This is the second part of the knowing vs. understanding series and in it I write about how school differs from life. One way to see the difference between knowing and understanding is to look at our social educational system. The fact is that today’s formal education does not guarantee in most cases a bigger success later in life. Usually, it’s quite the opposite. The longer we stay in school the less prepared we will be when we enter real life.
A big difference between formal education and life lessons is that in school we first acquire knowledge and then comes a test. But in real life we first get a test and only then we acquire not just knowledge but experiences. Life is a very brutal teacher sometimes but it teaches us everything very thoroughly. Life is all about learning, understanding and application of knowledge. School, on the other hand, is all about memorization of data. And because in today’s world of internet and mobile devices we can get just about any information we want in a couple of seconds organizations that are based on memorizing data have practically lost most of their value.
Nature is a big part of the school curriculum today. But what schools are doing is they are teaching our children about nature not with nature. They are teaching us like we are some isolated phenomenon of nature. We are in here in the classroom and nature, elements in the periodic table, levers and inclined planes, green plant photosynthesis and anthracite are somewhere out there. But at least students are on the same level with most of their teachers because they also many times don’t understand what they are teaching. If you truly want to learn about something you have to be a part of that.
Many parents are saying to their children: “The most important thing is to do well in school.” Those are the kind of parents who don’t understand what life is really about and are therefore unable to teach their kids what is really important in life so they are just passing all the responsibilities to the social educational system regardless of how bad it is. And because formal schooling is just one part of life they are really setting them up for failure later in life. Mark Twain understood the difference when he said: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” It’s always sad to see people who think that education stops when schooling does.
There comes a point in formal education where a further investment of our time, energy and money just becomes a loss. Seeking a graduate or even postgraduate degree just for the sake of “better opportunities” is nonsense. That is a big loss of money, a loss of opportunity to gain at least three years of real and valuable life experiences and also a loss of a big part of life. Smart companies today don’t require you to have a college education anymore. That is because they realize it’s not important what you know but what you do. The utilization of knowledge is important. Knowledge is useless if it does not serve you or in other words, you don’t know how to use it.
I would like to conclude with the words of Nobel prize winner Richard Feynman: “You can know the name of the bird in all languages of the world, but when you are finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You’ll only know about humans in different places, and what they call the bird. So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing – that’s what counts. (I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.)”