I have a friend who is teaching at an inner city school in New York City. Many of his students are children from difficult social circumstances and they question whether they will get anything out of being in school. Recently one of the students asked him what use is to it stay in school? From the perspective of a student coming from a rough neighborhood, the question makes a lot of sense. I thought about it and here is how I would answer the question if I were in my friends’ position.
The most important thing you get from a high school (or college) education is that you learn how to think. Whatever you are going to do in life, quick and original and nimble thinking is rewarded. That’s how humanity got to where it is today. The various facts and figures that you will learn in school will be forgotten shortly after you leave. In fact, even if you ask a PhD holder to take an exam shortly after leaving school he would probably fail too.
The “facts” that you learn in world history and world geography will probably even change with time, but if you can develop an ability to solve problems and face new situations and uncover the unknown then this will be an asset for you the rest of your life.
Another lasting benefit of a high school or college education is that you “learn how to learn” and develop a love of learning. Do you think that your learning process ends when you leave school? At age 18 or 22 will you have learned everything you need to know? As someone who is long past 18, I can say that learning can go on for the rest of your life. Magazines, radio, newspapers, TV, the Internet and who knows what information medium of the future all can supply you with a wealth of information. If you get into the habit of tuning into this flood of information and start enjoying the process then you will be learning for the rest of your life. What is “philosophy?” It literally means the love of knowledge and hopefully that is what you will develop by the time you end your formal studies.
One of the most important ingredients for success in life is keeping the company of good people. If you hang out in negative crowd, then you are going to sink to the level of your group. When you are in a formal education setting you can have a lot of good company. It comes in the form of teachers, fellow students and even the great scientists, artists, thinkers and doers of the past whose presence you can enjoy via books, film and recorded media. Hang out a bit with Shakespeare, Aristotle, Galileo, Buddha or Plato and you can’t go wrong.
Hopefully and most importantly, if you stay in a formal education environment you will learn the values that keep us civilized and moving in a positive direction. To be educated is not just a matter of being “smart” but it is a task of becoming “good.” A lot of very intelligent people have hurt humanity greatly. It is not enough to be intelligent, but it is of vital importance to learn what will help humanity and what will hurt it and to always act for the good of all.
These are the main reasons why education is so valuable. Oh yes, I forgot to mention, if you complete your high school or college course you will also get a certificate or credential that will help you to get a job! I mention this last because I am not a big believer in the certificates. It is what you are and what you can do that really matters and if formal education can improve you in these two areas, then you should continue as long as you can.