A Hard Knock Education: Self-discipline and experience make a life-long learner

Education is an amalgamation of life experience, structured study, and critical thinking. From this perspective there are different ways to examine education and the coinciding knowledge that can be obtained. One focal point is the traditional concept of formal education that comes from academic schooling and focused study.  The other form of education is based on life experience and informal learning through self-study and personal inquiry. Both formats of learning may provide an equivalent knowledge base, though only one provides the social standard of a conventional degree. On the one hand, formal education provides a focused knowledge base to apply to a specific job, and provides a degree revealing a certain level of formal study and knowledge. One the other hand, formal education has some limitations for real world application and understanding. It is hard to determine if experience or education is more valuable to prospective employers, or even our own personal competence and wisdom. Regardless, from both we gain knowledge, and as Sir Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power.” When it comes to intelligence, a valuable, but cliché consideration, is the old idea of “book smarts vs. street smarts.” These are two areas of equal importance that provide knowledge and wisdom to initiate growth for future development.

So, is one really more valuable than the other? Theories of intelligence have added an extra dynamic to the equation. A three part intelligence model, developed by Robert Sternberg, called the Triarchic Theory of Intelligence, incorporates knowledge subparts of analytical, creative, and practical. Analytical intelligence is our general faculty for solving problems. This is in the more traditional sense of taking a test, solving cross word puzzles, etc.  The creative subpart is based on utilizing creative ideas and developing novel concepts and notions from non-existing form. The practical subpart is how we adapt to a particular environment, or how we problem solve in everyday tasks; in other words, street smarts or practical experience. Unconventional success Let us consider Richard Branson in the context of this intellectual model.  We can only presume, based on his immense business recognition and financial success, that he maintains a high level of creative and practical knowledge. He is very creative, works well with others, and is able to problem solve and make crucial, productive decisions. As for analytical knowledge, Branson was known to be dyslectic and struggle through much of his required schooling. So in a traditional sense he probably wouldn’t score well on standardized tests or make good academic grades. Even if a standardized test, or poor grades yielded a lower than average intelligence on paper, which I would in no way imagine he has, there is obviously much more to success and intelligence than analytical ability. Many of the most successful figures have gone on to greatness with little more than a high school degree in technical terms, such as Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, and Bill Gates. A college diploma does provide a credibility showing a commitment and knowledge base in a certain area, but just the same, from life-long and self-paced learning, one can engage in an educational journey that is based on what one truly finds valuable and inspiring, and potentially gain more from this self-directed study. I find many of my friends to be the most intelligent and insightful individuals I know, though this comes out a formal education path terminating soon after high school. Despite a conventional concern, they have managed to self-educate and teach themselves through valuable experiences, dedicated self-education, and extensive reading, all of which should probably provide them with an honorary degree. Staying credible for the future Despite any of these notions on multiple intelligences and the fact that learning is ultimately a personal journey in itself, college admittance is growing at a fury pace. Similarly, over 1/3 of college students are over the age of 25.  The student demographic is changing to reveal people perceive real value in formal education. It is hard to argue against the expectancy for a college degree in today’s society. Having at least some post-secondary education is expected for most professional occupations, especially if a license or certification is required.  These regulatory policies provide reassurance that qualified individuals are doing their job and give clearer understanding to the frame of knowledge a person holds. From this perspective a formal education can provide a structure and format for learning a certain curriculum, which is incredibly important for many people who are not self-motivated to learn. By getting the most out of our education we can go on to develop and form a viable career, even if drastically different than our education. We can take our knowledge and create anything we desire. Whether we gain knowledge from formal education or life experience, or if we invest in starting a business or attending college, the future is for us to determine. We must learn to cultivate all our faculties of intelligence regardless of our professional path, and make it known that a standardized, analytical test by no means limits our future potential. Musical savants show us that incredible musicians and composers can score at a level of mental retardation on an IQ test, but when engaging in their ultimate purpose of playing or composing music, they are far ahead of the curve. Similarly, all the worlds intelligent and wealthy slackers show how even with a college degree, high intelligence, and financial resources, we still have to take action and do something with our education and skills if we want to amount to anything. By overcoming fear of uncertainty in the professional sphere people can dedicate themselves to a personalized, structured education tailored to a business or social endeavor they value and believe in. If we don’t have the wherewithal to go at it alone, a college education may provide the catalyst for bigger and better things by opening our minds to the vast potential within and without. Formal education can instill courage and ambition that may not have been before present. Though, without a doubt, there are the fortunate few who take the world head-on through sheer creativity and practical knowledge. There is not wrong or right, except for what works best for us as individuals. Self-awareness in this sense, is the goal of the life-long learner.