English rapper-poet Suli Breaks is out with a video that's taking the Internet by storm, and young people are loving it.
"Why I Hate School But Love Education" has received nearly half a million views since it was posted to YouTube on Sunday. The young, educated artist takes a strong stance on schooling, urging the world's youth to "understand your motives and reassess your aims."
"Let's look at the statistics," Suli Breaks says, pointing to moguls worth billions of dollars as examples of those who succeeded without graduating from an institution of higher learning: the late Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Jackson. (We won't harp too much on the fact that he misspells both Zuckerberg and Jackson's names.)
Suli Breaks has a point -- school might not be for everyone, but an education is crucial, and students should assess whether they're really in school to learn. But the arguments he uses to make it have their flaws -- evocative of this crisis of "stupid in America" (a phrase borrowed from a 2006 ABC investigation) that in the end, is only perpetuated by a whirlpool of communities -- and the media -- asking all the wrong questions about education.
The "statistics" he points to in fact show, time and time again, that degree-holders have more opportunities and earn more than non-degree holders over a lifetime. The top dogs he cites as examples are exceptions to the rule, and have generally had some level of formal schooling.
While both Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are Harvard University dropouts, their companies are products of their time spent in school. And Oprah Winfrey, as a matter of fact, graduated from Tennessee State University with a degree in speech and drama. Jobs, it's also important to note, credited his school teachers for his success.
"Redefine how you view education, understand its true meaning," Suli Breaks says. "Education is not just about regurgitating facts from a book on someone else's opinion on a subject to pass an exam. Look at it. Picasso was educated in creating art. Shakespeare was educated in the art of all that was written. Colonel Harland Sanders was educated in the art of creating Kentucky fried chicken."
While he's right that education does not equate to rote memorization, the examples given are all of specialists in a field -- and all come from a time when industries and individual careers were more stable.
Nowadays, a handful of sectors struggle to fill more than 3 million open positions, according to CBS News. Despite the more than 20 million people who are unemployed in the United States, companies can't find workers to fill positions in areas like science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and manufacturing, due to a lack of skilled workers.
And without general schooling across practices, moving from one field to another can be difficult. Jamie Pacheco was a commercial painter until the downturn in construction forced him out of a job. For Pacheco to get a job in another field he needed more official schooling, CBS News reports.
In an effort to give youth an opportunity both to learn and to be prepared for the workforce, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer has proposed two high school pathways -- one tailored to STEM subjects and another for career and technical education (CTE).
"The local workforce does not have the skills needed to fill these jobs," Schumer said during a conference call with reporters last month. "A high school graduate with proper training could easily fill these positions."
Suli Breaks is indisputably correct when he says, "There's more than one way in this world to be an educated man." But there are alternatives to stepping away from proper schooling because it's too rigid or too expensive, as he suggests.
The question is not whether education is "still worth" the cost, but how to reform education (via campus culture, course curriculum, learning standards, etc.) so that it is still worth it on a practical level -- and how to make formal education more affordable and accessible to all.
Over the years, American students have fallen behind foreign peers on performance in core subjects, and are failing to catch up. Young adults who excel academically and intellectually come from countries where education is deeply embedded in society and culture. For those countries, schooling and education is a given, an "underlying moral purpose" that would never be questioned. While we foster that very inquisition in America by cultivating a backwards debate, instead of creating our own culture of education, our foreign competitors are gaining the global advantage.
Studies have shown that students say they don't learn anything in the first two years of college -- pointing to a broader concern within U.S. higher education that universities are being run more like corporations than educational institutions. When students treat college as a stepping stone to a job, colleges treat them as consumers who attend for a degree and then move on.
The numbers speak for themselves: 34 percent of young Americans don't believe that education matters for their future, and 40 percent of those "too cool" for school are unemployed, while another 33 percent are in "interim" positions, according to a recent report by McKinsey, a consulting firm.
Of American young adults with bachelor's degrees, 7 percent were unemployed in October, compared with 20 percent of high school graduates with no college experience, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
One Tumblr user, identified on his blog as 19-year-old Michael Gallagher, has written a lengthy but insightful response to Suli Breaks's video. The McMaster University student writes:
I have always believed that the best people will rise to the top regardless of what stands in their way. What I mean by this is just because certain people were successful without university does in my mind not prove any point. All it proves is the extraordinary amounts of talent, luck, and hard work these people possess.
It's unfortunate because most people aren't special. They aren't going to be the next billionaire, and yet somehow I don't see that as a bad thing.
But why not tell people not to avoid "wasting money" on an education but focusing on the real issue at hand? The whole problem with this video is that it works under the assumption that people know what they want to do with their lives and are instead wasting money in College/University. Isn't it possible that some people go to College or University because it is a safe way to not only increase their employability but to find themselves?
What's your take?
Follow Emmeline Zhao on Twitter: www.twitter.com/emmelinez