He’s Uneducated: Rethinking Our Models of Learning

Dilbert Comic - He's Uneducated

This comic is several weeks old, but I keep pulling it back up again and again. In just three small panels and in about 30 words, the strip speaks a pretty clear message of how the idea of education is shifting.

The more I thought about the comic, though, the more I realized we can actually read it two different ways:

  1. The interviewee is trying desperately to use the appropriate (yet empty) buzzwords that give him the credibility he needs. But to the Boss, it’s being translated into a completely different message: I’m a high school drop-out who failed three times at starting my own business. I’m not competent enough to make it through the formal education process, so I just try patch together the skills I need here and there. Instead of going to school, I went online and signed up for a few free courses, and printed off the completion certificates myself.
  2. Or, we can take what the interviewee is saying at face value: I was bored with high school and found it irrelevant because I spent all my time outside of class reading and learning about the things that actually interested me. I skipped my last year of high school and started not one but three successful start-up companies with a few of my buddies.  Although much of my knowledge is self-learned, the online course I’ve completed are designed and taught by ivy-league instructors from institutions like Stanford, Yale, and Duke. The technology field is constantly changing, so I continue to work and learn, diving into projects and learning the skills I need to be successful with those projects.
Regardless of our interpretation, however, Pointy-Haired Boss (that’s right–he doesn’t actually have a name in the Dilbert comics) is less than impressed, and he ultimately determines that this guy is uneducated.

Which leads us to the question: What is education? And how does that idea of “education” determine a person’s ultimate success?