Is Education for Getting a Job?

Is Education for Getting a Job?

Somewhere on Twitter, I saw a quote that said the purpose of education isn’t for getting a job. Education is for developing humans.

I’ve seen this sentiment before, expressed in different ways. And, I’m never quite sure what to make of it.

If by job, one means working as a cog in a giant machine, then, I agree. Education shouldn’t be used to condition kids to become replaceable parts.

But, here’s where I get stuck. If education is to develop humans, then isn’t education, at least in part, about work? Humans work. It’s just the way it is.

So, maybe education, in this 4th Industrial Revolution, should be for developing humans. Humans that have the courage to do meaningful work.

What is meaningful work? To me, it’s work that allows a person to bring their whole self.

Take for instance the work of supporting airline traffic. To some, that may seem like a job. But, to others, it’s work. Meaningful work. 

Or, what about the buskers at subway stations. Is that meaningful work, or just a way to pay the rent?

Perhaps you’ve seen the viral video of the American Airlines ramp agent dancing on the tarmac as he guided a plane.  Or, maybe you saw the latest Humans of New York Instagram post about the girl who sings at the 125th Street Station. To me, these are perfect examples of having the courage to make work meaningful.

I feel pretty confident in guessing that neither the ramp agent, nor the singer, learned how to do those jobs in school. But, somewhere along the way, someone taught them how to bring meaning to their work. To bring something more to the work. To bring their whole selves.

It’s true that you don’t need to dance to direct airline traffic. And, subway stations would still operate if no one showed up to sing. But, think about whether these two would be missed. 

I am absolutely certain that someone would miss them. Maybe not instantly. After all, they likely get days off. But over time, people would notice how much fun and joy those two brought to their work. And, their absence would be noticed.

American Airlines coworkers would notice. Pilots would notice. Frequent flyers would notice. And, it wouldn’t be so much the dancing that would be missed. It would be the gift. The gift the agent gave to all that worked with him or saw him dance. The gift of making his work meaningful. To himself, as well as others. 

It’s the same for the 125th Street Station. If the music were gone, the station would be quieter. But, more importantly, what would be missing would be the gift. The gift of meaning she put into the work she was doing.

Automation and AI hold the promise of eliminating human cogs from the giant machine of production. For today’s kids to seize upon the promise, they need to be taught to have the courage to be something more than a cog.

I can’t imagine it was easy to start dancing along the tarmac. Before it went viral, I’m sure it produced a few stares and giggles. Nor, do I imagine it was easy to step up to a microphone and start singing at a normally quiet subway station. It took a bit of courage to be more than a cog — to be a human doing work.

Somewhere along the way, these two kids learned that they could deliver so much more to everyone around them if they showed up to work. Not just go through the motions, but bring their creativity. Do the work a little bit differently, and a little bit better. To the point that people notice. To the point that people smile and feel as if they’ve received something extra.

And, that opportunity — to bring something more to the work — exists for all of tomorrow’s workers. But, they have to be taught. They have to be told that work holds more meaning, more value, when it allows them to be human. That the best work is the work that allows you to make it meaningful.

Which, is somewhat of a new idea. There are still plenty of employers that want nothing more than replaceable, programmable cogs. Hopefully, they’ll be the first employers to heavily invest in automation. But, there are a growing number of employers that are specifically looking for humans. Humans that bring meaning to their work. 

So, in the 21st Century, education doesn’t have to be about getting a job. Education can be about developing humans. Humans that work. Humans that do meaningful work.  

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