What is a “Good Education”?

Growing up, my parents told me “You need a good education if you want to get a good job.  That means college or university.” When someone they knew was struggling in life, the explanation was simply, “Well, he never did get a degree.” 

The message: a university degree brings you wealth, happiness, opportunity, and success.  Not having a degree doomed you to a life of menial, unpleasant, drudgery and servitude. 

I bought into the message and vowed to get a good job. But I was never quite sure what that job would be. 

Especially after I took a vocational guidance test in Grade 10.  I eagerly awaited my personal list of ‘Top 5 Careers,” hoping it would include magician, comedian, stuntman, toy designer, or gigolo. 

Or maybe all five!  Yay! Multi-tasking!

The truth was, I didn’t want to grow up.

Alas, the test results did not recommend my imagined careers.  The only one I can recall from the list was… ahem…  Furrier.  I thought Furrier was an adjective.  As in, “my dog is furrier than your dog.” 

When the Guidance Counselor explained what a Furrier did, I was mortified.  I tried to imagine any aspect of that job that would appeal to me—skinning animals, sewing them into clothing, dealing with customers.  A test designed to open my mind to opportunities left me afraid that adulthood was going to be hell.  I would have to endure 40 years of boredom before being allowed to retire…Unless I got a university degree.

In something.  I just didn’t know what.

When well meaning relatives would ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I shrugged. After learning what a Furrier did, I didn’t want to grow up.

A million-to-one long shot.

When I went off to university, I still had no idea what I wanted to do.  I was pursuing a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physics, not because I fancied a career in Physics, but because it was my most interesting course in high school (and I had a great teacher).  Yes, I did love art class and a TV course I took in Grade 11.  But the notion that I might make a living in television, or creating art… that seemed like a million-to-one long shot.

So when I was struggling through my second year of university, depressed, dreading university as much as I had dreaded High School, I went to the Registrars office and opted for a 3-year General Degree instead of a full 4-Year degree.  I was convinced this less rigorous degree doomed me to a mediocre life with a mediocre salary.

I was wrong, or half wrong.  My life has never been mediocre.

When I graduated from university, I still had no idea what I was going to do with my life. But I had a great job, doing zany public demonstrations with lasers, cryogenics, and combustible chemicals at a Science Centre.  It was perfect for me.  But it never felt like a career. 

I dislike the term ‘career.’  For me, and a lot of my peers, our work record does not look like a ‘career path.’  It’s more like a game of Leap Frog or Hop Scotch, jumping from one interesting job to another, often with only passing connections or overlap. 

A burgeoning revolution.

Despite my own checkered but fascinating journey, when I became a parent, I found myself repeating the same ‘truth’ to my kids, “You need a good education to get a good job.  That means college or university.”

Now my kids are adults… and I’ve come to see that ‘truth’ is wrong.  Or half wrong.  Yes, you need a good education to get a good job.  But no, that doesn’t mean the only route to your dream job is through college or university. 

Nor does a college or university degree guarantee a job.

I base this conclusion on my own experience… and that of my siblings, colleagues, and friends.

Lately I’ve been editing a new TotallyADD video about how to prepare ADHD kids for college or university.  A dozen experts talk about the extra challenges ADHD brings to an already stressful transition, and the pitfalls ADHD kids face in trying to earn a degree. There’s lots of really sensible advice.  And some creative, out of the box strategies.

And several experts talk about something… well, revolutionary.  Their message is simple, but almost alarming: “Don’t go to college or university.

Or perhaps, go only for as long as you need to get the knowledge you need. 

Or take 2 years and work in a slew of different fields to find a fit. 

Intern.  Apprentice.  Take online courses. Volunteer. 

This is not just an extraordinary idea—it’s happening. More and more.  A burgeoning revolution. 

In the middle of editing the video, I read the latest edition of ‘The Economist. (Which I’d argue, is the best business magazine in the world. Certainly the most readable.) 

And their cover story?

“The Whole World Is Going To University:  Is it worth it?”

It’s a big question. 

Many people who are excelling in today’s hyper-evolving economy are self-educated.  They are constantly upgrading their skills. Life-long learning.  For the ADHD mindset, it’s a natural fit. 

I Believe in Good Education.

Let me be clear, I am very much in favor of education. Good education.  And by good I mean the right education, the appropriate education for the job you want.  Yes, if you want to be a doctor, you will need to spend 6 or 7 years earning a medical degree.  And that’s a good thing. For many careers, a traditional, linear, accredited, structured education curriculum is terrific.

But I’ve watched a lot of young people earn degrees that did not give them the skills they needed to get the job they wanted.  Or any job at all. 

It seems to me that most people spend more thought and research on a new house than on what kind of degree to earn. We rush kids directly from High School into University without any experience of real work and real workplaces.  It’s all theoretical. What they’ve read about the career, or seen on TV. 

Asking 16 year old students to decide on what they’re going to do for a living, and then commit tens of thousands of dollars and many years of studying it, is… well, it’s like asking young people to purchase a house based solely on reading a dozen real-estate ads.   

And with the change of pace in the world, there’s a real danger that they could end up spending time and money getting a degree for a career that no longer exists.

Or even worse, working as a Furrier.

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