The worst thing about school

The worst thing about school is how short it is.

That might sound insane. And for most people, probably the point I’m making is irrelevant and school is actually just long enough, or perhaps even too long.

For the person who wants to get out of school and get on with life, school is of course not too short.

For the person who wants to get a good practical degree, in engineering or business or something of that kind, I’m assuming that you receive everything you should need in a degree and will not wish for more, or more time, in school.

For the person who really wants to think about how the world works, to look at the history of ideas and their expression and their clashes with one another, school is not long enough, not nearly.

To attain a really powerful level of education, it’s necessary to think and act and plan in terms of five or ten years at a time, in my experience. Learning languages, getting to know fields of study, getting acquainted and skilled with different methodologies or writing styles — to be done well, these things really require very large investments of time.

In postsecondary education, everything needs to be planned in one- or two-year segments, and so it may be that what is learned is not so much the substance of a thing as how to make a convincing facade of having understood something. Not a completely useless skill, perhaps, but hardly the goal of a genuine education.

It is only at the level of a PhD that these time constraints finally begin to expand slightly, and yet based on the nearly universal reports of the stress and anguish of students in doctoral studies, it seems that even here the required leisure is not quite made available.

I do not doubt that there is much, much room for improvement in the way formal education is structured in the world today, though I don’t have any confidence to propose specific practical changes at an organizational level. The best I can recommend is a change in mindset for students.

It’s important to see the short time of a college education as a starting point, a time for gathering resources that will support us on our longer-term autodidactic educational projects, rather than as an education complete in itself. I think I’ve managed to make this leap for myself, but perhaps only because of luck, on account of the opportunity that Covid provided. I hope many others will have the chance to share in the same sort of approach I have found for myself.

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