What to Unlearn From School to Level Up?

What to unlearn from school? Certain lessons from school don’t translate to the real world. To level yourself up, you need to unlearn things.

I’m going to go over 6 detrimental lessons taught in U.S. school systems. Some of these lessons are directly pounded in your head year after year. While others indirectly seep into your mind through today’s educational environment.

I find these lessons will hold you back in your adult life and will make you a less effective engineer.

So, check if any of the lessons have deeply planted roots in your mind. If you discover them, carve them out to maximize your abilities as an engineer and as a human.

#1 Falsely agreeing to something you don’t understand

what to unlearn from school

Let’s say all the top leaders and scientists tell you the Earth is flat. But if the reasoning doesn’t make sense to you, you should NOT blindly agree.

The same goes for teachers. Just because a teacher tells you something, it doesn’t mean by default they’re right. Teachers are human, and ALL humans make mistakes. No exceptions!

Throughout your career, authority figures will speak to you in absolutes. They’ll tell you it’s my way or the highway. In these instances, you need to think independently whenever you have doubts.

This is how you’ll grow as a person and an engineer. And not surprisingly, this is the formula for advancing humanity.

In short, without independent inductive and deductive reasoning, all human progress halts. So, the next time you find yourself nodding your head in agreement to not look foolish, think long and hard. Especially if someone says,

“Just trust me! This is how it has always been and I know it’s right!”

You’re not only doing yourself a disservice but you’re more than likely hurting others as well.

To point out, I had a couple of super awesome teachers back in school. They’d always intentionally throw a mistake or two in their work, in the hopes a student would spot them. They wanted to show students that you shouldn’t always blindly trust authority.

#2 Importance of opinions

In school, you’re taught everyone’s opinion is important.

Sure, everyone’s thoughts are important from a humanistic view. But on a given subject propped up by facts and data, opinions with substance only matter.

The problem is, typically, opinions don’t carry many facts. Heck, to form an opinion, you don’t even need to have an understanding of a given subject. Then throw in the fact there’s no accountability required and you have the wild wild west.

Look no further than the flat Earth theory. You can have a very weak understanding of science, and a strong opinion the Earth is flat. All the while, you don’t need to prove one damn thing in your assessment and conclusion.

You can just go on Youtube and tell the world how the Earth is flat without one ounce of proof. How crazy is that?!

In engineering, you’ll come across endless opinions too. To up the ante, these opinions can come from people with the alphabet soup listed after their names. Also, they may have a head full of white hair with decades of senior experience. Yet, their opinions are still worthless without substantiated facts and reasoning backing them.

Thus, questioning the opinion of others is an important part of engineering. Because I’d rather highly offend 10 senior engineers, than for a design to injure someone.

#3 Blindly memorizing

blindly memorizing information in school

One of the worst things you can do is to blindly memorize information only to get a letter grade. Especially when you don’t understand any parts of the content you’re memorizing.

In school, teachers believe you “understand” a subject when you get an “A” letter grade. I remember the subjects I cared little about, I crammed the information the night before the exams. Now, I got great grades, but did I learn anything? Not much at all!

What’s more, memorizing science concepts without understanding them will handicap your problem-solving abilities. In school, you can get by, by doing this. But in the working world, you need to fully understand underlying concepts.

Otherwise, you’ll produce poor quality work, or you may never even get any real work done. You’ll then find yourself doing cookie-cutter tasks while taking orders from engineers who do understand.

I remember back in college, some of the engineering concepts I fully didn’t understand. I didn’t have time to properly learn the concepts either, as I worked long hours at a job. Plus, even then, I found the engineering curriculum has many shortcomings.

So what did I do? I resorted to memorization. Because if I ever paused to say the following to myself, I would have failed the classes:

What do all these concepts mean? I should go research on my own to understand the underlying concepts.

It’s only when I revisited the subjects on my own did I fully learn the backbone of the concepts. In the end, a good letter grade looks good on your transcript, but it doesn’t mean you’ll make a great engineer.

To point out, memorization is a necessary tool in today’s educational system. So if you end up memorizing due to a lack of time, always go back and relearn what you didn’t fully soak in.

#4 Endlessly seeking approval from others

Many times, we endlessly try to seek the approval of our teachers and peers. This may mean agreeing with all their words and/or not questioning their views. Because we equate their approval to a win in the classroom.

Hit the breaks!

If ALL people tell you the Earth is the center of the universe, it doesn’t make it true. In fact, nature could care less about the opinion of billions of people. Nature will go on as it has for billions of years without the slightest hiccup.

Thus, YOU need to create your own path in life. When you search for validation from others, you’ll always live for others too. As a result, you won’t be happy and you’ll never maximize your abilities.

Steve Jobs famously said,

“Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

In other words, it’s the trailblazers who break boundaries and advance humanity. In the end, everything is a fact by some authority until it’s proven wrong.

Professor Avi Loeb, a theoretical physicist, at Harvard University captured this notion best,

“One of the most difficult lessons to impart to young scientists is that the search for the truth can run counter to the search for consensus. Indeed, truth and consensus must never be conflated. Sadly, it is a lesson more easily understood by a student starting out in the field. From then on, year after year, the combined pressures of peers and job-market prospects encourage the tendency to play it safe.”

#5 Individual hard work doesn’t always equal success

You may bust your ass for years on end in the real world but get nowhere. In school though, individual hard work almost always means an “A” letter grade. As a result, students believe hard work is the end all be all to success.

BUT in the working world, the best outcomes always rely on many factors beyond just hard work. These factors include the following:

  • Relationships
  • Breadth and depth of your abilities
  • Where you work
  • What you’re working on
  • Resume of your past work

It’s only when all these factors align, that success manifests in an awe-inspiring way. Because if you rely only on hard work, you’ll find yourself quickly disappointed.

Now sure, hard work is a very important ingredient to success. But, it’s only ONE of many required ingredients to success.

#6 Book smarts are not the holy grail to success

I’ve discussed how experience trumps formal education. In other words, you can read countless engineering textbooks and collect a bunch of university degrees. But until you get your hands dirty in the real world, you won’t know how to do much at all.

The point is, endless reading will only take you so far. You need hands-on experience to level yourself up.

Plus nowadays, schools push more and more irrelevant content down your throat. And frankly, there’s no way you can learn it all due to time constraints. Thus, you resort to memorization, only to get a letter grade. As a result, you don’t learn the deep underlying concepts that are most important to know.

To drive the point home, just answer yourself the following question:

Do you want a book smart surgeon with no experience, or a surgeon with 30 years of experience to operate on you?

For me, this is a no-brainer. I’d choose the surgeon with 30 years of experience in a heartbeat.

“What to unlearn from school?” wrap up

Good teachers are worth their weight in gold. Unfortunately, the majority of the U.S. education system uses outdated teaching methods. Also, the curriculums without a doubt need reform.

All of this combined holds students back from maximizing their abilities. As an example, solving non-traditional real-world problems becomes difficult.

So, the earlier you realize these detrimental lessons, the better off I find you’ll be.

In the end, consuming another perspective on school learning can only benefit you. You can then form your own conclusion and pick and choose what to learn.

Do you think it’s necessary to unlearn any of these 6 lessons taught in school? What do you think you should unlearn from school? What type of change do you want to see in schools, to further benefit students?


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