Back to school

We are going through the back-to-school period of the year. I’m quite far from being nostalgic about it, though. It’s been almost 15 years since my nearly-breakdown year, when I came close to dropout from high school at 16.

Surrounded by all of these back-to-school moods and slogans, and with my younger brother starting high school, I wonder if that specific traumatic experience marked some sort of awareness about my relationship with formal studies. From that breakdown moment onwards, I didn’t really care about having great grades in every subjects, ever.

I had really good grades in what I was interested about, and did really poorly on subjects I didn’t care about. I took this idiosyncrasy with me at college too. And despite this seemingly careless and reckless approach, I managed to end high school, and then get both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, with good grades too.

I always thought I was I good student before I was 16. After that, despite good academic results, my approach wasn’t really that of a model student and I was aware I wasn’t a good student anymore. I just focused on what I was interested on, cherry-picking themes, subjects, skills, leaving out the rest, connecting the dots between different notions in different very disparate areas.

I’m not alone, we are not alone in this. Education is broken, as more and more brilliant people out there are either dropouts, self-taught, or simply with a huge gap between what they studied in school and what the ended up doing for a living.

There’s no school in the world that is going to prepare you for what’s happening next: as every single job in the world will require some sort of technological proficiency, the school system didn’t make the jump into the post-industrial era, yet.

I’m not telling you that you should dropout from school if you want a tech-related job. I didn’t and I’m glad I didn’t.

Staying in school, and going to college later, gave me the time and opportunities to think about what I wanted to do. Possibly, even if I deny being a good student and more of tinkerer, while staying in school I absorbed the mental tools to make better choices.

If you’re in high school today, as I was yesterday:

  • You’re probably being taught outdated technology (if any at all)

  • The world you are living in today will be radically different 10 years from now, and you know it

  • Sad but true: There’s actually little you can do to change school as a student

  • You’re facing a wall between liberal arts and engineering and you have to choose a side

Yes, software is eating the world, but that doesn’t mean you should be eaten by software.

As someone with a technical background, partly self-built, partly learned at school, I must admit that studying also liberal arts is important if not fundamental: technologies and related skills come and go rather quickly. You’ll always have to play catch-up with tech-related skills.

Speaking more than one language, knowing history and learning how to sustain a discussion using rhetoric will prove life-long useful. Learning empathy will make any of your technological skill much better because it will make you a better human being.

So, go back to school, stay in school: whether you like school or not, whether you’re into tech or not, you goal shouldn’t be becoming someone defined by school grades or a degree, but becoming a better someone.

Take on hobbies, drop them, do things, break them, listen to people, ignore them, take your time to find things out. Becoming an adult will most likely turn yourself into someone who doesn’t have the time, the will or the means to find things out.

Cherish these years, they won’t come back. And yes, this period of your life hurts and sucks, because that what finding things out is like — and that’s why “adults” don’t do that very often.