Our education system is broken

Recently, my younger brother was having problems with the education system. His grades weren’t as good as they used to be, teachers and his classmates are mean to him, subjects are dry, hard and irrelevant, so he’s discouraged and wants to quit. Obviously, my nerve-stricken mom called me and I have to talk him out of it.

Basically, I lied to him about how it would be easier for him to get a job if he continues to get his head down and start studying, instead of complaining about the dry and seemingly useless subjects. I lied because I hate schools with a passion. After 16 years in the education system, it’s safe to say I’ve forgotten about 80% of what has been taught to me, and I don’t regret a thing about it.

It wasn’t what they taught me that got me jobs in the past. I got good at English because of YouTube, MangaFox and video games, not because of lessons in the English textbook at school. I got a job in a managerial position because of the leadership I demonstrated as a subordinate to that managerial position, not because of my grades at school. Most of what they taught in school was useless to me as a working professional.

Tracing back to the beginning of the current education system, these were the words of Horace Mann, arguably the father of the public school as we know it:

Building a person’s character was just as important as reading, writing and arithmetic. By instilling values such as obedience to authority, promptness in attendance, and organizing the time according to bell ringing helped students prepare for future employment.”

It’s clear that the goal of the education system was not to teach kids how to lead, to dream or to solve real-life problems. It was to follow, to be obedient, to not be special and to be the ideal factory worker. The industrialists supported this idea because they were in need of a huge amount of compliant workers, and the government supported it because a population full of followers who are scared of authority is easier to control.

Not only the education system is obsolete in nowadays’ economy, it’s also wildly expensive. The US taxpayers spent a trillion dollars a year on education, especially in higher education. However, its effects are minimal. In fact, in his study, Jake Halpern discovered that, when asked if they want to be (1) a CEO of a big company like General Motors, (2) a Navy SEAL, (3) a US Senator, (4) the president of a great university like Harvard or Yale, or (5) the assistant of someone famous when they grow up, a staggering 43.4 percent of highschoolers he asked say they want to be (5) an assistant to a star.

Are we spending trillions upon trillions of dollar every year, not to produce leaders, but assistants to said leaders? With no-one to lead, who will our massive population of assistants assist?

The internet is changing our economy, our culture and our lives every day. In this new economy, we do not need that many compliant workers anymore. What we need in this day and age are leaders, artists, entrepreneurs, problem solvers. However, our education system’s aim was never to produce any of those. Shall we keep sticking with it or shall we revolutionize it, just like what we’ve done with mass media, transportation and communication?

I guess the end to this story of my rebellious brother can be considered a good one. He negotiated a compromise with my mother. He will try his best to slog through his last year of the 12th grade, but after that, he’ll pursue an online education of his own. I’m just glad he won’t have to waste 16 years of his life in the broken education system like I did.

Colors: Why I don’t use them much

Let’s be honest: we are not that different from our cave-dwelling ancestors. Scientists have proven this fact again and again. Just like our ancestors, we are easily excited by colors, movements and rewards. Companies know this, and they are using it against us. They designed social media apps, video games and websites in a way that mimic the thrill and pleasure of slot machines, in order get us addicted.

Because, we are not their customers, but their products. We are the data ‘cow’ for them to milk and sell to the highest bidder. The more colors there are in the website, the fancier the effects, the longer we will stay, and the more data they can milk from us.

That is why, I do not want this blog to be just another tool to grab your attention. In Vietnamese, we have a saying, “hữu xạ tự nhiên hương”, meaning if a flower is naturally aromatic, people will naturally gravitate towards it. Perhaps this is a bit extreme in this day and time, when marketing techniques are widely practiced. I know of many blogs or channels become an overnight success after they went viral.

However, that depends on what your definition of “success”. Mine doesn’t have anything to do with fame or money in it. I didn’t start this blog hoping to be the very best one out there, in terms of traffic, virality or ad clicks. This blog doesn’t even have an ad on it.

I define my success as the value I bring to you. If you can take home something from this post today, it means I’m already successful in what I wanted to do.

I don’t want to treat you and your mind as commodities. You deserve much more than that.

Best or Better?

Sometimes, you just can’t be the best

No matter what you do, there will be someone who’s better than you at what you do. You and I, no matter how hard we work at our day job, will never be as rich as Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos, who makes more money in an hour than we do in a lifetime. But … can’t you be the best at something? Anything? Even if it’s useless? Well, a year ago, someone stuffed 459 straws into his mouth. Try and top that.

So, if you are measuring your success based on those metrics, against those people, your life would be a complete failure. Just like the guy who was kicked out of his band before they recorded their first album. His name was Dave Mustaine. After getting the boot, he vowed that he would found another band. This band of his would be much more successful than the last one. He would torture them with a lifetime of seeing him on TV, on radio, and in concerts.

You might have heard of his new band, Megadeth. And if you’re not into heavy metal music, just know that they are kind of a big deal. They sold over 25 million records and toured the world many times over. Yet Dave was still bitter, even though he’s now a millionaire and his band is one of the most influential bands in the genre. Just because the name of the band who kicked him out was Metallica, “which has sold over 180 million albums worldwide. Many consider Metallica to be one of the greatest rock bands of all time. And because of this, in a rare intimate interview in 2003, a tearful Mustaine admitted that he couldn’t help but still consider himself a failure. Despite all that he had accomplished, in his mind he would always be the guy who got kicked out of Metallica.” – Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.

It’s bad to be the best

I once heard someone said, “If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room”.

If you are the absolute best at something, you lose the motivation, the humility and the perspective. It’s often not a good thing to be at the top, as the ecstasy of medals and parades wears off quickly, and then you stagnate. When he was asked about his chances of winning the ultimate literary accolade, the Nobel Prize in Literature, Haruki Murakami said in an interview with The New Yorker, “I don’t want prizes. That means you’re finished”. No wonder why they give many awards posthumously. When you’re dead, you’re perfect, you can’t make mistakes, and you can’t be any better as well.

Why do you need to be the best anyway?

Comparing yourself to others is like trying to climb trees as a goldfish. It’s pointless, impossible and dangerous. Remember the old saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy”. By comparing yourself to others, you not only guarantee yourself a miserable life, but you also limit your chance to grow.

Rather, you should compare you with yourself yesterday, using internal values such as integrity, hard work or knowledge. As long as you go to sleep today knowing that you are better in those regards in comparison to yesterday, you are a success already. Always remember the eternal words of Ernest Hemingway:

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self”.