What is the importance of education?
I went to an incredible liberal arts college in the Midwest and had a great experience.
I got a BA and later an MA in English.
I excelled in school and genuinely enjoyed my classes.
But am I a better writer because of my degree? Am I more equipped to do the work I do today, managing a business and creating content?
The answer would be a resounding no.
I would say that as a whole, my $80K education hasn’t translated into an additional $80K in income (although employers in the past did like to see the MA on my resume and believed that it somehow made me more qualified to write online content).
But let’s be real…
If asked about the importance of education, most people would say that it’s everything. As a society, we’ve come to believe that a college degree is a basic requirement if you want to get a decent job after high school.
But that’s not necessarily the case anymore.
More and more companies are removing the “college degree required” line from job descriptions and are now more focused on whether job seekers come with experience or the specific skill set required to do a job.
And yet, we put so much pressure on our kids to be successful in school and in college.
This is not happening only in the U.S. either.
Singapore’s education system, for example, is considered among the most highly regarded in the world, but it is also famously known as a pressure cooker.
“16-year-old Tee Shao Cong said the stress in Singapore’s education system was so intense that “one’s dreams could be shattered in a matter of seconds if we fail.”
Millionaire businessman Kevin O’Leary points out, “We ask kids that are 16-18 years old to make $100,000 debt decisions when they go off to university. And they’re not prepared for that. They don’t know what they’re getting into. They just assume, ‘okay, I’ll pay 4 years of education, $25,000 a pop. And when I come out the other side, somehow I’ll be able to pay it back.’ But that’s not the way it works anymore. “
Take a look at this video where a number of other billionaires chime in on the educational system today:
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t get a college degree.
As I said, I had a great experience in college. But was it worth the price? I’m honestly not sure that it really was. Did it help me get a job, though? Yes, it definitely did.
But I will add that I was turned away by companies on more than one occasion because I was “over-educated and under-experienced.”
The bigger point that I am trying to make, though, is that there is more to life than just getting an education.
There is more to life than the sports your kids participate in.
There is more to life than the music lessons or dance lessons your kids take.
All too often, we grasp on to things (like sports, or music, or education) and we push our kids to succeed, we push them to be the best they can be at that thing.
We push our belief system on them.
Unfortunately, all this pushing and pressure is having far-reaching consequences.
Suniya Luthar, professor emerita at Columbia University’s Teachers College and founder of Authentic Connections, says, “What we’ve found is that kids in high-achieving, relatively affluent communities are reporting higher levels of substance use than inner-city kids and levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms are also commensurate — if not greater.”
What Can Parents Do?
So, you’re probably wondering right now, even if you’re in agreement that the pressure on kids to succeed in education has become too great, what can you do, as a parent, to counter that pressure? What can you encourage your kids to do to see that there’s more to life than education?
Teach Them There’s More Than One Path to Success
Lynn Lyons, a clinical social worker and psychotherapist, says, “A lot of times, the pressure on high schoolers comes from this belief that there is only one path to success, and the decisions they make now are permanent. Parents can help them by starting conversations about the fact that life isn’t about ‘rigid pressure to do it this one way, says Lyons. ‘Things are changeable, you can adapt, and problem solve, and manage what life throws at you.”
Licensed clinical professional counselor Phyllis L. Fagell, told us, “My kids know that this is technically my third career and some of it is that, for me, I’m interested in trying lots of different things over the course of my life. But I’ve told them that it at times has felt like a failure that I kept changing fields and now I feel very fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to try different things.
But when I was younger, I really felt like you choose a career you go to college. You study that field, you graduate, you get a job, and then you do that until you die or until you retire.
The concept that you can try different things and that there is no right and wrong is something that I don’t think I fully realized until I hit 40. All of those missteps or perceived missteps along the way have happened in large part in order for you to arrive at whatever that destination is where you’re meant to be. That doesn’t mean that that’s a destination where you’re meant to be forever, but whatever it is that is capturing your attention and that you’re interested in, it’s really important to pay attention to those signals as opposed to blindly following some preset path that other people think is appropriate for you.”
Talk to them about mistakes you’ve made, things you’ve tried that didn’t go as planned. Help them see that the path to your own success has been a windy road.
Fagell points out, “I think for kids, they look at their parents, and it looks like this straight line. They started at Point A and they ended up at point B. And here they are and they’re successful and everything went smoothly along the way because they weren’t there when their parents were jumping from one career to another or having self-doubt or stuck and unable to formulate a plan.
So parents can really help open up the conversation with kids and talk to them about what really fills them with passion what they’re really interested in, what their goals are what they want to accomplish in life, and talk about how, along the way, there will be detours and there will be times when it’s not clear where they’re headed and that’s okay. That’s how they’ve traveled along their own journey as well.”
Teach Kids to Be Resilient
We’ve written before about how to raise resilient kids, however, one of the best things you can do is let your kids figure out problems on their own. Give them the chance to fail and learn that failure isn’t the end, but just an opportunity to learn.
Also, make sure you’re teaching them to manage their emotions.
Lyons explains that emotional management is key in resilience.
They need to understand that all emotions are okay. It’s okay to be angry or sad after losing a game or getting a poor grade on an exam.
“Teach them that after feeling their feelings, they need to think through what they’re doing next,” she said.
“Kids learn very quickly which powerful emotions get them what they want. Parents have to learn how to ride the emotions, too.” You might tell your child, “I understand that you feel that way. I’d feel the same way if I were in your shoes, but now you have to figure out what the appropriate next step is.”
Consider a Gap Year
Before you start objecting, hear me out…
Marty Nemko Ph.D., points out, “Most high school graduates have a narrow worldview. They’ve spent most of their life behind a desk. A well-crafted gap year can broaden perspective.”
He adds, “Too many students go straight to college and, sick of having been a student for so long, do poorly or per the cited statistics, drop out. And even if they graduate, without the refresher and broadening that a good gap experience can provide, they will have received much less value from their often staggeringly expensive college education than they otherwise could have.”
Your kid may benefit from taking some time off to travel and see the world. Or, if they (or you), can’t afford that, encourage them to go out and take an internship doing what they think they’re most interested in.
Being in that environment will help them figure out very quickly whether they can see themselves doing that job day after day. Then they can make the determination about whether or not a college degree is even necessary. (Remember, it isn’t always necessary for all fields.)
Final Thoughts on the Importance of Education
Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel is quoted as saying, “College debt means getting stuck on a particular career track for the next twenty years.”
He’s not wrong, either.
Kids are expected to, between the ages of 18 and 20, choose a career, invest tens of thousands of dollars becoming “qualified” to do a job within that field, and then follow through and do that job for the next several decades.
And most are expected to pick that career path with no experience doing any job within the field.
And then they often feel stuck, with no way out and no understanding that it’s OKAY to change direction. And that stuck feeling can lead to unnecessary stress and pressure that can compound in a multitude of ways.
Fortunately, there are things that we can do, as parents, to mitigate that stress. Ways that we can help them understand that education isn’t everything in life.
A few ways are:
- Teaching kids to be resilient so they can tolerate failures or have the courage to change direction
- Help them see that there is more than one path to success, and that it’s never a straight line getting there
- Encouraging them to take a gap year to learn more about their interests and develop the life skills they need
What are your thoughts about the importance of education?
Do you think a gap year is a good idea?
Let us know in the comments below. We would love to hear from you!