Basic education used to be called the three “Rs” – readin’, ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic. Long ago we should have added four additional Rs:

  1. Research – knowing how to find out more
  2. Resourcefulness – the desire and curiosity to self-direct into areas of interest
  3. Recall – a sense of history and learning the mistakes of the past
  4. Rebellion – creativity, individual uniqueness and the awareness that most formal education is not about learning but about assimilation, socialization and homogenization

But I’m not arguing for an expansion of basic education. I think we could all do with a lot less of the stuff… at least the stuff that comes after the three – or seven – Rs. Far too many people in the west have too much education. Their heads are stuffed with it. Years of otherwise productive and fulfilling life are spent in pursuit of it. Every year degrees, diplomas, certificates are newly minted in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. And as a result of this glut these education credentials are suffering serious value erosion. Fifty years ago a high school diploma was equal to an undergrad degree 20 years ago, which is equal to a masters degree today. Yet still we pursue these devalued bits of paper.

And the true believers are the thousands of doctoral students who reach the end of the school treadmill to finally poke their heads above ground. Like Wiarton Willie – the groundhog rumoured to be the bell weather of spring – they see their shadow and scurry back into the mines of academe to pursue post-doctoral work.

And it’s not just formal education that is blooming. Others have education thrown at them as a panacea for curing all the world’s ills. Police receive awareness education to correct perceived bias; judges get sensitivity training; continued risky sexual behaviour that possibly leads to AIDS transmission is counteracted by education; conferences proliferate with continuing education credits; pastors, teachers, professionals are endlessly trotting off to education courses.

Why so much? It used to be said that degrees equaled a better job. Perhaps but does a $20,000 debt plus an undergrad degree vault you into the ranks of high earners? I would have thought all that education would help the inculcated figure out that swapping their time, talent and treasure for debt and a fancy certificate isn’t exactly a fair exchange.