Graduation Musings

Once sat next to a guy on an airplane who, once we got off the ground, pulled out a notebook and began playing with some math formulas way over my head. So I had to ask: he was working on some wave equations that figured into some sensors he was designing for a customer of his. In my ever-going investigations into learning and education, I asked him how he had learned all this.

As young man, out of high school, he entered the Navy. There, after administering a battery of tests, they offered him a position as a radio technician of some sort. He took it, and through the Navy was able to keep studying applied math as it figures into all the radio, radar and electronics on a modern warship. By the time he got out, he was able to parlay all that math into a career. He kept his math up, and now consulted with people designing complex sensors and other gear.

I was impressed – no traditional college to speak of, yet his math chops were fairly awesome, and his career arc very cool. I asked how he did it – he said math is just like learning the piano: 15 – 30 minutes every day, keep it up, and, boom, you’re there.

This week is graduation week at our school. We will graduate 6 students, none of whom had to take any classes whatsoever during their stay at Diablo Valley School. They got to spend their time pretty much however they wanted, with the exception of a few mandatory judicial meetings and cleaning up after themselves. In contrast, well before 12th grade, the typical student has put in over 10,000 hours into schooling. Malcolm Gladwell would say that it takes 10,000 hours to become a world-class expert in anything. So, what are they masters of?

It’s tempting to look at the typical products of our high schools and think: despite putting in enough hours to have mastered a couple foreign languages or musical instruments, or to have learned enough math to design fancy sensors, or any other of a million interesting things, they are not experts in anything: semi-literate, close-minded members of some tribe or other, people who couldn’t think a thought if their lives depended on it.

Yet the reality is worse: they are experts in the one thing they have been infallibly taught. They are experts in schooling.


They’ll be no trouble at all from here on out, at least for the people for whose benefit all that schooling has been inflicted upon them.

Most will get a job of some sort, and sedate themselves with whatever level of economic achievement befits their school rank. Just as in school, their relationships with other human beings will be managed for them, so that they don’t get too deep or inspiring. When they retire, they will move away from the people they never really knew anyway to some facility where they can be taken care of and supplied appropriate human contact – same old same old.

If some sadness comes to their attention, such as the searing injustice of mediocre English majors having to work at Starbucks, they might bestir themselves to protest something. They will believe that such protests look like the OWS meshugas – unwashed adolescents unable to form a coherent thought, sticking it to the man until it’s time to go home to mom’s place.  No threat at all to the way things are.

Perhaps some, those whose ranking in class was too low for a job worth having even as sedative, will turn to crime and end up in jail – fine, they’re still under control, and no real threat.

10,000 hours to master school. Mastered so well they can do nothing else.


Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

One thought on “Graduation Musings”

  1. Thanks for the perspective. 10000 hours. Wow. How excellent could one be at something with that much practice? But, of course, they would be unable to do any other rudimentary thing without being taught, right (sarcasm off)?

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