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The myth of education

Education is not just about school. (Getty Images)

So you've gone through 10 or 16 years—or maybe even longer than that—of formal schooling.

You've memorized countless formulas, and you've taken more tests and exams than you care to recall.

You've done thousands of homework assignments and you've sat through hours and hours of lectures.

You've accumulated various certificates, diplomas and degrees.

I guess that means you're educated, right?

Schooling = education?

Schooling has become synonymous with education.

Most people think that if you have a bachelor's degree, then you must be educated. If you have a PhD, then you must be very educated.

In this article, I challenge the notion of what it means to be educated.

Work hard in school so that you can get good grades, so that you can get more educational qualifications, so that you can get a job that pays you well, so that you can lead a more comfortable life, so that you can be happy.

This is a familiar story we heard many times as we were growing up. It's a story that assumes that more schooling automatically leads to a better life.

But is this really true?

A lie that has turned into a truth

This story has been repeated so frequently that it has become regarded as the truth, when it fact it's just a myth. A sacred and revered myth, but a myth nonetheless.

As Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, once said, "If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth."

After all, how many unhappy people do you know who have stellar educational qualifications? Probably too many.

More education—but not necessarily more schooling—leads to a better life.

What it means to be educated

I recently read a book entitled Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto.

In his book, Gatto explains what it means to be educated (I've summarized his points):

  • Educated people aren't at a loss about what to do with their time. They don't feel bored when they're alone because they enjoy their own company.
  • Educated people have the ability to build strong relationships wherever they go.
  • Educated people have fully come to terms with their mortality. They live their lives knowing that death is an inescapable reality.
  • Educated people reflect on their life experiences and continually gain new insights, even up until the point of death.
  • Educated people have a healthy self-esteem.
  • Educated people are knowledgeable about different cultures.
  • Educated people are proactive about creating new ideas.
  • Educated people discover truth for themselves by analyzing the evidence they're presented with. They don't try to discover truth by memorizing the opinions of others, not even the opinions of so-called "experts".
  • Educated people seek to make a living by meeting the needs of others.
  • Educated people don't deceive themselves into thinking that money will buy them happiness. Instead, they recognize that the most valuable things—love, curiosity, courage, empathy—are free of charge.
  • Educated people actively seek variety in their lives.

Based on this list, are you educated?

I know that I'll have to put in a lot more work if I want to consider myself an educated person!

I think you'll agree with me that if you fulfill all the characteristics on Gatto's list, you'll be on your way to leading a good, or even great, life.

A degree vs. an education

On its own, more schooling may or may not lead to that good life you desire.

When I was in my first year of university, the university president said to all the incoming freshmen, "At the end of the next four years, depending on how engaged you choose to be in your own learning, you'll either leave with a degree or an education."

It's true: You can accumulate many degrees without actually getting an education.

Education as a way of life

How educated you are isn't measured by how many bullet points you have in the "Education" section of your CV.

Education is an attitude, a mindset, a way of life.

It's about the pursuit of excellence. It's about being better than you were yesterday, and not about being better than other people.

It's about being the best you can be, so that you can serve other people more effectively and contribute more to society and to the world.

Reject the myth

The idea that school is the only path to getting an education is a myth. Don't believe it.

School is really just one of the many tools we ought to make use of if we want to lead a more meaningful and marvelous life.

It's time for us to re-imagine what it means, at a personal level, to be educated. Only then can we build better lives for ourselves.

Let's not shortchange ourselves of the lives of extraordinary service and contribution that we're meant to lead.

Daniel Wong is the author of "The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success". He is an Education & Personal Excellence coach and speaker. He offers a mentoring programme to help students to maximize their education and to find happiness and success. He writes regularly at www.daniel-wong.com. Download his FREE e-book, "The Unhappiness Manifesto: Do You Make These 150 Mistakes In The Pursuit Of Happiness?", here. Download his other FREE e-book, "Singapore Scholarship Guide: The $500,000 Decision", here. Together with his team of experts, he conducts The Exam ExcellenceTM (TEE) Programme.