We go to school, so we can get an education and graduate with a degree. I never thought much about these concepts. I assumed they were the same thing as learning. Boy was I wrong.
 
Going to school is something you do. Getting an education or a degree is a milestone. Learning is something all together different. You can complete middle school, high school and college and learn very little.
 

Walking a straight line

I grew up in St. Louis and was fortunate enough to attend Catholic schools my entire time there. After graduating high school, I set off to attend Vanderbilt.
 
Four years later, with my degree in hand, I moved to Austin. Time went on and eventually we started looking for a new house. The most important thing was the school district. We wanted the best for you kids.
 
The Lake Travis School District is great. It ranks as one of the top across Texas. So, I put 100% of my trust in the school system. It’s their job to give you an education.
 
Everything was good for 5 years until the day I noticed you might not be learning as much as you could. I could see the passion to learn was getting lower each day. This caused all sorts of questions in my mind and I decided to dig into the world of education.
 
I read as much as I could on the topic. I wanted to understand what was going on at this school and in education at large.
 
The more I read, the more upset I was at myself. I couldn’t believe I waited so long to get educated. I learned about the micro-school movement. I learned what motivates kids to learn. I visited Alt School. It was a tidal wave of information, each bit giving me a broader view on the question of education.
 
My experience was shocking. In the last 20 years the face of education changed. How did I miss it?
 
Looking back, I was making the easy choice to go with the flow. Everyone else was doing the same thing so it must be right.
 
Wrong. Instead of focusing on the act of going to school or getting a degree, I should have focused on learning. Now I know the difference.
 

College bound?

I loved my college experience. I learned a lot about life, but very few skills that prepared me to make a living.
 
Going to college is what successful people did. If I got a degree I was all but assured a job. This is no longer the case.
 
Today, only 77% of adults ages 25-34 that have a degree, also have a full time job. A degree doesn’t guarantee success or security.
 
The face of college is changing and it will look very different 8-10 years from now. These institutions need to rethink how they can help kids learn and they will.
 
So much of college is learning the life skills to thrive on your own. It’s usually the last step of moving from being a kid to an adult.
 
It’s not necessary to wait. I want to expose you to as much of the world as possible. Camping, visiting a foreign country, running a business, being away from home and much more.
 
In the ideal world, I want to give you the equivalent of that college experience before you turn 18. I can’t replicate everything, but I can do a lot.
 
To do this I’ll need to come up with some non-traditional solutions. It might involve going to high school online while we live in a different country for 6 months. It might involve funding a business you want to create. I don’t have all the answers today, but I’m working on it.
 
This will create options for you in life. College will be one of them, but it won’t be the only one.
 

My work education

After graduation I immediately started at another University. TU for short, or Trilogy University. This was a 3 month program put on by my first employer.
 
At age 21 I had a degree, but few real world skills. Lucky for me, they were going to change that.
 
The experience was way ahead of it’s time. We worked from 8am to midnight, every day. It included learning new technologies, projects, team collaboration, expert talks and fun.
 
The whole experience ended with an intense weeklong project. We had to come up with a business idea and build the technology to support it.
 
We created a product for doctors. It was an app for the Palm Pilot (something you’ve never even seen). Doctors could capture medical answers on the device and then the data would sync automatically with the backend system. This all seems trivial today, but it was magical 18 years ago.
 
I didn’t get another degree, but I did get a badge. It was a badge of honor for making it through.
 
This was also a bonding experience. I developed unbelievable relationships, 100’s of which I still have today.
 
Looking back, this experience prepared me for work better than I could have imagined.
 
This is the purpose of education – to prepare you for what’s next in life, not to get a piece of paper.
 
This post is part of a series of letters to my kids. My goal is to reflect on and capture as many life lessons as possible. Here is the current list I am working from.