As a child, my parents always impressed upon me the importance of getting a good education. My father in particular, always told my siblings and I that we should strive to be number one in our studies. Because of the strict nature of my father, getting good grades was the rule, while getting low grades resulted in punishment. Needless to say, my siblings and I achieved honor role status throughout our K through middle school years. However, as I hit high school things began to change for me. I was no longer that little boy that followed my father’s every wish out of fear. By now, I had been hardened by the tough streets of Brooklyn and questioned whether getting a good (formal) education could take me out of this environment.
You see, in my community, I knew of few high school graduates, much less college graduates. My parents had limited education and struggled to provide for my siblings and I. Like many that grew up in poor communities, I experienced my fair share of pain and struggles. learnnew Like many of today’s youth that are dropping out of high school in record numbers, I too doubted the transformative powers of formal education touted by my parents and teachers. I did not believe that formal education alone could transform my socio-economic situation. As a result, I began to devalue formal education and withdrew (cutting classes regularly). Luckily, I began to realize the error in my thinking brought about by the intervention of a high school guidance counselor. I struggled to graduate high school, needing to attend summer school two years in a row in addition to night school. Nevertheless, I did graduate-But what next!?
Today, we hear news reports about the high dropout rates for inner city high school kids across America. I believe that this high dropout rate stems from the inability of the youth to understand and witness the transformative power of education within their communities. As a 34 year old man with a PhD, I can now attest to the transformative powers of getting a good education, but not just one that is formal. I have seen examples of education’s transformative powers in the lives of my colleagues, as well as in my own life. However, most people wont get a PhD, or even a college degree. Does this mean that they are doomed to a life of suffering and pain because of their socio-economic situation? Well not necessarily, as a significant percentage of millionaires in America did not graduate from college.
Still, statistics do show that one’s level of formal education directly correlates to one’s income (the higher the degree, the higher the income) and employability (the higher the degree, the higher the level of employability). So, it is safe to say that formal education does have transformative power in regards to one’s socio-economic situation. But, is simply graduating from high school and getting a college degree the answer to unlocking education’s transformative powers?
Let us take a look at the essence of education. Education is all about learning basic skills such as reading, writing, and mathematics, and then building on these skills with more complex fields of study such as science, history, and economics. What you are doing as you master and broaden your intellectual skills is teaching your brain how to learn.
What ways do I learn best?
What topics interest me most?
What topics do I find easiest to learn?
What topics will help me transform my life?
What topics will help me realize my life’s vision?
These are questions that you should be asking yourself as you learn how to learn (education). The truth is that formal education is beneficial to a point, but after that point it is not necessary for everyone. The reason for this is that once you learn the basics as previously described, you can take the initiative to go to libraries, museums, art galleries, plays, as well as surf the Internet to learn about anything you deem useful. Many successful people such as former President Abraham Lincoln were self-taught. But do keep in mind that because many of us do not have the discipline or desire to learn just for the sake of learning, K-12, trade schools, colleges, and universities put together formal curriculums designed to legitimize our educational experiences with a diploma, certificate of completion, or degree. The degree in particular, became popular with American employers in the 1960s, as America moved out of the Industrial Age to the Information Age. Prior to this shift, one could graduate high school and get a good middle class job at the same factory your father worked in. However, as industrial jobs disappear by the thousands because of outsourcing and globalization, a college degree has become essential for anyone looking to ascend in today’s new work world (the corporate world).
But, is the opportunity to transform one’s socio-economic situation utilizing formal education truly available to all? While formal education (K-12) is now available to all in America, getting a good formal education still comes at a premium. For example, inner city (K-12) public schools have historically underperformed when compared to their suburban public or private school counterparts. Therefore, socio-economics seems to be a factor in who has access to quality formal education. Another example of this is in the higher education arena, where the cost of attending a four-year institution is outpacing inflation, making attending college a dream for some and a burden for others finding it difficult to repay huge student loans after they graduate. What is someone who wants to transform his/her life utilizing formal education to do?
Well first, one has to assess his/her future goals.
What are you interested in doing with your life?
Reach out to guidance counselors, teachers/faculty in your schools. Maybe they can find outside educational programs that you can participate in that will increase your learning if your school is not providing you with enough rigor.
Seek out educational programs within as well as outside of your community.
Ask yourself questions such as-Do I need to go to an expensive college and be burdened with huge student loans when I graduate in order to achieve my goals?
Or could I attend a less expensive school and learn how to learn what I need to know to get where I want to go?
Parents, participate in your child’s education. Get involved with the faculty and other parents.
Keep abreast of political matters and then vote in the best interest of your child. And of greatest importance, seek out and provide examples of the transformative powers of education for your child. Be sure that they understand that the essence of education is not about getting a prestigious diploma or degree and saying “now pay me” to some employer.
The essence of education is about learning how to learn so that you can learn what you deem necessary for transforming your life.
Dropping out of high school does not help your cause.
Going to a prestigious school just to be burdened with huge student loan debt that you will have difficulty repaying does not help your cause.
Obtaining a particular degree that is not in alignment with your life’s vision, simply because it is easier to acquire then the degree you really need does not help your cause.
There is no doubt that education (learning how to learn) has transformative power, but in order to unleash that transformative power one has to understand the essence of education and then use it strategically.
Dr. Barrett has an earned PhD in applied management and decision sciences, with a specialization in leadership and organizational change. He also holds a MS in organizational leadership and a BS in organizational management. In addition to these degrees, Dr. Barrett has completed several executive certificates focusing on various areas of management and leadership development.