I’m a functional idiot by any measurement. I just realized the highest level of math I’ve used in the past year. Heck, the past 25 years. Well… More on that in a second. But you’ll see. It’s pathetic.
What about other subjects? What have I made use of in life?
What about Shakespeare or Chaucer? Have they done much for me this year?
Or SCIENCE? And can someone tell me the actual reason for World War I? Or what percentage of the population supported the Revolutionary War? I have no idea. I’m going to look it up before I finish this post. Stick with me.
So where did education get me?
My first job interview after college was with Lincoln Laboratories run by MIT. The job description: develop software to determine what objects in space were garbage and what were Soviet missiles.
My entire education led up to a job interview that would let me blow shit up.
Now, having been out in the real world for 23 years I can tell you exactly what you need to know to be “educated”.
And by that I mean: thrive in COMMERCE, in LOVE, in CREATIVITY, and in PEACE. (With “commerce” and “love” I assume you are providing value and help to others and making the world a better place).
Note, this is only what works for me. For you, I have no idea.
You might need Chaucer. Maybe you work in Canterbury, England and you need Chaucer to survive cocktail parties and first dates.
So to repeat: what follows is what I need to know to consider myself educated as defined above.
This is also how I would change education if I had the chance.
Let’s take it subject by subject.
MATH – I’ve been a computer programmer, an entrepreneur, an investor, daytrader, etc. All areas that needed “math”.
The highest level of math I needed to know in the past 25 years …
Like… how to do them in my head quickly.
You don’t need Calculus. You never need to know what an integral is. You don’t need geometry. I consider myself educated but if you ask me to define an “isosceles” triangle I wouldn’t be able to do it.
In fact, I couldn’t spell it. I wrote it, then there was that red line under it, so I right clicked and fixed it.
Thank you GOD and ALLAH for inventing that little red line thing.
(of course, an educated programmer did that. But that comes out of interest. Not out of force-feeding Java to 12 year olds).
I don’t know the quadriplegic formula or anything like that. I can’t solve for “X”. Unless it’s on someone I love. Then I’m very good at problem solving.
LITERATURE. First off, here’s what you DON’T need to know: Shakespeare, Chaucer, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emerson, F Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby was nowhere near as good as his first novel, “This Side of Paradise” which nobody teaches in high school), and high school English teaches zero contemporary or ethnic writers.
Nobody in my kid’s high school knows who James Baldwin is, for instance. They left out gay, black writers when they taught Chaucer.
So other than “Old Man and the Sea”, a book about fishing, and “Catcher in the Rye”, a book about a rich kid who goes to private school and lives in the Upper East Side, school doesn’t teach anything written after 1950.
What about culture, you might ask? I don’t know. Teach your kids about culture. Don’t outsource it to Chaucer who, chances are, has nothing to do with your particular culture. And he lived 600 years ago. There’s been a lot better writers since him.
I’ll save writing in a bit. Since current schools don’t teach kids how to write AT ALL and that’s a shame.
SCIENCE: you actually need to know NOTHING.
Biology textbooks are hopelessly outdated. As are physics textbooks. There are better resources online where you can learn faster without the pressure of tests and homework. But unless you are doing CPR soon, you don’t need to know anything.
Nobody remembers the muscle names five minutes after the test is over. Unless you are a chiropractor a surgeon when was the last time you made use of basic biology.
And I have never used my knowledge of chemistry or physics in the past 25 years.
Chemistry is useless. You will never in your entire life need to mix two chemicals in a lab to create a chemical reaction. Unless you are breaking bad and making a meth lab. Good luck with that.
In physics they meet teach you Newton. Well, he was wrong. Einstein replaced him. Then Heisinger replaced him. Now there’s string theory. Then membrane theory replaced that.
Nobody is right. And when will you use this in practical life? Even at cocktail parties people will zone out when you start scribbling n-dimensional equations on a napkin.
I know this because I zoned out when someone did that to me to describe how he would make a time machine. I always speak from experience.
Here’s another basic question: other than anecdotes, can you actually prove the Earth is round? I can’t. Nor would it even change my life if someone told me the Earth was a triangle. It wouldn’t make me a better or worse person.
HISTORY: First thing: forget everything they teach you in school. None of it is correct OR none of it you will remember. Probably all of it is lies.
At every talk I give I ask, “when was Charlemagne born?”. Nobody has ever given me an answer that is correct within 500 years. The most important king of Europe ever.
So I looked it up myself, many times. Then proceeded to get it wrong on the audio version of my book. So I looked it up again so I could get it right in my book. Well, I got it wrong. And do you know what that has cost me in life? Nothing.
Here’s the other thing about history classes. They try to give complicated justifications for wars. Wars have never created peace. They only create more wars and kill lots of 18 year olds.
First, schools rarely teach about the Vietnam War. They sort of stop with World War II and say, “The US has never lost a war”.
But even WWII has dubious beginnings. “We saved the Jews”. No we didn’t. Six million died. And Roosevelt sent back to Auschwitz the ones who were begging to come to America.
And then the legacy of World War II let Stalin kill another twenty million people and Mao kill another sixty million people. In fact, spend some time reading the writings of pacifists during World War II and they are almost all Jewish rabbis (source: Nicholson Baker’s book on WWII).
Even the sacred Revolutionary War was only supported by about 30 percent of the population and was started for all the wrong reasons (most people can’t actually give me the reasons for the Boston Tea Party, for instance).
This is all prelude to the fact that almost all news headlines (the footnotes that add up to future history) are misinformation placed there on purpose to get you to buy papers rather than actually give you useful information.
I think I’ve covered all the main topics. So what do you need to learn?
MATH- I mentioned above: Percentages in your head. That’s it.
LITERATURE – read whatever you want or don’t want.
Hopefully you WILL enjoy reading but if you don’t, then you will gain nothing by reading a book. Studies show that people forget what they read 45 minutes after they read it if they weren’t interested.
The BENEFIT of reading is that while someone else spent a lifetime getting the information you are reading, you can get pick that information up in a few hours. If you read a lot of books then it’s as if you’ve absorbed many lives.
That’s pretty cool. Like a magic pill.
So better to read than not read. But it’s not a requirement for success. In fact, studies show that illiterate people often develop workarounds to avoid being penalized for their functional illiteracy. The National Center of Education Statistics contends that up to 50% of people in the US are functionally illiterate.
WRITING – VERY IMPORTANT. Everyone needs to learn how to write.
Whether you send emails, texts, tweets, business plans, status updates, or give talks, you need to learn how to communicate through text.
People say: to write well, you need to read a lot. This is not true.
The short cut to learn how to write well is not by reading good books. This is a common misconception. The real shortcut is to read great direct mail sales letters.
These open with a BOOM! so you can’t turn away, they are structurally designed to get a point across, to keep your eyes going down the page, to get rid of all the common arguments against an idea, and to surprise you at the end with a sweetener so that at the end you say “YES!”.
IF YOU THEN WANT, read “Old Man and the Sea” and you will be a better writer. No kidding.
Feel free to disagree with me on this. Old Man and the Sea will teach you nothing about anything, but it will teach you how to write short sentences with emotional impact.
You can argue, “but reading is pleasurable”. It is for me, for instance. But not for many people (only 13% of Americans are considered “literate”).
This is almost all you need to know. If you know how to communicate, do percentages, understand that almost all history is lies and that all science is questionable (not in a religious way but actually in a scientific way), then you can succeed in life.
Oh, read Claudia’s recent post about the best salesman ever or my post on “The Ultimate Cheat Sheet For Selling Anything”.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING FOR A GOOD LIFE:
But you need ONE MORE THING and I hate to say it because I say it in many posts.
You need to be physically healthy. You need to be around people who inspire you. You need to write down ten ideas a day to keep the creativity flowing and the idea muscle exercised. And you need to keep the gratitude muscle exercised.
IMPORTANT: The gratitude muscle and the idea muscles are like the sixth and seventh senses on top of our normal five senses.
With eyes you can see the world. With your tongue you can taste the world. Etc.
But with a strong idea muscle you can see ALL of the possible worlds. Like tasting the fourth dimension.
And with a strong gratitude muscle, you can see the filaments of possibility that bind all the worlds together. The things that keep the clock ticking. I don’t say this in a pseudo-science way. I have no science on this. I only say it because it’s worked for me.
I say it because I do it.
Here’s my ideal curriculum for a kid:
- Do one creative thing a week (write, paint, etc). The brain needs the exercise.
- Read one book a week (if you are interested)
- Rip apart whatever the headline is of the Monday morning New York Times and explain why it’s misinformation. (Or pick the Washington Post. Whatever newspaper you want. They are all the same.).
- And then do whatever interests you (via free courses all over the Internet, coursera is my favorite, History, engineering, whatever interests you only)
- Be healthy in all the ways I describe.
I wish I had been taught this way. Now I am busy unschooling myself in this way.
Charlemagne was born April 2, 742. There’s no way I’m going to remember that past one hour from now.
Reprinted with permission from The Altucher Confidental.