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Posted by on Feb 28, 2010 in Career, Education, Ex-Patriots, Lifestyle, Parenting, Social Issues, TG Roundup, Youth

Earning a Degree is NOT the Same as Getting Educated

Earlier today I was having a chat with Kanaka Prasad. The issue of education (adult and kids) came up in our discussion. A bit later I went to a recruiting event organized by our University, where I talked a bit about degree requirements in our program etc.  I came back to my office and checked a few things on the blogosphere I follow. I came across a piece by Karl Denninger on education. I just couldn’t resist the urge to say these few words on education.

Degree is (almost) essential for making a living. The current education system in most countries, including India and the United States helps you get a degree and make a living. What about education? Perhaps, a better question is, “What is education?” Education is accumulation of knowledge. I don’t think that the education system I am used to encourages knowledge accumulation.

I follow Karl Denninger for his insights on financial markets and economic outlook. I have a few areas of disagreements with him. However, as an educator, I couldn’t agree more on the basic premise of his latest piece on Education (Our Educational System’s Primary Failure). It’s all about being curious and learning things on our own! Excerpts:

To succeed a young person needs to be able to do three things – read, write, and understand mathematics.  The fourth ingredient is that the innate desire to learn must not be destroyed in their first few years of school.

All children start life wanting to learn.  Ever watch a baby?  It’s a curious being, is it not?  It reaches, it fondles, it touches, it experiments.  We put plastic caps in our electrical outlets because one of the experiments a significant number of babies and toddlers will perform is inserting a kitchen fork into said outlet, with bad results.

So how do we go from that to a surly vegetative kid at the age of 9, 10 or 12?

We do it by failing in the essential purpose of education – giving our children the foundational understanding they need, and then getting the hell out of their way!

We want to mold educational experience.  To teach “as we want them to learn”, instead of “as they wish to synthesize.”

We’re fools.  You, I, our school systems.  All of us.

I have one piece of advise to parents with young children. Encourage your children to be curious and learn things on their own, and to pursue what they are passionate about. Don’t force your wishes on to them. To demonstrate to you that I know what I am talking about, I will give you one personal example. In February 2003, when space shuttle Columbia blew-up in the atmosphere during reentry, I was watching TV with my son. I said a couple of things I knew about the space shuttle. He picked up from there and said a whole lot more about the space shuttles – how they are made, launched into orbit, docked in space, re-enter earth, transported from California to Florida as a piggy-back ride on Boeing 747 etc etc. I was not aware of a lot of details he said.

Even though I am a proud father, I do not want to take credit for his knowledge, which he gained on his own. However, some credit is due to my wife and myself, for, we clearly did some things right. When all this happened, none of that stuff about space shuttles was in any of his classes. My son was just 9 year old.

If this sounds like I am bragging about my son, ABSOLUTELY! [I am sure he or his sister will give me a hard time when he sees this. That’s OK.]

I also have one advise to those of you who are young and open minded enough to take and use a good piece of advise. Be on continuous quest for knowledge. Knowledge is vast and almost infinite. How much knowledge you can accumulate and about what? My answer: as much as you can and about the things that interest you and you are passionate about. Some of those things that SHOULD interest you is about yourself, your family, your past and your heritage. i.e. history!

Seeking knowledge is like going to a huge lake with a bucket. The maximum you can get is what the bucket can hold. The practical maximum is what you can carry. What is shameful is, returning with an empty bucket from a trip you only get to take once! That’s why they say, the mind is a terrible thing to waste.


  1. న చొర హర్యమ్ న రాజ హర్యమ్
    న భాత్ర భాజ్యమ్ న భారకారి
    వ్యయె క్రుతె వర్ధత యెవ నిత్యమ్
    విద్యా ధనమ్ సర్వ ధన ప్రధానమ్

    Neither the thieves can steal it, nor it is a treasure given to the king
    Neither it can be divided among brothers nor it is a heavy object to carry
    It will keep growing in spite of spending
    Vidya (EDUCATION) is the only wealth which is most important wealth of all.

    • And
      thanks for the post Mohan garu.

    • Manchi padyam…

      I want to take this opportunity to cite another personal example. When I was 11 or 12, I found this book, “Radhika Swathanamu” by Muddu Palani in my father’s library. It is a “pady kaavyam.” I read the foreword by Arudra in which he chided Telugu Sahithya Academy for banning certain poems from the book. The language is fairly erotic (about Radha having sex with Krishna.)

      My father saw me read that book. He did not stop me from reading it. Nor did he hide that book. On would think that it is fairly liberal for any Indian family. However, he also saw me reading a detective novel, which has some explicit sexual content. He gave me a piece of his mind. I didn’t understand it then. But I understand now. He was encouraging my curiosity as long as it was with the limits of acceptability.

      He apparently followed the teachings of Chanakya (or vedas) in raising kids. [one his friends told me later.] one of Chanakya’s tenets is, “Treat your son like a friend at 16.”

  2. How true! I’m passionate about primary education. In my opinion that makes or breaks a person in most cases.
    Every word we say, action we do around our young kids will have an effect on them (not all bad and certainly not all good).

    the challenge for teachers and parents is to understand that they cannot teach anything to anyone the only thing they can and should do is to facilitate learning!

  3. Two quotes from my college proffessors i want to add,one from Prof.G.R.rao
    ‘learn something about everything and everything about some thing” and the other from Dr.sreenivasan “we are here to create interest in the subject so that you will learn on your own”.
    Unlike in India where we give maximum focus on knowledge,i can see real focus on application of knowledge in North America.

    • Thanks , Love the quote “learn something about everything and everything about something” .