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Why Did We Go to School?

When we graduated from school, or sent our child to school, did we ever think of what is school really for? In this age of limitless information and socialization, it's high time we did.

“You’d never want to get 19th century healthcare, you’d never want to buy a 19th century car, but we’re sending kids to 19th century schools.” — Max Ventilla

The famous French philosopher, Voltaire, used to say that we should “judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” Voltaire was born in the 17th century, in an era that witnessed the rise of public schools. The purpose of these schools was to pursue education by focusing on literacy and socialization.

Fast-forward four centuries, in this age of limitless information and connections, do we really know what is school for?

We have something called the Internet for both education and socialization. So, the question that would make many of us feel uncomfortable is this: Why did we go to school?

Having the Time of Our Lives with Time Tables

For some of us, school might be an institution that prepares us for life’s challenges, and helps us find our fit in this ever-evolving world. But in reality, we start fitting in too much, and fail to realize that we should actually be creating our own place in the world. At school, we are made to fit into a box, and when we grow up, we’re expected to think outside the box.

As children, we are born creative, fearless and passionate, with a unique set of talents and inclinations. School helps us value friendship and persistence, but we’re also introduced to conformity, that starts restricting our creativity. If each of us has our own style of learning, our own ways of perceiving and understanding the world around us, then how can we expect a timetable of a fixed set of subjects and 45-minute periods to prepare us for life?

What Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg Have in Common

The present-day school system really needs an update now, especially in the age of connectivity, where a world class teacher can upload a lecture online for everyone to watch, whenever they want to. And if ever they want to. We don’t need to learn something just for the sake of it. It’s not surprising to see Bill Gates support the Khan Academy, or Mark Zuckerberg fund the AltSchool, or Elon Musk create a new school for his children. Our present school system, which is hundreds of years old, isn’t working anymore. It’s like riding a horse in the age of driverless cars.

So, if we ask ourselves why should anyone go to school, then one of the reasons can be to enable us to lead lives true to ourselves, to discover what we are truly good at, and then strive for excellence in that. This would eventually help us think beyond our own survival, and be at the service of the world with the talents we can provide. We often need to create the conditions to discover our talents, and school can surely enable this kind of self-discovery.

Failing to Realize the Importance of Failing

After taking those heavy education loans, it might seem impossible to have failure as an option or to not keep money as the top priority. But we should also realize that money cannot buy happiness, but happiness can buy money. If we do what we love, what makes us happy, then we’re a lot more likely to excel in whatever we do, and hence the money would flow too. And as for the loans, we should make sure that we’re not taking them for the sake of a degree that wouldn’t hold much value even three years after graduation.

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? Famous.

It is easy to be misled by the assumption that being associated with famous schools or famous companies would eventually make us famous. Most of the people who became famous always had a purpose or a passion that got them their fame, because they were not doing it just for the money. Sometimes, having money can even work against us, when we’re ready to pay an exorbitant amount to book a seat in a famous school. As the child never earned the seat, there is a feeling of disengagement from it. Hence, the child never strives to perform well.

We should realize that academics are a means to an end, and not the end. And this isn’t valid just for children who struggle with the present-day school system, but also for children who never failed in the system; those who conformed so much that they never got the chance to explore what they could really be good at. Because textbooks can never help us do that, unless we’re carved out to be a teacher.

What We Can Do to Start Fixing the System

May be it’s time we stopped asking kids to adapt to the education system, and start demanding the system to adapt to the 21st century. The education system would take it’s own sweet time to evolve, so we need to make sure that we question everything that helps us justify the purpose of school. The system would then have no other option but to catch up, and our next generation would finally know why it is going to school.