School as an Investment

Might as well learn something useful

If I take money out of my pocket and buy a laptop, when I get home I expect it to work. I expect it to do exactly what I want and I believe that is not too much too ask. It's not a surprise to anyone, we can all agree on this. It's an investment with a guaranteed return.

Now if I pay money for an education, I expect it to be useful to me. Graduation is not what I am aiming for. I paid to learn a skill that will help me get a job, start a career, or allow me to start my own company. But for some reason that is too much to ask.

School is not something we choose to be part of. At a very young age, you are automatically integrated into the system, and I would say rightly so. Some of the basic skills like reading and writing are a requirement to be able to function in our society.

But nowadays, school is integrated so much in our culture that we think that it is just the right thing to do. We put no thoughts on whether it is a good investment or not. I see tears of joy in parents eyes when they see their kid graduate. It is an emotional moment. Then a little later, it is confusion that overcomes their faces when the kid cannot find a job.

My parents tell me about the good old golden days when everyone had a job under their name even before they graduated. It is unrealistic to ask for this today. Maybe there is not enough jobs in a sector, or there are not enough good candidates. Whatever the reason why graduates can't find jobs, we are still pumping the system with more.

Maybe one day the system will collapse and we will get back to the days where everyone had to fend for themselves. You will need to work for yourself in order to make a living. Imagine everyone you know had to work for themselves. Scary thoughts right?

Your case may be different. Maybe you already have a degree and a job. Maybe you don't have this problem. But what happens when you lose your job? 40% of America cannot come up with $400 in an emergency. We are no longer in the era of working 45 years for a company then retire with a golden watch and a nice pension. It's rare to see someone who worked more than 5 years at the same job.

People lose their job and find others. In between, there is that frustrating job hunting period and the time companies don't seem to want to call you back. How long can you survive before you find another job?


One year of kindergarten, 12 years of schooling, on average 6 years of college (college + university). That's a good 19 years of our life we spend preparing. When we lose our job, none of this matter. All that matters is what an employer thinks when he reads our resume.

What can you do to survive in this in-between moment? Savings don't last that long because we have been trained to spend money we don't have. The only way to survive is to use the skills we have to make a living.

As programmers, accountants, marketers, we are pretty good at making our employer rich. In those 19 years of training, we are only prepared to work for someone else. If only we were taught how to work for ourselves in school, we could handle those in-between states much better.

Lose your job and your are at risk of losing your house, your car, and even your spouse. I'd argue that school should be our first line of defense against these problems.

When parents don't get involved, students fail.

I have heard this many times. The parents are blamed for their children not performing well in school.

I worked with companies that send their employees into training a few times a year. The employee can get a certification of completion which often leads to promotions. It benefits both the employee and the employer. But when the employee fails the test, who gets the blame? Certainly not the company that sent him to do training.

The only two that may be responsible for the failure are the employee and or the trainer. Then why are the parents blamed for a failing child? You can't blame a child for not understanding fractions. You certainly can't blame the parents either because, well maybe the parents can't do fractions.

Every time I hear about the story about student being the first in her family to graduate from college, I wonder: Who was helping her out when she had questions? Certainly not her parents, they didn't go to college. The teachers are responsible for her.

Teach children

The whole point of having paid professionals teach our kids, it's because they are professionals and we are not. So if teachers and schools can take credit for forming brilliant students, they should also bare the responsibility when they form mediocre students.

All this is to say, it is your teacher's job to help you do your homework, not your mom's.

Improving our schools

I wish our education system was like the stock market. When people collectively doubt the performance of a company, they sell. The stock price goes down, and people freak out. The company goes bankrupt or they do some magic to get people back on board.

In our school system, there is no accountability. You can say all you want about a school, it will still stand. You can't close a school because it is bad, you don't have many options with public schools. At the end of the day, kids have to go to school because, well, that's what they have to do.

Public schools never worry about whether they will be able to fill all the sits in class or not, they are always packed. Your local public school is your only affordable option. You have no choice. Take your child out and you won't find space for him ever again.

If schools had to compete in order to get students, then maybe we will see a change. If students are customers with investment money, when the school sucks, they can take their dollars elsewhere if they are not satisfied with the service.

Teach Problem Solving and Creativity

Today school teaches you how to follow instructions. That's why we only excel in working for others. They tell you what to do, and you do it. Easy!

Problem solving and art are the things you need to survive in the real world. The knowledge you have in a field is very much important, but problem solving will help you apply this knowledge in the real world. I know accountants that are called wizards in the job, but completely failed when they are working on their own.

Problem solving is the art of figuring out a solution of a problem you never faced before. Art, as in letting your mind explore the unknown, is the only thing that will help you be creative. Applying your knowledge in creative ways is what makes us human.

Together, those two skills help you go forward and remove all worries you have when you are unemployed. You are not worried because you know you have skills you can use to make a living.

This is the return I am asking for in my investment in school. A guarantee that I will be able to survive by myself. A guarantee that you will teach me the necessary skills that you have learned from experience not just by passing a multiple choice test.

The goal is not that I will wear the funny hat at graduation, it is not that I will be able to work for Google, it is not that I will be able to work for myspace or IBM. All those may disappear in the future. Teach me how to learn, how to be creative, how to solve problems. Let me graduate in the school of life.


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