Stay in School

So, some time ago I saw this video. It’s had 10 million views so I’m sure that it’s all well and good for the creator. If you haven’t seen it then please have a watch of it. Spoiler alert: I don’t believe a word this guy is saying.


Ok, I have no idea who this is. I originally thought that it was Russell Brand, and I am not sure why.


The message is delivered with such passion and, let’s face it, poetic skill that it is easy to follow along with the message.

But then you realise that it is bullshit. Yet, if you were in high school or in university I’m sure you had a little bit of “Yeah, he’s right! I don’t know how to file my taxes! Someone should really teach me that!”

I’ve sat on this topic for some time now, but unfortunately this nonsense has just blown up the UK, is about to elect Trump for president, and I’m also out of whiskey so I’m going to take it out on you guys (that is, of course, until my pinkie gives out due to cramping).


So, first thing’s first. STAY IN SCHOOL.

I really can’t stress that enough. Recently there has been a lot of this “school doesn’t teach you anything” sentiment. You’ll hear arguments like “I didn’t learn how to apply for a mortgage at school” to the ever-present “Zuckerberg dropped out of school.”

I recently read Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-up bubbleYes, it was humourous because it was a guy telling the worst parts of his job. I could probably also write a book about coke-snorting motivational speakers, sex on stage and drunken rock stars. Unfortunately, if you read the blurb of the book, these are the main topics that are mentioned. But the main story was about an industry that is built on hype and stories. The Zuckerberg myth is one that you hear a lot form a number of different start-up myths. Classical education makes you a conformist. Drop-outs make better entrepreneurs.

It’s crap. Most of those “drop-outs” were dropping out of places like Harvard. It wasn’t that they were successful because they dropped out. They were smart enough to begin with, and then they dropped out and got lucky. Almost all business and statistics books attribute at least half of a person’s success to luck. Plus, for every Zuckerberg there are thousands of other drop outs that try and start a company and fail. Every day millions of dollars are pumped into the Silicon Valleys of the world, throwing a wide spread of bets out to hope to catch the next mega company. For a short time those companies look attractive, but even then most of them still fail.


One thing that really bugs me about this “Don’t stay in school” concept is that it’s not teaching you how to do specific things, like how to vote or how to do CPR (which is crap – I learnt CPR in school). It’s this culture of instant satisfaction that is driving this. Yes, applying for a home loan is a big process. But it’s supposed to be. But if you know how to read, how to do a little bit of maths and how to ask for help, then you’ll be fine. The collaborative element of school is often overlooked. By passing through a common educational system you can communicate complex ideas to your peers. And if that peer happens to be a mortgage specialist then they will look after you. And, here’s the great thing, you can take those skills and translate them into applying for surgery, or looking for a job, or trying to publish a novel (NOARTNOARTNOART). If you’re taught how to fill out a mortgage application then that is literally all you can do.

I’m also sick of the repeated myth of “I’ve never used calculus, it’s worthless.” I might be at the top end of using mathematics for daily life, but I use it all the damned time. And with the skills I learnt in maths and physics, I can interpret numbers and make sure that the people that work for me can keep their jobs, and that my customers are able to achieve their goals as well. Sure, you might not need it in your entry-level job, but if you want to advance in the rat race, you either need to get technical or you need to get strategic. Unless you’re luck to work in an artistic field where technical mastery is purely creative, then you’re going to need at least a basic understanding of the complex topics you are taught in school to improve.

Being a generalist is almost always superior to being a specialist. For example, let’s just say you were a super saddle maker. Maybe not the greatest, but it was all you did for 2 decades and you were pretty good at it. Suddenly, Henry Ford arrives and fucks your shit up. No-one is buying saddles anymore and you’re drunk and living under a bridge. If you had the more general skillset of being a leather worker, you might be able to transfer your skills to making leather seats for German cars, but if all you know is saddles, you’re shit out of luck.

I know that the education system for many countries is not great, but it is a start. Your teachers are almost unanimously busting their arses for low pay to give you a pretty damned good base to work from. And they’re not forcing you into a career, either. Most schools let you choose from subjects that are at least interesting to you; teaching you the same complex comprehension skills regardless of the decisions of 14-year-old you. I can partially agree that there are some things that are important and not always in the curriculum, like sex education and CPR, but even when I was in high school 17 years ago, these were taught. Great teachers were able to take the things they were teaching and put them into real context. And, believe it or not, English was one of my most hated subjects, yet here I am, talking to people who only know me for my writing. Education is important and should evolve with society, for sure, but it should always be teaching you how to function in society with a toolkit of complex thinking and problem solving skills.


I know this from taking the hard way. I was one of the lucky people that could coast through school and still achieve. I was in the Science Olympiad program and yet I skipped practically all of my Year 12 physics classes. I slept through practically all of my undergrad degree. In high school I wanted to be a fighter pilot and did pretty much nothing if it didn’t move me closer to that goal – including making friends and learning how to interact with people. When I was rejected for pilot training I was lost for words. It took me a long time to recover from that hit. But I got over it, and started working. I tried to start a business and then realised that I was missing a lot of skills. I moved up the ranks of a couple of other companies and put myself through a master’s degree. Suddenly, the “annoying” and “wasteful” departments like marketing and sales made sense.

The only way I was able to move between those different career paths was because I had at least paid attention enough to have a basic understanding of complex thinking. Had I paid more attention in school and uni I probably would have been about 5 years ahead of current me (of course, I also acknowledge that I’ve also had a lot of luck and support to get here).


So yeah. Stay in school. If you want to know how your human rights, take he literacy you were gifted by your teachers and parents and read the Geneva Convention (again, at my school the Geneva convention was part of our curriculum and it was posted in the library). But don’t blame the education system for your own need to be spoon fed the answers.

Instead of rapping about leaving school, why not try putting a little effort in?



(I was going to post an article I read some time ago, but in the google search to find it I found so many other tales from teachers and students alike that I just gave up. I want to go back to stressing about not having cover art. It is literally the only thing I am waiting on – unless I’ve been ripped off by a dodgy ISBN supplier, in which case I need to do that bit again).



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