Success and Education
March 11, 2017 Comments..0

“The man who graduates today and stops learning tomorrow is uneducated the day after.” – Newston D. Baker

The prospect of success is what drives many people to continue their education. Whether this success means the expansion of their person, the opening of their mind to possibilities, the sharpening of their skill set, building marketability, or a pay raise – higher education is considered by most to be a very valuable asset. The implications are many: you have dedicated a portion of your life to studying a particular subject, and so have gained specialized knowledge and skills; you most likely have incurred some debt; and somehow, you are now supposed to be prepared to take on the world. But are the students of today prepared for life? Are they ready and equipped with what they need to be successful?

Everyone has an idea of what “success” means. And the general idea probably looks pretty similar for most – someone doing well overall; emotionally, financially, and spiritually. They probably have a good job, a good head on their shoulders, money in their pocket, and a good future ahead of them. They are moving along in their life, and they appear happy and fulfilled.

Although up front this dream may appear rather simple, figuring out the specifics, or one’s own path to reaching such success, is the real challenge. What decisions must be made so that one can have a successful life? Does education today prepare students to answer these difficult life questions?

Education blogger Tom Whitby touches on the lack of focus in K-12 schools on critical and out-of-the box thinking in this era of standardizing testing. “We talk about personalized learning for each student… We recognize that all kids are created differently. Even in consideration of all that, we standardize their assessment… We are not matching up the skills that our children will need in a future that we know little about to the education we provide today. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.”

“We cannot continue on the current path of education if we want to prepare our children for their future,” he declares. “Our children will not live in the world that we grew up in. We need to prepare them to be flexible, critical thinking, problem solvers. They need to be able to get beyond the limitations of their teachers and parents.”

In Alain de Botton’s TED talk “A kinder, gentler philosophy of success,” Botton points out that our ideas of success are often greatly influenced by society, by ads, and by our parents, and that we are highly susceptible to suggestion. We are also, Botton says, very worried about what others think of us.

“When we think about failing in life, when we think about failure, one of the reasons why we fear failing is not just a loss of income, a loss of status. What we fear is the judgment and ridicule of others. And it exists,” Botton said.

Botton suggests that we take care to ensure that our ambitions are our own, and that we recognize that “success” cannot exist without “failure.”

A paradox in our society, Botton continued, is the simultaneous existence of both the belief that we are all equal – that anyone can achieve anything – and low self-esteem. Suicide rates, he explains, are higher in the developed countries than anywhere else in the world. “[S]ome of the reason for that is that people take what happens to them extremely personally. They own their success. But they also own their failure,” he said. Our society, furthermore, and now more then ever before, attributes success to one’s own work ethic, ability, and determination; we believe that people deserve the lives they have, because we are all supposed to be in the driving seat.

In other words, we are supposed to have all that we need to succeed. However, disparities, gaps, influences, and circumstance, all exist and perpetuate inequalities within our society, and the individual is not always in control. We are not all on an equal playing field, either; we do not all have equal opportunities. This is not an excuse, but something that deserves consideration and care. America will continue to work towards the dream of a meritocratic society, but this dream is impossible to fully realize.

“The idea that we will make a society where literally everybody is graded, the good at the top, and the bad at the bottom, and it’s exactly done as it should be, is impossible,” Botton said.

It has been said that education is the great equalizer. And I believe that education can change the world, and our future is dependent on the youth and the quality of their education. Education can help people find their success because it can open their minds to the world and to their own potential so that they can have the opportunity to choose their way. But what can we do from here?

Continue to grow. Continue to move. Know that moving and growing is the only way. Not look back. Be bold. Instruction may end in the school-room, as Frederick W. Robertson said, but “education ends only with life.” And John Dewey concurs: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself,” he said. If these things are true, then success is not immediate, nor something that can immediately follow formal education either, but can be found only in the outcome of the entirety of our lives and the completion of our journeys. Education is a form of success on its own, and leads to more successes, but only if we choose to own our own person and lives, and accept our “successes” and “failures.” “You can’t be successful at everything,” Botton said. “You can’t have it all… [A]ny vision of success has to admit what it’s losing out on, where the element of loss is.”

School can’t prepare someone for all that will come, or give them direct answers for what choices they should make. Formal education is only a beginning. We don’t always know where we are going, and we can never know all that lies ahead of us, but we must continue moving forward and becoming the people we want to be. The paths will unfold as we face the challenges and are open to what may come. And if we get through all of that, we will have succeeded – in living.

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