You don’t go to school to learn


Every year I have the pleasure of talking with dozens of young people who have the great misconception that they go to school to learn. I love watching the shocked look on their faces as they realize for the first time that they have been misusing their time in school. I love this quote by Myles Munroe which states “when purpose is unknown, abuse is inevitable”.


Therefore, I spent some time researching the purpose of school. The word school derives from greek word σχολή (scholē), originally meaning “leisure” and also “that in which leisure is employed”. However it was changed later on to mean “a group to whom lectures were given”

In order to understand the purpose of school I had to understand the history of formal education.

Prior to the advent of agriculture children spent their time learning by exploring their environments and learning their craft by watching their parents or other family members. In general if you were the child of a blacksmith, you became a blacksmith unless you had a rich uncle or in-law who had a separate training then you could transition into another field by becoming their apprentice.

By most accounts formal education came about as a result of religious bodies wanting to ensure that the next generation were converts who could read and understand their dogma.

As such, the fight for a universal system of education was led by emerging protestant religions. 

This coupled with the fact with the industrial revolution, countries needed able bodied workers to help them quickly become industrialized and move out of the dark ages. In order to do so they needed a way to formally train lay people so that they could join the working class with the basic skills necessary to meet the minimum work requirements.

Children were mandated to go to school as such in order to become “good laborers” and “good converts”.

In order to do so, education systems were designed to squash the willfulness and playfulness of children in order to make them good laborers and good converts. As such a good student is one who suppresses his or her urge to play and explore and dutifully carried out the orders of their teachers. By that same token a good convert is one who suppresses their urge to question and explore but one who dutifully obeys the tenets of the religious group.

Dr. Peter Gray gives a good summary of the history of the education system on his blog. He reports that, employers in industry saw schooling as a way to create better workers. To them, the most crucial lessons were punctuality, following directions, tolerance for long hours of tedious work, and a minimal ability to read and write. From their point of view the duller the subjects taught in schools the better because it prepares for the drudgery of the workforce.

-Who needs Art and Music in schools? It can’t help you flip a burger any faster can it? 


My point therefore is; School is not were you go to learn, it is where you go to be tested!

The 12 years of grade school can be summarized in one sentence “Do you have a high school diploma?” You may have been the best student for 11 grades but if you do not complete high school or get your diploma, in the eyes of the state it is as if you never went. Every job you apply for comes with a list of minimum requirements,  in every position in every field.

My conclusion therefore is you go to school so you can leave school with an attestation of minimum requirement certificates. My primary school education in the British system can be summarized to 2 days. The day I sat for the First School Leaving Certificate exam and the day I took the Common Entrance exam.No one cared that I had been at the top of my class for 13 terms in a row or the fact that I was reading Chaucer at age 9, it was irrelevant.  My time in grade school (College in the British system)was summarized to 2 events; when I took the GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels (which I failed by the way). My time in college (University in the British system) can be summarized in one day; the day I sat for my NCLEX exam, no one cared whether I only had 75 questions or if I had to take all 225 questions all that matters is whether or not I passed and met the minimum requirements. Medical school can be summarized to 3 events: STEP 1, STEP 2 and STEP 3…you guessed it those are the 3 tests you have to take to become licensed as a physician in the US.

I leave you with a quote by Albert himself: Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.


Where then does learning take place? Stay tuned for part 2 of this article…..

As you set the rhythm for your day/week, I recognize  that we are all overworkedover exposed and over stimulated today but if you liked this article, consider liking it and sharing it with a friend, family member, colleague, hater or frenemy!

Share your thoughts below, I can’t wait to hear from YOU!


8 thoughts on “You don’t go to school to learn

  1. I love this! I read Mr. Gray’s book not long ago at the encouragement of a friend when I said I wanted to read more about Unschooling. Oh how I wish I had read it years ago but am so glad I read it now. I’m really changing my viewpoints on education and learning.

    Liked by 1 person

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