Education or e-ducation: what do we really need to thrive in a new economy?

self portrait by Gwyn Michael

As I prepare to go to Portland next week for Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit I find myself so excited to be living in a time when we can break make the rules of earning a living. Entrepreneurs and those seeking to be entrepreneurs of all ages will be congregating in Portland to explore the possibilities of creating our own work and lifestyle. 2o years ago this would have been seen as crazy, but the times they are a changing.

What strikes me most about the movement of DIYers is the greater implication of DIY.

It does not just mean do it yourself, but most times LIY – learn it yourself. What does this say about education?

I have several friends that have kids graduating from high school this year and planning for college. I can’t say were I in their shoes I’d be doing the same. The idea of a college education to guarantee a career seems to have become a myth for many. The new economy, which seems to based on technology and community building, has requirements that college may not be able to offer. I got started on this topic after reading this article PayPal Co-Founder Hands Out $100,000 Fellowships To Not Go To College.

Peter Thiel, the PayPal co-founder and one of the first investors in Facebook, is proposing a controversial path toward more rapid innovation. Today his Thiel Foundation announced that it was giving 24 people under 20 $100,000 fellowships to drop out of school for two years to start a their own companies.

Theil believes that more innovative thinking will occur in a startup environment than college. Granted, every 18 year old can’t just go out and start up a business, but unless they have really clear goals I’d say working a few years could be more beneficial than college.  Working and exploring.

In Five Ways to Reschool on the Interweb, educator Melia Dicker offers an extensive list of free or by donation learning opportunities. If you can’t find what you need there we have a whole community of bloggers offering ecourses, ebooks, and podcasts for a fraction of the cost of college. I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing without them, and I honestly can’t say that about my formal education. My college experience was great and it gave me a lot, but what I do now has little to do with that. I am self taught.

There is a ton of material on both sides of this argument, but I’ll leave you with one more. Award winning teacher John Taylor Gatto wrote this list of traits:

Really educated people …

  1. Establish an individual set of values but recognize those of the surrounding community and of the various cultures of the world.
  2. Explore their own ancestry, culture, and place.
  3. Are comfortable being alone, yet understand dynamics between people and form healthy relationships.
  4. Accept mortality, knowing that every choice affects the generations to come.
  5. Create new things and find new experiences.
  6. Think for themselves; observe, analyze, and discover truth without relying on the opinions of others.
  7. Favor love, curiosity, reverence, and empathy rather than material wealth.
  8. Choose a vocation that contributes to the common good.
  9. Enjoy a variety of new places and experiences but identify and cherish a place to call home.
  10. Express their own voice with confidence.
  11. Add value to every encounter and every group of which they are a part.
  12. Always ask: “Who am I? Where are my limits? What are my possibilities?”

Can you learn these things while attaining a formal education? Absolutely. Can you learn them on your own? You bet. It may seem from my selection here that I am anti education. I am not, and I have even been a teacher. However I think we live in a time of such flux that all decisions need rethinking, especially where old models are still largely in place.

What do you think?

Is college becoming defunct, or will it just change to fit a new work force?
If you went to college, are you using your degree?
If you are self employed, did you teach yourself what you know?
Lastly, the big one… If you are a teacher, how do you see education changing to meet the needs of a new economy and workforce?

12 thoughts on “Education or e-ducation: what do we really need to thrive in a new economy?

  1. Interesting post! I still believe a college education is important, even though it probably should adapt to today’s world and work situations. However, the mission of university is not just job training. It produces (or should produce) well rounded individuals who can, to quote from number 6 above, think for themselves, observe, analyse, etc and who are thus less liable to fall prey to manipulation of certain political or religious leaders for example, less likely to blindly follow the crowd and more likely to make informed decisions for themselves and the future of the planet.
    Colleges need to adapt to today’s needs, but perhaps perspective college students need to adapt too and not consider college only as a path to a job.
    I went to college and studied fine art. My degree prepared me for some things, not for others, (like running a business). But it gave me the confidence to continue learning.

  2. I agree Laura. I went to an art college too and got so much confidence and artistic growth, but not so much business sense.

    I like what you say here

    perhaps perspective college students need to adapt too and not consider college only as a path to a job.

    YES, and that is up to parents and public schools. We need to adapt in these areas even more so.

  3. I guess I always thought of my college experience as something that I wanted to do and experience and of course learn from for the sake of learning and experiencing, not so that I could get a specific job or eventually make a certain amount of money. I know that isn’t the most practical approach, but of course there are lots of different paths to learning, jobs, careers etc.

    1. College as an experience is a nice thing if you can afford it. My main concern is the cost. Is an experience really worth $150,000? That is approximately what it would cost to attend the college I went to now and that does not include living expenses. I would probably choose travel and charity work as an experience if I had the choice to make now, and as an artist.

  4. Great post Gwyn. I think it’s something we should all be talking about.
    I went to art school, and didn’t finish. Partly because of money and partly because I started working and never went back and finished.

    Did I learn skills in college that I could have learned on my own? Yes. Did I have experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything? Yes. Are the people I met and the experiences worth every cent of student loan money I worked for years to pay back? Yes.

    In my circle of close friends, all of us did some number of years of college, hardly anyone has a degree, and almost all of us are self employed, and all of us are working, and working in our field of choice. Ironically, most of our fields of choice were ones that when we were getting ready to think about college our parents either: worried about, tried to talk us out of pursuing, or forbid us to pursue (business degrees always won out over art, music, writing, dance, etc.)

    So, yes, I am working in the field that I went to college for, and no it did not teach me everything I needed, but it did teach me how to pursue and research and ask questions. And so I am also partly self-taught, and have had a lot of help from friends and colleagues along the way. I feel like for me what I did worked, some college, a lot of scrambling and figuring things out, and asking other people how they did it.

    I think the world has changed so dramatically, and a lot of the university systems need to catch up with those changes. And I also think that our expectations of what a college experience or a college degree will do for us needs to change. In past generations, I think that a college experience and a degree was looked on as a guarantee that you would find work and go on and have a successful career. My parents generation certainly followed that model, quite successfully. But we live in a much different world now. In this new-er world will it be adaptation and creative thinking and an entrepreneurial spirit that lead the way rather than the more traditional college education? Or will it be something else?

    1. Interesting Liz. I am guessing I am closer to your parents generation than yours. My peers as I said in the post seem to still be of the mindset that college is a must and that puzzles me. Then again I have always been a nonconformist.

      Again the idea of college as an experience comes up. I have to admit I love being a student. If it were free I’d be taking college courses right now but it is not. Instead I scour the internet and read like a fiend. All that is missing is the conversations and I can create them here and elsewhere in my life.

  5. I have no issue with college, it is the idea that it is the logical step after high school for anyone that can possibly manage it, that it is the only path to future sucess. When I was graduating high school with no intention of going on to university I remember the horror of some of my teachers ‘but you are so smart, what a waste’ they said, as if my brain would wither away without professional educating. But my experience in high school had really taught me that I could teach myself everything I wanted to know, and I could do it faster on my own than in a classroom.
    Today I don’t regret not going, I followed my own path into the trades and eventually art. I find that I am more widely educated than many people I know simply because the driving need behind my learning has always been necessity and curiosity, rather than a set curriculum.
    My children will have my support to attend college or not depending on their own goals. But I am not going to be paying for college as an experience.

  6. Is college becoming defunct, or will it just change to fit a new work force?

    I think they’ve already changed along with the times to some extent. When I was in college 10+ years ago, I found that what I hoped would be a program dedicated to deep thought, discussion, and questioning was instead a corporate training ground. So, that was certainly in keeping the times.

    But what does it mean to have a college degree today? I really don’t know. It certainly doesn’t guarantee either employment or intellectual development. (It MAY, of course, do either or both of those, though.)

    I’ve seen college degrees required for selling chocolates at a farmers’ market, so…….I don’t know what to say after that. Ha!

    I went to college for a couple years, but dropped out. If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t go at all.

    That said, for some it is a gateway and a path to opportunities they would not have had otherwise. It can be empowering and for some careers (like medicine or law), it is necessary. I think it’s something people should be able to do without going into massive debt.

    But it certainly isn’t a must and there are so many other ways to craft a life and career…

  7. I dropped out of college this January and it was the best decision of my life. There were so many constraints on the type of work you can go into if you major in this or that, so many limits based on what you were learning. For what? To go into the workforce only to find that your degree will get you any job you want…as long as it’s minimum wage. Craigslist repeatedly requires applicants to have a bachelor’s degree. They don’t care what it’s in as long as you have it, even though all you’re doing is answer phones and making photocopies. Sounds like a waste of an education to me.
    So I left, and as of this weekend I’ve opened up shop on Etsy. Everything I’ve needed to learn to run this shop – sewing, photography, networking, finances – I’ve learned in the School of Life. Why waste my time and money on something that’s not going to give me the satisfaction and success that learning on my own can give me? So often I found myself sitting in classes I had no desire to take because they were “required” to graduate, even though I had no intention to ever use them in my future career. By striking out on my own I’m learning what I want to know. True, there are some things I could care less about. But I have more appreciation for the time I spend on making the expenses balance with the profit and reaching out to even the most troublesome of customers because I know it’s making my business stronger and myself a better business owner. Can’t really say the same for my chemistry class.
    If I were going to be a doctor or lawyer I’d certainly want to go back to university. But I don’t. I feel that these days there are very few careers that need to have the traditional path followed in order for one to reach their goal. I feel that most paths now, from fashion designer to commercial marketing, can be learned on your own and is more about proving your amazingness to others through example instead of through which college name is on your diploma.

  8. Our little consensus seems to be college is a choice not a requirement. Certainly in the arts think that is true in most cases, and I think most scoutie girl readers are creative types.

    Emma brings up two critical points.

    “I think it’s something people should be able to do without going into massive debt.”

    Absolutely and I am wondering about higher education programs that might run more like a co-op or work study to keep costs down and create real work experience while learning.

    “I’ve seen college degrees required for selling chocolates at a farmers’ market, so…….I don’t know what to say after that. Ha!”

    This is a problem…I don’t know what to say either. Something is very wrong when minimum wage and basic labor jobs require a degree.

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