“You need to do well in school, so you can graduate from college and get a good job.”
How often have you heard something similar in regard to school or learning? Maybe it was said to you by a teacher or parent. Maybe you have even said it yourself. It is a common sentiment. However common it may be, we need to stop saying it.
Education is NOT a means to an end. Education is more than just that thing you have to do before you get a good paying job and us as educators and parents need to stop speaking of it as if that was the case.
It would be easy to go down a rabbit-hole about the philosophical implications of treating education solely as a conduit to future financial security. However, there are several practical reasons to avoid speaking about education in this manner as well:
1. Adult jobs and the “real world” are too far off to be primary motivators for younger students.
If you read any book about classroom discipline they almost always tell you that consequences and rewards work better when they are immediate. So why do we think that telling a 5th grader he has to learn the order of operations because he “might want to be a pilot one day and they need to know math” is an effective form of motivation?
He does need to know the order of operations and he might even want to be a pilot, but an imaginary goal 15 years away is nowhere near tangible enough to be effective for a ten-year-old.
2. Education does not guarantee a well-paying job.
The “education is a means to an end” point of view presupposes that students will graduate from college and get a decent paying job, or at least the job they want…and that simply isn’t the case. Many college grads are unemployed or underemployed in fields that don’t require education or weren’t related to the education they received. As evident by recent strikes, many of the teachers that espouse this opinion to their students have discovered themselves that it isn’t always true.
Of course just because a job doesn’t pay well doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy goal. And many former students are struggling to find work due to their major or own career choices. People should be advised that when they tell students education is the key to making good money they may be unwittingly lying.
3. It promotes a “learn only what is necessary” attitude.
Every now and then late-night talk-show hosts will do a segment where they hit the streets and ask people ridiculously easy questions that any well-rounded citizen should know the answer. Of course, they don’t and we all have a good laugh at their expense. The people in that segment are the end result of a society that values education only as a way to train people for their chosen profession.
You need not wait until adulthood to see this play out. Every high school teacher has heard the phrase, “When will I need to use this in the real world?” I guarantee that it comes from a student who believes that school is literally only supposed to teach them things they need to know to get through daily life as an adult. Worst still when you don’t have a good answer to that question, students typically lose investment.
Obviously, people who attain higher levels of education make more money than those who don’t. Of course, we want to encourage students to finish high school and go to college. Yes, school is the first stage of preparing students for the workforce and we shouldn’t lose sight of that, but we need to be investing students in becoming well-rounded citizens and lifelong learners. We can’t do that if every other person is telling them that they go to school, so they can eventually make money.