There’s a war in the realm of education, and it’s a war we see waged constantly in commentary on blogs, news articles, and almost anyplace where education becomes a topic. I’m not talking about those who fight about public vs charter vs private vs home schooling. I’m not talking about specific curriculum approaches, be they Common Core, AP History, or anything in a similar vein. I’m not even talking tuition costs and student loans, though the cost of access to education does have an impact in this war. No – I’m referring to the ‘unknown war’ between those who have pursued a college degree and those who are self-taught. It’s a ‘war’ that does not good and only serves to create division and to belittle those that fall on either side.
There are a couple of logical fallacies at play on both sides. Let’s start with the college degree. I see a great number of individuals with degrees argue that, as a result of that degree, they have greater knowledge and / or more discipline in their fields (and sometimes outside of their fields) than those who do not have degrees. They feel superior to those that don’t have degrees or who didn’t pursue college (for whatever reason) and seem to equate spending money on college credits to be a sign that they worked harder.
Conversely, I have been witness to more than one discussion where a ‘self taught’ individual feels superior to someone who obtained a college degree because they were able to ‘do it on their own’ and not ‘waste’ the time or money. Often, I see these individuals belittling college graduates for spending the money, especially if those college grads are either not working in the fields of their degrees or are having to work a job that society calls ‘unskilled.’ (That’s another completely different discussion, and I’m going to try to avoid politics!)
Let me clue both sides in to the most important factor at play whether you possess a degree or are ‘self-taught’: your willingness to work hard, apply yourself, and to try to do something with the knowledge you gain. Paying for college is no guarantee of hard work. Even getting that degree doesn’t mean you worked hard. All the degree demonstrates is that you were both willing to pay, and to put in at least the minimum effort required to graduate — and that could be as little as showing up occasionally and barely passing tests or papers. On the other side of the coin, being ‘self taught’ doesn’t mean you’ve mastered your topic or field either. Maybe all you’ve done is read one paper and think you now know all you need to claim mastery. There’s no objective criteria at play.
Here’s the reality for both sides: given access to resources of similar scope, breadth and relative understanding, anyone willing to apply themselves can learn and master almost any topic given time. Education and learning come from two sources: your own experiences and what knowledge others have been willing to share. Here’s where the financial aspect DOES come into play: it is easier to access shared knowledge and build experiences when one has the finances to do so. That said, it isn’t necessarily impossible to do so without financial means. It just means more time and effort. I am a big fan of libraries and the Internet for opening up more information to everyone who seeks it. It’s become a good leveling influence, though it still suffers from growing pains and financial access limitations as well.
So here’s my thought: stop waging war over which way is better, or more valid, or more appropriate for your job setting. Start focusing on what makes education the important factor that it is. Those pursuing, or who have degrees: stop belittling those who are ‘self-taught’ for following that path – financial access isn’t available for everyone, and not everyone who could get loans wants to take on the burden of debt purely on the hope of meeting some arbitrary external expectation. While you may have worked hard, studied a lot, and come in at the top or near the top of your class, many who have degrees didn’t work so hard, so don’t look at the degree as the measure of your ability: look at what you actually did yourself to achieve it, and what you are doing now with it what you learned, even if it’s not in your career field.
Those who are ‘self-taught’: stop attempting to use being ‘self taught’ as some sort of superiority measure. Unless you have learned everything solely through experience with no assistance from others, you are not ‘self taught’. I say this as someone who falls under the category of ‘self taught,’ and it’s the reason I put it in quotes. I had the financial access and the opportunity to pursue a degree. I determined after a year that it didn’t suit my learning style, and I wasn’t getting as much from it as I did from self-study, but that was a personal choice. Even if I hadn’t had a choice due to access issues, financial or otherwise, I still wouldn’t be ‘self-taught’ because I took advantage of the knowledge others shared with me – be it through public education, books from the library, television shows, documentaries, and eventually, the Internet. I prefer the term ‘self-directed education’ to ‘self-taught’ for just that reason. My knowledge wasn’t formed in a vacuum where nothing existed but my experiences. I didn’t learn to read by finding books and puzzling them out entirely on my own. I didn’t learn to paint by first discovering how to create pigment and brushes and supports — I learned about them from others, and sought out as many different ways to keep learning and expanding my knowledge as I could. Those who took the college path directed that path for themselves. They still learned through a fundamentally similar process.
So again – let’s stop the ‘unknown war’ that only creates further division, and focus on what makes for similarities: that desire to learn, to expand our limits, and to make use of what we learn. That’s how we move forward and create a better society for all of us. That’s how we begin to tear down some of the walls that separate us from understanding one another. That’s how we take the next step in building a world that supports the needs of our children and their children. That’s why I am a teacher – to pass along what I learned to try to enable others to continue their educations and pursue their dreams. I’ll never judge anyone on their approach to learning, as long as they have one and actively pursue it. If you are reading this blog, or following my YouTube channel, I hope you can look at things the same way, but if not, I ask that you at least give it some thought before belittling another for their education path.
Thank you for reading.