“…true education means mind development; not merely the gathering and classifying of knowledge.” ~ Napoleon Hill
Compulsory education does many things well, but it fails to genuinely communicate the most important lesson to young students—that education is not the memorizing of dates and formulae, but the development of the mind.
Anyone with a healthy brain can cram data into his or her organic repositories. It just takes time and effort to memorize information. But if we look at memorized information, it’s actually not that much different from having reference books on the bookshelf (or your iPhone). It’s considerably faster to search for the quadratic formula in your brain than it is to find the correct page in your high school math book, but unless you want to become an expert at math, it could be wiser to know where to retrieve that piece of information.
When we began studying English literature in middle school I remember being introduced to concepts like metaphor, iambic pentameter, rhyme scheme, and caesura. I understand that in order to fully appreciate poetry, one should familiarize himself with some terminology. But studying poetry by mechanical means can destroy the joy of poetry itself. You can be taught that a form of poetry that doesn’t have a rhyme scheme is called free verse. And after you get to know some writers such as Ezra Pound and Robert Frost you can logically deduce that good poems don’t necessarily have to rhyme. But so what? Your English teacher might have told you a little bit about good free verse poetry, but it doesn’t guarantee that you understand why it’s good. You can’t be made to identify good poetry from bad poetry without making a conscious effort yourself. You can, of course, trust your teacher and perhaps write a satisfactory paper on Geoffrey Chaucer and his witticisms about Yorkshire English, but it doesn’t mean that you understand the content of your paper.
In order to truly learn something, you need to develop your mind. Certain things need memorization, but you also have to put them into context and understand why things are as they are. Don’t take things for granted. Actively involve yourself in analyzing information in your mind. Question things. If you want to learn why Geoffrey Chaucer is such a respected writer, don’t just study his texts—also study his life and the historical context of his writings and ideas. Immerse yourself in the subject and consciously absorb information. If you want to learn how to be a UNIX system administrator, don’t restrict yourself to books, blogs, and online forums—try to install a UNIX-like operating system and start playing with it. It takes more time than memorizing concepts, but it’s the only way to become a true expert.