School Doesn’t Prepare You for Work or Life

(From the project Dialogues with Julian Moody: On Life, Business, Sustainability, and Other Things by Julian Moody and Brandy Walker)

BW: Shortcomings in education often turn up as problems in the work environment. Many people assume these problems would be due to a lack of academic or technical knowledge, but you found that a majority of the problems were relational. For example, people are most often fired because they simply can’t get along with their coworkers, not because of any lack of academic or technical knowledge.

JM: Yes, that’s very common. Many people have excellent technical and academic credentials, but they have difficulty relating well with others or working well with others. And what happens with a lot of people—because they learn nothing about human relations, they have difficulty holding jobs.

BW: Being able to communicate and work well with peers and resolve conflict and prevent conflict—they’re key to being successful in your job, but they’re rarely addressed in education.

JM: No.

BW: In higher education or lower education.

JM: Right. First of all, I should say that this is one of the areas that’s a typical example of how conventional schooling doesn’t prepare you for life. It doesn’t prepare you for coping with the problems of life. The whole area of human relationships. It is such a huge part of life, both in work and in our personal lives, but very little attention is given to that area in our education.

BW: Quality of life has a lot to do with quality of relationships. But we’re never taught that. The focus of education is primarily individual achievement. Outdoing others. We’re taught that excelling and being superior is the key to survival. But when I look at your life and eventual success, what I’m struck by is how it was actually your humility that was a key to your survival. And your humility was also the key to your success in the corporate world. This is an important attribute to have in life, but this is not something that is taught in school.

JM: It sure isn’t.

BW: Do you feel that something like humility can be taught in school, or is that part of character, or is it something that life teaches you?

JM: Being humble and not having a lot of pride, I think is something important to learn, but how a person would learn it. Hhmmm… (Thinking.) It’s not something that can be learned academically, in terms of something that can be tested. It can be learned from life experience, but I think it is learned a lot from example. From role models—both in school and outside of school. I think I learned humility from my mother and father.

BW: Through personal example. Because the school system is actually training you and conditioning you almost in an opposite way.

JM: Definitely in the opposite way.

BW: In previous topics, we discussed how the lack of humility is a big problem in the work world. For example, people who are most often fired have difficulty relating well with others. And you noted, these people often have an issue with pride. Very often, they believe they are smarter or superior or better than other people because they have this level of education, this level of knowledge, this level of expertise, that sort of thing. But that is actually what you’re taught in school—excelling, being better than everybody.

JM: Yes.

BW: Getting ahead of everybody. The whole status thing is conditioned into kids early on...

JM: Very early.

BW: The focus of education is strictly individual achievement.

JM: It is not focused on learning for life or learning how to live a good life.

BW: It’s the acquisition of academic or technical knowledge towards individual achievement.

JM: Basically achievement and to be the best achiever. The best engineer, the best this, that or the other. To be a star basically...

BW: Even in extracurricular activities, which are supposed to be a respite from the academic world, the emphasis is on becoming a star, an achiever. Which I think can make some people develop a false self just to be approved of.

JM: Yes.

BW: In our culture, the focus always seems to be about becoming a star. And if you’re not a star, it is implied that you are a failure or hopelessly mediocre. Whereas in your life experience, you failed many times. You failed almost every subject in school, but in reality, you survived quite well.

JM: The academic system is conditioning you to believe that if you don’t make it academically, you are a failure. It’s not that you have just failed in one thing, it’s really built in the idea—that you are a failure.

BW: If you don’t succeed in the classes in a certain academic way, you are a failure. In general, the educational system doesn’t build self-esteem in a healthy way in the sense of developing the ability to meet challenges like you experienced in the Carnegie program many years ago.

JM: Right.

BW: If you don’t succeed or test well within a narrow range of academic knowledge and ability, you are considered a failure and it is heavily implied that you can’t make it in the world, you can’t make it in society. You can’t survive. And that’s not necessarily true.

JM: It’s not true at all. What the school is teaching is the absolute opposite of reality.

BW: In another topic, you mentioned competition between companies and teams is healthy, but competition between individuals within a team or a company is very destructive. Individuals within a team or company have to know how to cooperate with each other, but as you mentioned, many people lack critical skills in this area. This emphasis on individual achievement in education at the expense of other critical areas seems poisonous.

JM: It’s very poisonous. And you see the effect of it everywhere.