A big theme in my life has been how much I had to unlearn to come to the decision to homeschool my kids.
I had to unlearn all my assumptions about parenting (it turns out that kids don’t need teachers, they need love). I unlearned my assumptions about self‑management (well-roundedness is an outdated goal). And I had to change my assumptions about how much respect each child deserves (freedom to choose what we learn is a fundamental right).
Now that I’ve been homeschooling for a while, I understand that the reason it’s traumatic for most young adults to enter the workforce is because they have to unlearn so many things from school in order to survive in adult life.
No matter what age you are, the faster you start your unlearning the faster you can shed the weights that hold you back from moving forward in today’s knowledge-based workforce. Here are five things most people need to unlearn.
1. Accommodating forced learning
Gen Y’s latest thing is binge learning, where you become so interested in what you’re doing that you don’t want to stop until you’ve learned it all. But the only way that you can binge learn is to know how to find course materials on your own and choose the sequence of those materials that works best for you. This means you can’t rely on someone else’s syllabus and you can’t rely on somebody laying out the steps for you.
In the workplace, to create our own value, we must create our own learning path. You have to unlearn the habit of waiting to be told what comes next in your education if you want to take control of your adult life.
2. Studying for the grade you can get on the test
Adult life doesn’t give letter grades. Sometimes adult life gives promotions or if you’re good at sales you might win a trip to Hawaii for your family, but in general, the reward of adult life is being able to find a path that’s good for you and put yourself on it. There’s no letter grade for that because the only person who can judge whether it’s a good path or not is you.
The act of making decisions independent of letter grades is completely opposite to everything that school stands for, because if you’re doing work that is separate from earning an A, then you’re completely uncontrollable in the classroom as you start losing the need to even show up to the classroom.
So school teaches you that you should study what’s on the test. Work is the opposite. What matters will never be on the test.
3. Saving self-discovery for vacation
For those of you who don’t follow the lives of Prince William and Prince Harry, a gap year is when somebody finishes high school and takes a year off before university study, presumably because you don’t learn about yourself while you are studying, so taking time to learn about yourself is important enough to give it a whole year.
This is actually true that usually you don’t learn about yourself when you’re studying, because if people tell you what to study, then you gain no insight into who you are. But if you take a year off to learn about yourself, you reinforce the idea that education and self‑knowledge are two completely different things.
However, in the workforce, education and self‑knowledge through work are the twin tickets to adult happiness. If you’re not synchronized so that you have them moving together, you will always feel like you’re missing something.
4. Saying something even when there’s nothing to say
In sixth grade my teacher gave us a list of topics about Mesopotamia for a ten-page paper she assigned. When she got to the topic of medicine in Mesopotamia, she said it was a hard one. I picked that one.
I brought it home to my dad who can win Trivial Pursuit in one turn every time and my mom who was on Jeopardy, and they said, “Medicine in Mesopotamia? There wasn’t any. What are you going to write about this?” We did a bunch of research to determine that, indeed, there were not ten typed pages to be written about medicine in Mesopotamia. We did conjecture instead, but that only got us to five. So I learned the art of bullshit by writing ten pages about medicine in Mesopotamia.
Paul Graham, one of the premier investors of college‑age startup founders, talks about how forced yammering on topics about which you have nothing to say end up affecting you negatively in the workforce.
He talks about kids who have great ideas for startups and they think it’s time to raise money, so they force themselves to start talking about why it’s time to raise money when, in fact, it’s not time to raise money. They have nothing to say about raising money. They should just be at home doing their business idea.
Graham points out that the idea that it doesn’t matter whether something is relevant or pertinent or necessary is lost on kids who have been forced to talk about nothing for eighteen years.
5. Using video games as a reward for finishing learning
It’s fashionable right now for parents to use video games as a reward for having finished schoolwork or, for the really nice parents, as a reward for just having made it through the school day. The thing is that video games actually teach important skills for work. And kids who play video games do better as adults.
I’m really happy to tell you that human resource managers understand this so well that it’s been shown that people who play World of Warcraft at work during work hours on the work computer are higher performing employees. There are lots of reasons for this. World of Warcraft is extremely competitive. It requires long‑term commitment and strategy, and it favors people who understand how to shift between different sorts of tasks that require different kinds of thinking.
Parents need to unlearn schooling in order to parent so that their kids don’t need to unlearn schooling in order to work.