving worlds problems has now fallen behind and let firms and corporations overtake them in doing all those things – hence a lot of university degrees are pretty useless today, like some marketing degrees?

I’ve forgotten what my original message was about lolol so i guess rant over?

October 6, 2011 Reply

Thanks Raycher. I think you are indeed correct about bringing back the history of educational institutions.

This is a symptom of the size of our organisations. They want basic skills in all their employees, not intelligence.

Well, if people want a job that is not challenging and not inspiring, then so be it. They can go through the rigour expected of them in that system. However, There are many more people out there that want something more…a new parallel system perhaps is needed for us…

October 6, 2011 Reply

I think you have made a huge generalising statement with your facebook comment “Jobs suck, education is worthless.” First of all not everyone hates their jobs. I know a lot of people that do like their job.
While I do agree with you that some degrees are a waste of time and money once again you have generalised and discounted all degrees forgetting that some jobs require degrees in order to work. Would really want a civil engineer building bridges from knowledge that he learnt on google?
Your comments are actually a bit offensive in a way to those of us who went to University applied ourselves and did a lot of our own directed learning.

October 6, 2011 Reply

Hi Helen. I apologise if I offended you (or anyone), I certainly did not intend to.

Of course my statements are generalised – for a comprehensive statement would require a full book to talk about – but they are by no means untrue because of it. I know lots of people who enjoy their jobs too, but I know a hellova a lot more who do not. I think, in the scheme of things, that everyone should love their jobs. Why should there be anyone who hates theirs? That’s a rather sad fact of the world right now…

Also, you will notice above, that I suggested that people should consider using the internet to find free content first. I did, in no way, tell people to forget about university. As you say, there are some careers that require qualifications, and others (as Tim suggested below) that do not. Doctors, engineers, lawyers are some of these. But there are other degrees that are (in reality) meaninglessly shoving content down our throats, that could be better acquired thourgh valuable (free ) resources on the net.

Just FYI, I spent 3 years at university “applying myself through directed learning” and I have a hefty student loan as a result…I dropped out and have learned more in the last 10 months than in the last 5 years…from mentors, from applying myself to real world problems and from reading sh*itloads on the net. I hope that you see I am not contending with your position, merely showing a different perspective.

Hope to hear back from you. And once again, I apologise for any offence I caused…

October 6, 2011 Reply

Great post Justin! While in some industries you need a degree to get a foot in the door (such as medicine or law), there are other industries where a degree doesn’t count for much. I am a software developer and I’ve got by perfectly well without a degree. I went to uni for a year then realized it wasn’t for me. I was too excited to get out and start making stuff (this was back in ’98 at the start of the dot-com boom). Throughout my career I have worked alongside colleagues who have degrees. We do the same things, have similar experience and get paid the same, but my student load debt was 1/5th of theirs (which I was able to pay off in less than a year working in London).

I have never had any problems getting a job without a degree. In fact, most often the places that require a degree are the worst places to work! The best places I’ve worked at (BBC, Forward Technology) look for candidates who have a true passion for what they do. This is most evident through personal projects, a blog, conference attendance and open-source contributions. Certifications and qualifications rarely come into it – in fact I was never asked about my education from these places.

So, while a degree is certainly important in some industries, I see many students following a very expensive and unnecessary path through university. Go out and create something awesome instead!

October 6, 2011 Reply

Thanks Tim. I appreciate you sharing your experiences, as I think these are becoming more and more prevalent in our society.

My experience has been very similar – all the best places I have worked have hired me for my passion, for my ideas; never for my (lack of) qualifications.

I wonder if there will be a backlash from some people who rely on their degrees to demonstrate their “smarts” because they lack the ability to convey passion? This is a fear of mine and perhaps a problem holding much of the world back…

October 6, 2011 Reply

“However, the ‘uprising’ seems to have no point, no obvious demands, no expectations, no goal…is that going to result in change?”

Similar things were said about the various different “movements” of the 1960s. We got a lot of stuff out of that, 30-50 years down the road.

These things take time to percolate and form a narrative – we won’t find a good one until we’re all looking in hindsight; because it’s only there that grand connections between the disparate pieces can be made.

I have more disconnected thoughts, but I just wanted to throw this out there.

October 8, 2011 Reply

Hi Morris. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

I am not one to stand on the side and “see what happens” sadly, so I wrote from this point of view. I also believe that we can find a good “narrative” – a solution from amongst the chaos. For this reason, I wrote this post; as I am interested in making those changes happen.

I have thoughts of my own – but these are limited. Sharing my perspective with others who want to enact change, allows the conversation that needs to happen, to happen.

I look forward to hearing your impending thoughts ;)

Thanks for commenting!


October 9, 2011 Reply

Heh, hit the nail on the head there of where I come from; the sidelines.

Still, I do have a team player in me; though generally I hang back, observe the game and throw myself into a gap in play that I see needs to be shored up.

I think my “gap” is becoming more and more clear to me; it’s something I’ve got some notes on called “The Job Seeker’s Paradox” — and ties in nicely with what you’ve been talking about here.

So, yeah, the grand overriding shift, well, it is happening already; we probably won’t see it till we’re through it though.

Heh, I should really write something a bit longer form on my blog about this. Well, there’s a goal for the first half of this week.

October 9, 2011 Reply

If you join the rate race when you leave your still a rate, Why not make life an adventure?


November 2, 2011 Reply

Hear hear…who’s the rat here? ;)

December 28, 2011 Reply

Leave a reply