In this article I decided to tackle a more general topic; and it is one of the reasons I decided to start whitespace: Formal Education.
Everyone goes through the public school system. It's just something you gotta do. And as with all things mandatory people (myself included) complain about it. So the word education often has the negative connotation of being boring or stressful.
School is the biggest obstacle standing between me and my education.
However, I was able to change my negative view of education into a positive one and now I consider learning to be a hobby. I love learning, but to be honest I still don't like school. School is the biggest obstacle standing between me and my education.
Realizing the Limitations of Public Education
Going through public schools, I fell victim to the idea that school was education and education was school. But I discovered that this was a huge misconception and that everyone I knew also fell victim to the false equivalence.
What I eventually realized was that school is just one part of many that I consider to be my education. The catalyst for this realization came to me when I first started to write code.
The first time I ever wrote a code was when I was in grade ten. It was a simple webpage for my Broad-Based Technology (BBT) class in high school. To give some context, BBT was part of a group of courses called Specialties which also included Visual Art, Music, and Phys. Ed.; each of which lasted for a mere half-semester. BBT was
usually always a joke of a class. The curriculum was ten to fifteen years out of date and the teacher, who doubled as the schools tech support guy, did not give a shit about student success. It was a downright depressing class.
So while sitting there staring at this clunky old Dell computer, typing out my first HTML website, I had a spark of inspiration: What if I changed the font? I thought to myself. (I never like Times New Roman much.) A quick Google search of "how to change fonts in html" introduced me to CSS (a language for adding styles to HTML pages). A little more time spent on Google lead me to realize that the entire curriculum for the web development unit was extremely outdated. It was then that I decided to start learning how to code (the right way). I was curious to learn more about how to write code for the modern web and luckily the Internet was there to teach me everything I wanted to know.
Why You Should Look Further
Once I started teaching myself, my mind opened up. I was free -- free to learn what I wanted to learn.
From this point on, I began to question the quality of the rest of my education as well. English, History, Math… I began to rethink what their purpose was in my education as a whole. Why are we being taught all these things? What is the end goal? Why is everyone being taught the same skills when we're all destined for different careers?
Again, once I started teaching myself, my mind opened up. I was free -- free to learn what I wanted to learn (in all areas of my education). This is when education became fun for me. I was really interested in what I was learning (outside of school) and I was developing useful skills and it didn't stop at learning to code. I began writing short stories and poetry, dabbled in writing music, and developed an interest in WWII history and American politics-- all of which inform my current work indirectly (if not directly) and more profoundly so than my formal education.
Why Formal Education is not enough
Now, don't get me wrong, the public school system does a lot of good. It accomplishes the task it is designed to do: to educate the general public on a basic level by the time they reach adulthood. School is nothing more than a baseline. The education system teaches basic concepts in math, science, language, history, and (inherently) social interaction. It is up to us, as members of a developing society, to decide what to do with these basic concepts.
When thinking about public education in this broader context, it becomes apparent that your education is not primarily for your benefit, but rather for the benefit of the society in which you live. As a productive member of society, you are expected to have a certain level of competence, skills, and values. Your education is an investment made by your community with an expected positive return through, for example, joining the workforce to stimulate economic growth.
So public school is nowhere near the gold standard in education. It is too broad to teach many tangible skills. Graduating high school is merely a benchmark for entering society. Public education does however provide the basis needed to further your education.
The next step in the classical education track is college or university. This level of education is more focused yet it is still (usually) too general to be directly applicable to a job. You still have the same measures you did back in public school of assignments, tests, and grades, which do not exist in the real world. At a real job, if you show your boss some work and it is only about 75% complete by the due date because you didn't know how to do part of it, you don't get a B+. The reality is that the work is unfinished and still has to be done -- now.
Get Ahead by Self-Teaching
School is a well-paved road and education is a journey. Take your education off road and find your passion.
This disconnect between formal education and working in the real world makes for a sometimes difficult transition from education into a career. For myself, I felt like a fish out of water when I started work as a CO-OP student at Mariner Innovations after my first year of university. One of the biggest challenges I faced was knowing when to ask for help. I also struggled with decision making when a task was not well-defined, as they typically are in school.
So how do you break free of this mindset enforced by formal education? How I challenged this mindset was to start learning about the things in my own way by creating my own personal projects, giving myself requirements, deadlines, and everything else that goes along with solving real-world problems; and through working on these projects I developed processes for problem solving, time management, and project management. I focused on technical skills I wanted to learn like UI/UX design and web development technologies like AngularJS, Polymer, SCSS, and more.
With the knowledge and skills I taught myself, I've opened up career opportunities which my formal education is simply unable to match. School is a well-paved road and education is a journey. Take your education off road and find your passion. This is the best way to advance your career. When employers see the passion you have for your work, opportunities will come to you.
One thing that holds a lot of people back from self-teaching is disorientation. Where do you start? What should you learn first? Are you learning the right skills? These questions can be daunting to answer without experience. So the solution to this is find a mentor. Find someone who is working in the field you want to learn about and who is passionate about their work, and ask them for advice. Send them and email, give them a call if you know them -- they can quickly eliminate a lot of uncertainty and guide you in the right direction. If you don't know anyone who could be a potential mentor, try asking questions in forums online. Research your field of interest and find out what the current trends are. Try to see the big picture and eventually you will get some sense of direction.
One final note about self-teaching: start now! Even if you don't have any sense of direction, even if you learn the wrong thing, you will gain valuable soft skills like time management, problem solving, and organization which are widely applicable.