Does Education have it wrong?

Does education have it all wrong?

Education, from grade school to university, is obsessed with data and research (I’m sorry: “inquiry”). Data, data, data. Numbers, numbers, numbers. Like a child with a new toy, it seems education cannot see anything else or dare not look anywhere else. “Everyone else is coo-coo for numbers, I had better be too.” There is little being pushed and preached right now other than “inquiry” and data.


Poring over data doesn’t feel like educating students to me. At all. It feels like making widgets at a factory. It feels like an accounting game. It feels like playing along with education’s latest magic bullet. It feels like something you do to make yourself feel like you’re doing something… while you are missing what matters most.


Let’s glide through history and recap the lists of what people should learn:

The Perennial Philosophy (all time)

  • Abandon Self
  • The Unity of all things

The Upanishads (~700 BC)

  • Know nothing, want nothing, pass beyond suffering

Lao Tzu (550 BC)

  • The Tao: the flow if the universe; action without effort.

Socrates (400 BC)

  • Know Thyself

Aristotle (350 BC)

  • “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Seng Ts’an (550 AD)

  • Let go–of longing, aversion, distinction, assertion, denial, thinking, your opinions.

Kûkai (800)

  • All things change when we do.

Wu-Men (1200)

  • There is only the now

Rumi (1250)

  • Wash yourself of yourself
  • Open your loving to God’s love

West Point (est. 1802)

  • Ethics
  • Leadership

Robert Frost (1900)

  • “You are educated when you have the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or self-confidence.”

Harvard (1900)

  • The ability to define problems without a guide.
  • The ability to ask hard questions which challenge prevailing assumptions.
  • The ability to work in teams without guidance.
  • The ability to work absolutely alone.
  • The ability to persuade others that your course is the right one.
  • The ability to discuss issues and techniques in public with an eye to reaching decisions about policy.
  • The ability to conceptualize and reorganize information into new patterns.
  • The ability to pull what you need quickly from masses of irrelevant data.
  • The ability to think inductively, deductively, and dialectically.
  • The ability to attack problems heuristically (which means “exploratory, self-educating problem-solving techniques which improve performance”)

Abraham Maslow (1940)

  • Yourself: What a man can be, he must be. When all of the foregoing needs are satisfied, then and only then are the needs for self-actualization activated. Maslow describes self-actualization as a person’s need to be and do that which the person was “born to do.” “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, and a poet must write.” These needs make themselves felt in signs of restlessness. The person feels on edge, tense, lacking something, in short, restless. If a person is hungry, unsafe, not loved or accepted, or lacking self-esteem, it is very easy to know what the person is restless about. It is not always clear what a person wants when there is a need for self-actualization—the motive to realize all of one’s potentialities. In his view, it is the master motive—indeed, the only real motive a person has, all others being merely manifestations of it.

Joseph Campbell (1940)

  • Follow your bliss. Following one’s bliss isn’t merely a matter of doing whatever you like, and certainly not doing simply as you are told. It is a matter of identifying that pursuit which you are truly passionate about and attempting to give yourself absolutely to it. In so doing, you will find your fullest potential and serve your community to the greatest possible extent. If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.

Herman Hesse (1950)

  • Words do not express thoughts very well.
  • Unity

Piotr Wozniak (1990)
How to become a genius.

  • You must clarify your goals,
  • gain knowledge through spaced repetition,
  • preserve health,
  • work steadily,
  • minimize stress,
  • refuse interruption,
  • and never resist sleep when tired

Don Miguel Ruiz (1990)

The Four Agreements

  1. Be Impeccable with your Word
  2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
  3. Don’t Make Assumptions
  4. Always Do Your Best

Kurt Wright (2000)
Breaking the Rules

  • Value-Finding

Dr. Marvin Marshall (2000)
Discipline Without Stress, Punishments, or Rewards

  • Choice-Response Thinking

Carol Dweck (2000)


  • View challenges as a way to learn and not as a performance at which you can fail.

David Foster Wallace (2008)
This is Water

  • How to exercise some control over how and what you think

Seth Godin (2010)


  1. Solve interesting problems.
  2. Lead.


  1. Absolutely true and beautifully framed.

    Kouzes & Posner (2002)

    Leadership is for everyone and consists of…

    Modelling the way
    Inpsiring a shared vision
    Challenging the process
    Enabling others to act
    Encouraging the heart
    Celebrating value and victories

    Kotter & Cohen (2002)

    “… change happens in highly successful situations mostly by speaking to people’s feelings.”

  2. I love Joseph Campbell and have been mindfully following my bliss ever since first reading his work (more than 20 years ago). Thanks for posting his advice – it’s just the type of education I want for my boys.

    While I understand your frustration – I’d offer that true inquiry has nothing to do with ‘an accounting game.’ Asking questions, practicing reflection, searching for meaning: all good stuff! A looming bureaucracy requiring specific answers, asking me to fall in line with the latest mandate, and serving as blind judge over every outcome: no real learning available.

    You ask if “education” has it wrong? I would counter — who or what is ‘education’? Just as I don’t confuse my church/religion with my faith, I’m careful to not confuse schools/diploma requirements with my (or my children’s) education.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Let the conversation continue!

    1. Angela!

      Thank you so much for commenting. I, too, love Joseph Campbell, but I have yet to figure out my bliss or how to follow it.

      As I understand “inquiry”, it means: the teacher carefully (methodically, even) examines their own teaching. Which is good.

      However, I recently was looking for Humanities grant opportunities, and they all centered around data. In fact, several of the current grants available were about reading data. They were a contest, or game, of reading data.

      More troublesome for me is that here is much noise about data in the Salem-Keizer district, as well. Weekly, we hear: “Common Formative Assessment”, “Are you getting good data?”, “What does your data say?”. Which is what you were referring to in your comment: “looming bureaucracy”, “mandate”, etc.

      One thing that has always concerned me is my observation that Education is always “shopping for lighting”. Education seems to always be looking (and spending money on) the Next Great Thing that will fix whatever is wrong. I have only been in education for nine years, and it seems that education chases fads worse than even the fashion industry.

      Finally, for me, a public school teacher, “education” feels like a machine that I am caught in. It feels like an asphalt roller that is right behind me and could, at any moment, crush me. From my front-line perspective, “education” really does feel like a game that politicians and executives play. And, strangest of all, there is a constant, angry assault from the public. According to pundits and voters, “Education” is always doing everything wrong, and there is no money to fund it.

      I love teaching students. I love reading what they need; telling them what I know; encouraging their interests; pointing out the signposts; pushing them at times. All of that is very rewarding.

      But compulsory, public education is an entity all its own.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s