How Much Do We Actually Learn in School?


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A few years ago, I had finished my college education with an undergraduate degree in Industrial Engineering. After finishing, I began reviewing all the classes I had taken to achieve my degree. In total, I had taken over 46 classes in my four-year program. My classes included a broad range of studies: English, economics, Asian American culture, computer programming, biology, calculus, philosophy, statistics, and of course… a lot of math. In looking at this large list of classes, I remembered the hours of homework, late nights, projects, exams and presentation. I was shocked with how much I had done and learned. However, thinking about all these classes, I was even more shocked when I realized that out of all that information I “learned” … I could hardly remember any of it!

Now, after 3 years out of college and working full time, I can more definitively say that the information taught in my classes has rarely been used, with doubts if it was ever used at all. Now, although I understand that this is not always the case, in talking with my friends and coworkers I began to see that this is not an uncommon scenario. With so little memory of anything taught to me in college, I began to wonder, “Is college even necessary?”

The School Material

ChineseI found that, of course, it is, but not in the way I feel many see it. The material I was taught was lost, but what I developed has carried on throughout my life. I was able to gain a stronger mind and successful habits. In going through college, I was able to develop myself as a person. I learned life changing lessons that help me to deal with the problems I encounter on a daily basis. Some things I was able to learn include:

  1. To understand how little I know.
  2.  Everything has a reason, even if I don’t see it.
  3. To know when I was in trouble and how to ask for help.
  4. What I was good at… and not so good at.
  5. To not expect others to change but to change myself.

Now there are many more, but I notice that what I gained most from college wasn’t “information,” but a foundation of thinking and living that has helped me to be successful. And when I ask most college graduates, it seems rather than telling me what information they learned, they end up telling me who they had become in those years.

It’s Time for a New School Approach

Now although college was where I developed these skills, by no means did college make it easy to do it. In fact, the current structure and focus of the educational system seems to create an environment that is not conducive to developing this “foundation of thinking and living” that I have found to be the most useful to me. Now, please don’t misunderstand me; the current educational system isn’t actively trying discourage these things but by placing such a big emphasis on learning “course information,” many students are so busy and stressed to learn anything else.

In the current system, students are expected to spend hours memorizing, repeating, and applying course specific information that in many cases will be forgotten by the time they leave college. Recent studies report:

  1. 23% of employers feel that graduates are prepared to apply their knowledge to the real world.
  2. 51% of employed graduates are in a job that doesn’t require a degree.
  3. 49% of graduates are in degrees not related to their college major.
  4. Over the course of four years, 45% of college students do not improve their reasoning and critical thinking abilities

Now the current system may not be failing in all cases; however, for a large group of students there may be a better way. Instead of a system that focuses on learning course-specific information that is forgotten or rarely used, perhaps a focus on developing a foundation of thinking and living is necessary. In this new approach, LSA’s educational system would help students by developing who they are and not just the information they know.

Leadership Society of Arizona

Leadership Society of Arizona (LSA) is a nonprofit organization that focuses on applying this new approach specifically in teaching high school students. The approach emphasizes the need to have students relaxed and stress-free in order to understand and apply simple concepts into their life. This is achieved by creating a structure with:

  1. The reduction in the workload of students.
  2. Minimized need for students to think.
  3. Minimized rules and restrictions to students.
  4. Maximization of student’s time to mediate and self-reflect.
  5. Open discussion and mentoring.

With this approach, LSA has already run multiple programs on the college and high school level with incredible results. The approach has helped students overcome personal issues that have helped these students become people that are prepared to enter the industry.

Here are some links to get involved:

LSA Summer Program

Free Online Course

LSA YouTube Channel

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