Learning versus passing


The single worst thing school ever thought me was that just passing a subject was somehow better than failing it. Being a pretty good crammer, I came out of university with somewhat better than passes but very little I had learnt stuck. It wasn’t until much later that I actually understood the difference between learning a subject versus passing through it.

It’s a difference that the trades have always known. Every furniture maker will be able to tell you the value between an apprentice who can only cobble together a table that will hold true for a couple of years versus one that can build you a table your grandchildren will still be using. Maybe my teachers and my lecturers tried to teach me that. But I never got it and the result was that much of my expensive time in higher education was wasted.

Worse than the waste of that time, you would also have to question the quality of someone’s working life if they are only ever barely adequate in it. How much can a person engage with and derive satisfaction from a job in which they have the most shallow of skills? How much will that person seek to develop and grow their abilities? Given how much time we spend at work, a poor attitude to learning can lead to a wasted life.

I see this at my work all the time especially among some of the younger ones. Like me when I was their age, they have learnt only one lesson from their schooling: that passing is enough and that work like school is a necessary evil to be endured. The situation is especially socially unjust when considering we are white-collar information workers with the best paid, lowest risk jobs in the most intellectually and creatively challenging areas of our time.

I don’t have any solutions. Schools are nothing more than state-funded child-care for adolescents. They require a sequence of activities to keep their inmates occupied. The activities need to be simple enough that their wardens can be taught how to “teach” it to large groups.

I don’t even know how I realized that there was a better way – it certainly wasn’t until I was in my late thirties.

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