I’m almost done with Robert Greene’s latest book, Mastery. It’s an excellent read and I highly recommend it, along with his other work.
Without giving too much away, Greene explains that the right apprenticeship – i.e. observing an expert – studying an expert – working for an expert – is critical to developing Mastery.
Before schools and universities, people learned through apprenticeships. At a certain age, you decided what profession you wanted to pursue, then applied to train under an “expert” in that field. That didn’t mean you needed a famous teacher or the top person in the field from day one (although that’s certainly ideal). It meant you developed your talents by seeking out and working with those who knew significantly more than you. You’d repeat this process with more advanced teachers until you were learning directly from the greatest people in the country. Finally, you’d branch off and pursue your own creative genius. Within this system, you were responsible for your own education. Greene provides plenty of examples of how this cycle played out and impacted folks like Da Vinci, Darwin, and Mozart.
Unfortunately, we’ve lost sight of this strategy to achieving excellence and the result is our modern, “industrial” education system. We’ve decided to align our efforts behind standardized tests and curriculum, while acquiring degrees and certificates. Very little of our system today gives much consideration of practical knowledge, hands-on experience, or any of the rich learning opportunities that can only happen in an organic environment. In the process, we dismiss the idea of taking more control of our own educations. What’s more concerning than that is the fact that our system manages to actually stifle creativity. Through excruciating repetition and often times dogmatic philosophy, we manage to extinguish or oppress the light that is “true talent” or one’s “true self” at an extremely early age.
After our educational check-boxes are complete and our fear of pursuing our passions is well entrenched, we proceed to choose salaries and perks over environments where we interact with excellence. We let our egos and pride dictate our career decisions, instead of letting our hearts and aspirations guide us and inspire us to strive to be great at what we love.
As Sir Ken Robinson pointed out in his now famous TED talk, “we don’t need education evolution, we need a revolution”. Robinson goes on to strongly recommend that we move away from the “industrial model” of education, focusing less on the people and more on “linearity” and “conformity”, and adopt an “agricultural model” of education, focusing less on predicting outcomes and more on supporting individual growth. He elaborates by saying we cannot prescribe a single formula for individual human development, rather we must create an environment that nurtures individuals, helps them grow, encourages them to try, fail, find their true talent, and allows human development to flourish.
I’m not saying school does nothing good. People fought long and hard in this country to have the opportunity to attent school and I am in no way suggesting that anyone shouldn’t feel very fortunate to be able to go to high school, college or graduate school. It’s a privilege and honor to have that opportunity. My experience at college changed my life for the better, no doubt. What I’m saying is that we need to take control of our educational journey, stop following single-file lines into our careers, and stop relying on the “mechanical machine” that is our system to walk us through everything we’ll “need”. The first step of the revolution is not rejecting the current system completely and losing sight of the value it does provide. It’s simply re-claiming the confidence and discipline to create our own learning path and not relying on the system to know everything that’s right for us.
This is all much easier said than done. I didn’t come by these thoughts on my own. A combination of ideas from others, plus my own apprenticeships and advice from experts I ladmire has helped me start to wrap my head around the changes that I’m observing in our economy.
I believe we each have talents that it is our distinct honor and responsibility to find and develop. Skills and interests that fill us with joy and that we have the ability to master. These talents are all very intricate, complex, and unique. And I can’t believe that a system rooted in conformity has all the nutrients necessary for the type of growth we want to strive for.