Friday, April 10, 2015

Intelligence vs. Education

I've learned a lot over seven decades of life. The first 18 years were dedicated to learning the basics of surviving and functioning productively as an adult. The next 10 years were dedicated to the finishing period of preparing for a lifetime career by completing two college degrees and serving four years in the U.S. Air Force. The next 22 years were dedicated to my most active professional and productive period. The last 20 years, while I remained very active in my career and even expanded into another professional direction, was the period when I began to review my life and evaluate all I learned over the preceding years. I continue that review to this day.

When I turned 50, I remember saying, "Geez! I'm a half century old. I managed to survive and thrive. I believe I have reached a point where I might actually have gained some wisdom to share with others. And, now that I'm a half century old, I don't care what other people think or how they judge me anymore." Boy! Did that feel good. I adopted the mantra, WYSIWYG (pronounced - wiz ee wig) meaning - what you see is what you get!

My father used to repeat a little bit of wisdom when I was a kid. "Everyday I learn more and more about less and less until one day I'll know everything about nothing." He never made the 50 year milestone. He died at 42. His little saying confused as a kid, after all, when I was 16 and 17 I knew everything. You just had to tell me something and my immediate reply was, "I know! I know!" My thought, since age 50 has been, I wish I knew everything now that I knew when I was 17. I'll wager there are a lot of readers who have had the same or similar thoughts.

With age comes wisdom (usually). Today I understand the profundity of my father's declaration about learning more and more about less and less. I epitomize that statement. There is so much to know and so much new knowledge being created everyday. It's probably always been impossible for any one human being to know everything. Today, impossible doesn't begin to describe the potential of knowing everything.

Intelligence vs. Education

A powerful and vitally important distinction revealed itself to me many years ago. It's proven itself to be irrefutable as the years have passed. Intelligence and education are mutually exclusive. It bothers me, I might even go as far as to say it angers me, to constantly hear this constant mantra about today's teenagers and young adults NEEDING a college education. My immediate response every time I hear that is "bullshit!"

What today's teenagers and young adults need is to learn to THINK CRITICALLY! That's where we are failing our young generations. Our focus is not in teaching young people to think critically. It's teaching them how to memorize the necessary information to pass a series of standardized tests so "no child is left behind."

FACT: Some people are more intelligent than other people!
FACT: Gaining education without the ability or intelligence to apply it is a waste of time and creates huge student loan debts (over one trillion dollars, currently).
FACT: Many of the most successful people in our society do not have college degrees.
FACT: Massive numbers of college graduates work for businesses led by individuals who don't have college degrees.
FACT: More people have college degrees in fields they will never make a living from than ever before.
FACT: Our country has fallen from (at one time) #1 to #16 (even Russia and Poland rank higher than the U.S.) in overall education. And according to the latest rankings by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the U.S. is below average ranking at #31 in Math, #24 in Science and #21 in Reading.

That's enough facts. The reality is that the U.S. and the world in general is spawning more and more educated derelicts. Please don't misunderstand my meaning. I'm not maligning education or you, if you have one or more degrees. I'm a product of the education system. I'm a high school graduate and I earned a Bachelors degree and a Masters degree. While I never applied either of the college degrees for the specific purpose they were designated for (teaching and working in the TV & radio industry), as a media entrepreneur, I applied most of the practical knowledge (not so much the liberal arts part of the degrees other than being able to talk and write somewhat intelligently) in my businesses.

My father was a non-degreed electrical/mechanical design engineer. I'm not sure if he even graduated from high school. My father had native intelligence and applied it. Because of him, the fax machine became a common place part of businesses and other parts of society globally. Also, he became a specialist in servo mechanisms used in the guidance systems of ballistic missiles and the U.S. space program. He had degreed engineers working under his supervision.

My son, chose not to attend college even though his 7th grade PSAT scores were high enough to qualify him for most colleges and universities. He is a self-taught graphic designer and Web developer beginning when he was in high school. Today, after ten plus years of working under contract for a long list of major corporations including Microsoft, Amazon and T-Mobile, he is employed by one of the Big Four international accounting and business consulting firms, shoulder to shoulder with offices full of MBA's. They all depend on him because he can take all their ideas and put them to work on a practical level.

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Bill Lear, Larry Ellison, J.C. Penney, John D. Rockefeller, Abraham Lincoln, Richard Branson, Dave Thomas, Will Smith, Mark Zuckerberg, Walt Disney, Ray Kroc, Dolly Parton, Rachael Ray, Debbie Fields, Mary Kay Ash, Coco Chanel and many, many other men and women became very successful without college degrees and in many cases without graduating high school.

Was it difficult for them to become successful? Sure! Very few people attain instant success. Most successful people will make all kinds of significant sacrifices. Is it easier to reach the levels of success these well-known people have attained with a college degree. Not necessarily. It is my belief and opinion that it required raw intelligence, an idea, a dream, the willingness to do whatever it takes to realize the dream and persistence. None of these qualities require or are taught as part of any college degree program.

Can college degree holders become as successful? Of course, however, they often begin four to six years later than non-degreed successful people. Also, those with degrees may also begin tens of thousands or even a hundred thousand dollars or more in debt before they can start their careers.


Intelligence is a raw, genetic trait individuals are born with. Despite the idea that all people are born equal, I don't believe that. I believe that some people are born with genius levels of intelligence. Some people are born with a low degree of raw intelligence. They may be trainable and functional, however, they will not be candidates for the CEO of Ford Motor Company. The majority of the population fall somewhere between those two extremes. We could call it average intelligence, but if you're referring to those at the crest of a bell shaped curve, once again, that is still only a nominal portion of the population.

Intelligence is that quality or trait that allows an individual to function in society and all of life's situations. The gift of talent may be equated with intelligence. Some extremely intelligent people may not be able to tie their own shoelaces, yet they might be geniuses in math. Intelligent people are those who can take a basic idea and turn it into a tangible invention, product, business, etc. Those with less intelligence are the people who are instrumental in producing the product, providing a service and making the business or organization function.

Mr. Herbert Reaske, an English professor at Montclair State College when I attended there in 1963, taught me the two most important things I learned in college. He was the professor of the first class of my college career. Mr. Reaske taught me that to be successful in life I needed to be able to burn the candle at both ends and to THINK CRITICALLY. He said that everything else I would experience in the way of classes, reading, papers and exams during my college education were basically all rote repetition. I had to get through them to earn the degree, but I didn't need to focus my life on them. If I could think critically, I could find this information, again, in the future should I ever need to.

That's the secret - THINKING CRITICALLY!


Here is our failure! Education. This is why we are falling so far behind the rest of the world. As I stated earlier, I don't have any issues with anyone gaining an education. However, I believe we have long ago lost focus on the concept and process of education. School systems are dropping the requirement to learn cursive writing. We no longer focus on learning the traditional math tables and doing long arithmetic because we have calculators. There is controversy over assigning homework to elementary, middle and high school students. Is this too much work?

Here are a few more facts. Asian students study far more hours per day than U.S. students. They also have higher test scores and are ahead of U.S. students in math, science and reading. Another fact, there are more college graduates in India than the entire population of the U.S. Apparently, they are highly qualified and motivated, too, which is why we find so many Indian doctors, scientists and engineers migrating to the U.S. Either we aren't graduating enough people in these fields OR the Indian graduates are more qualified than the U.S. graduates.

 Here's another personal opinion. We have become a nation of educated derelicts. Of course, we have always had a certain percentage of educated derelicts. I simply believe we are graduating more and more of them. Why? Because too many people going to college are not prepared for college when they get there. They have unrealistic expectations of what a college education is and what it's supposed to do for a graduate. They are immature and aren't focused on education, but having a fun college life. Upon graduation, all too often, carrying a massive student loan burden, they expect to find jobs that will pay "big money" so they can live comfortably, buy "toys" and pay off their loans. But, no one wants to start at the bottom.

Also, I like to remind everyone, there can only be one #1 in class ranking. Therefore everyone else falls into place where their grades and efforts place them. There are those at the bottom of the class ranking, too. Are they not as intelligent? Do they not apply themselves? Do they not care enough about their future?

We all want to live and work in buildings designed and built by the #1 in the engineering or architecture class. We also want to be treated and operated on by the #1 in the medical school class. It doesn't matter what the field or industry, we all want #1 to serve us. So, what happens to all those who are in the lower class rankings? Is this why people who often get the positions may be from foreign countries?

Education is a process. Intelligence is a gift. If you have the gift and apply it by learning to think critically, an education may enhance your capabilities. However, if the system is failing you then, maybe applying your gift of intelligence without a "formal" education may be the better route for you. Expect some discrimination. Some employers don't evaluate employment candidates based on abilities and experience, but on their degrees and the institutions that conferred the degrees.

Think Critically

This is my admonition to you. Regardless of how intelligent you are, if you're reading this article, you have at least average or above average intelligence. Stop blindly being a follower and start living your life on your own terms. If you have kids, do something unpopular - challenge them. Help them learn. Help them to think critically by posing situations they have to actually use their minds to resolve. Limit their exposure to video games (you, too). They are addictive and take massive amounts of time away from one's life.

To live free you have to think free. You have to be independent and not concerned about what "They" think or what "They" tell you is right for your life. To be free, your mind must be under your own control. Set an example for your family, friends and others you come into contact with by defining what living free means to you and then using the gift of your intelligence to achieve it. Then guide your children and others down that path by your example. 


Richard Rosen said...

On the money Ed. Today self-teaching is available over a vast array of subjects and online so no need to relocate to a college town. As long as someone has learned to think for himself (another way of saying critical thinking), they can create their own reality in a particular field through self-education.

One exception is a degree needed for professions or specialized equipment such as physics, chemistry, biology. But even in these areas, much can be done online.

However, the indoctrinating mantra, Go to College! is tough for many parents to depart from. So off to college where children learn from others and distort character that no parent would want.

Lot of information about self-directed education online.

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

Well put, Richard. Thanks for your comment. I agree that there are certain fields that require specific kinds of college/university experiences and the earned degree to "practice" in those fields. And, I'm not suggesting that earning a degree is a useless or negative exercise and achievement. Only that in today's society, certain degrees are costly experiences leading in non-productive career directions.

I heard this morning that Starbucks is now offering to fund a four year degree program for any of their employees who work 20 or more hours per week. The degree program is an on-line program operated by Arizona State University. I imagine ASU and Starbucks have formed some kind of partnership. I would think other companies will follow suit and this could really start putting pressure on a lot of colleges and universities to lower their tuition and fees as more students start taking advantage of these on-line programs.

As far as young people learning to think for themselves (learning to think critically), that is the key to the future and it should be started and fostered in elementary, middle and high school - long before any higher education or career training.

Todd | Channelingmyself said...

Since 1990 tuition costs increased more than healthcare. In fact, college tuition rates have steadily increased regardless of the economy. It's all a big scam!