Work is all about production. If the work gets done, it doesn’t matter how or in what order. “Just get it done”.
School is the opposite. It is not just about getting information in your head or filling a page with words and numbers. It is about learning how to learn, building a foundation for future learning and strengthening that brain muscle to make learning and eventually production faster and easier.
In school you learn how to learn. You learn the process of learning. I usually avoid processes and routine. They are boring, stifle creativity and often keep you from learning. They also get in the way of production in some lines of work. You cannot write a procedure for everything when every day brings a new and uniquely unique challenge. However, some processes, the right processes, actually help you learn.
School at its best will teach you the steps that are most helpful in learning new information and solving new problems – even ones that don’t look like anything you’ve ever seen before. The most valuable thing you learn in school is the process of recognizing what you don’t know, gathering facts, organizing the facts, putting them in context with what you already know and then applying your new-found knowledge to the problem at hand.
In school you are building a foundation that future knowledge can be built on. The facts that you do learn in school are basic facts that make learning job-specific or task-specific details easier. They give context to the details and help protect us from specialist that have no idea how to apply their research to the broader field and to useful life applications.
For example, knowing that it takes about three days to walk 100 miles helps you understand the importance of the pony express and telegraphs in the invention of the automobile, which may be used as an analogy discussing the importance of a new web-application. A general knowledge of history, science, technology, and math all work together to explain a new technology that might be difficult to understand otherwise.
School is intentionally broad in scope to help put all future learning in context. It may seem that you are learning a lot of useless details, but as you focus in on a specific area of knowledge in college or at work, you will discover that those details were actually quite basic facts that barely scratch the surface of what you really need to know to understand that field. I child may think they understand fire because they know that red means hot, but what about blue flames? Those should be safe right?
The more you learn the more you will discover things that you didn’t know that you didn’t know. And since every new thing learned uncovers five new things you don’t know, you will never catch-up with learning all of the things you are aware of that you don’t know! School, as complicated as it may seem, is a simplified set of facts that when learned will make learning the rest more doable.
School should also strengthen the brain, so that it gets used to learning and working through problems. Multiplication on a calculator is easier than multiplication in your head. If all you need is the exact answer, use a calculator, but if you need to make several quick estimates about how much space you need for 100 guests or whether you have enough time to complete 50 widgets by a deadline you can solve that in your head faster than typing it into a computer. Sure, you could look up any word in the dictionary, but you will be able to learn faster if you don’t have to.
School is similar to exercise in that many things you do would not make sense if you were actually trying to produce something. Lifting the same weight over and over again does not accomplish anything. Would it not make more sense to just pick it up once and put it away? Then at least you have accomplished cleaning.
School involves a lot of repetition. Sure that gets boring, but if we look back at the purpose for the repetition, it makes a lot of sense. The brain is a strange thing. It believes and remembers what it sees frequently. If you see a magician pull a rabbit out of an empty hat once, you are not likely to believe it is really possible. It must be an illusion. However, if your friends are all able to do the same thing on a regular basis, your brain starts to believe it even if you cannot do it yourself.
It has been proven many times that if you hear the same thing repeated often enough with enough certainty, your brain will believe it in spite of many facts to the contrary. This is why it is important to make sure that your are hearing good information frequently. You are smarter than your brain and you have to teach your brain what it needs to know. Repetition get the right information in and strengthens your brain so that it can learn more.
Learning and using good processes, acquiring a broad understanding of all areas of knowledge, and strengthening your brain is not, by itself, a very productive process. But productivity is not the goal. Preparation for production is the goal.