Why education doesn't equal schooling

Why education doesn’t schooling is evident in this opening statement from a Medium article : “What do Mark Zuckerberg, Abraham Lincoln, Malcolm X, Quentin Tarantino, John Glenn, Bill Gates, and Ringo Starr all have in common? They all attended very little school before dropping out. However, none of these people are unsuccessful or uneducated. There is more than one way to be an educated man, and they do not all come from schooling.”

But why is it so eye-catching?

While the facts behind each of these men are pretty incredible, I think the most profound sentence in the whole paragraph is the final one. “There is more than one way to be an educated man, and they do not all come from schooling.”

In America today, schooling and education are often confused, mashed together, and assumed to be the same thing. In fact, they are pretty different, and one is significantly more valuable than the other.

As Mark Twain famously quipped, “I never let my schooling get in the way of my education.” 

Today we’ll examine the concept of schooling, the realities of education, and how they can work together or separately. 

What Is Schooling?

Dictionary.com offers three common definitions for schooling:. 

  1. the process of being taught in a school.
  2. instruction, education, or training, especially when received in a school.
  3. the act of teaching.

As we can see from the definition of schooling, education is a separate concept. Schooling may include education, but it’s certainly not limited to education. 

The descriptions given by the dictionary are the bluntest, most concise meanings of the word. However, practically and culturally, schooling is a much more nuanced concept. We’ll examine these nuances later. 

What Is Education?

According to Dictionary.com, education has several definitions, but we’ll look at the first three as they relate most to the scope of this article to keep things even. 

  1. the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for a mature life.
  2. the act or process of imparting or acquiring particular knowledge or skills, as for a profession.
  3. a degree, level, or kind of schooling

Education encompasses the entire learning experience. While it can include knowledge obtained in a formal school setting, it’s not limited to this environment. 

The Nuances of American Public Schooling

Schooling in the U.S. actually includes a variety of methods. Public schooling, private schooling, homeschooling, etc. Public schooling is the most popular choice, so we’ll examine the nuances of this school option today.

American public schools have slowly separated education and schooling. While this tends to be seen as a more modern trend overall, as we could deduce from Mark Twain’s earlier comment, this might have always been a concern.

How many times do we hear phrases like, “well, we can thank our education system for that!” or “I just don’t know what the schools are teaching kids today.”

Such sentiments are generally expressed by a member of a post-school generation who is appalled by a show of lacking  of education in a younger individual. While disgruntled exclamations may not always be genuinely warranted, the sad truth is that they are often well-deserved. 

Several years ago, I worked a weekly produce stand. I was shocked by how many customers complimented me on my ability to do simple addition and subtraction in my head as I totaled their purchases. I’m no math genius. In fact, math was my most difficult subject in school, but I can get by with the general basics. 

According to four years of weekly customers, my math abilities were head and shoulders above the general working population my age. I was subjected to countless first-hand stories of the woeful arithmetic abilities of others my age whom my customers had encountered recently. 

While a small-town produce customer base of several hundred is a small sample of society, it was extensive enough for me to realize that the public schools, at least in my area, appeared to have been dropping the proverbial ball in math education. 

And I suspect that this isn’t anomalous to mid-west rural communities. 

Education Distractions

Modern schooling methods in publicly funded institutions are marked by several practices that tend to exclude quality education.  

Standardized Testing

Public schooling consists of a series of instructions and tests. Standardized testing is one of the hallmarks of the American school system today. This method of learning and advancement within the public school system has its pros and cons and is widely debated.

One of the definitive cons of standardized testing is that it’s become somewhat of a common practice for educators to “teach to the test.” While this ensures that their students perform at their maximum abilities during standardized evaluations, it doesn’t ensure a good, or even a decent, education.

Instead of learning the essentials of education, students are often shuffled from one test to another, learning the essentials of the tests. 

Citizens for Public Schools quotes the honorable Judge Leslie Harris as stating, “It is an uphill battle against a mindset focused on the test score bottom line, just one of many fights worth waging for our public school children.” 


Another nuance of American public schools is the continual shifting of the focus from academics to more political and ideological agendas. Modern progressive schools have trailed away from instruction focused on teaching kids how to read, write, and do arithmetic. 

Instead, many schools encourage political correctness and train young minds in socio-political theories and ideologies, sometimes even at the expense of focusing on core subjects like math. They appear to have replaced actual education.  

While some social awareness and diversity inclusion can be beneficial in true education, schools’ new focus on these concepts today offers a stark contrast to education. 

Stepping Stone

Schooling has also become a stepping stone instead of a tool. School is often viewed as a mandatory ritual that kids must pass through before their lives begin. Instead of seeing the school years as an adventure of learning, growing, and exploring, this perspective limits this time to a mundane routine of academic chores and extracurricular activities. The eye is always on the prize—a high school diploma and life beyond.

School should be an unforgettable journey of preparation, molding a knowledgeable adult, and creating an upstanding citizen. EdNews Daily comments, “I hear it all the time, ‘The purpose of school is to prepare students for what comes next,’ whether that’s college, a career or success in later life. Children spend 13 or more years in public schooling. That’s about one-fifth of their entire lives. The idea that such a substantial portion of someone’s life should be meaningless except to prepare him or her for what comes next is ludicrous. We need to see school as an amazing experience that on its face has value.”

That face value is real-world knowledge and the incredible journey of true education. 

Public schooling can still be a bold proponent of true education, but parents and educators alike must be vigilant to guard against threats to education. Mere schooling doesn’t produce competent adults or responsible citizens. Education is meant to do both. 

Education: More Than Grades

My father experienced schooling without education. He was shuffled from class to class, grade to grade, without anyone caring whether he was prepared to move on. He dropped out of school at sixteen, discouraged and frustrated. 

That is when his education actually began through real-life experiences, self-motivated research, and creative learning experiences. 

On the other hand, my mother obtained an excellent education during her schooling years. She graduated high school and immediately began teaching at the same school she had attended. 

Education is a vast experience that reaches beyond but may include formal training. BScholarly notes, “Education includes facts, skills, beliefs, and ideas that have been learned, either formally or informally…for formal education, there is a structured curriculum to be operated within a structured setting and there are rules and regulations, specially trained teachers to instruct and supervise the learners, and certificate and recognitions upon completion of the process. The time frame for the completion of a formal education is fixed or determinable. Informal education on the other may never end.”

Education is fully compatible with schooling but must be proactively sought out both in a formal setting and beyond.  

Ensuring Education

Parents, you can take several steps to ensure your kids obtain a true education and maximize their schooling. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Step outside the norm. Empower your students through quality alternative schooling methods (homeschooling, magnet schools, etc.) While the public school system can be  a great resource, if you’re worried about the quality of your child’s education, it might be time to take control yourself and hand-pick your kid’s educational experience.
  2. Be involved. Parental involvement is undeniably beneficial for students. Current data notes that it is the single most influential factor in student success, surpassing race, social and economic status, religion, or other background and environmental considerations.

Involvement could include participating in (not doing for them) your kid’s homework assignments, discussing what they’re learning in school with them, or offering real-life applications for their lessons. Be creative! Help your kid take their schooling and create an education from it!

  1. Advocate for your kid’s education. Volunteer at the school, attend school board meetings and stay current on what’s going on with quality education in your district. Support policies that uphold true education and oppose those that threaten to promote mere schooling. 
  2. Maximize the extracurriculars. While sports or after-school clubs are fun, are there some more practical, educational extracurriculars your kid could be involved in? Maybe volunteering for a local campaign, helping out at a local charity, taking family field trips, etc. Explore anything that can offer educational benefits, real-life experience, or broaden your student’s perspective.
  3. Don’t rely on the school. While it would be nice to have the school offer a comprehensive education, the fact is that it can’t—and shouldn’t. The family unit still holds a tremendous responsibility for educating beyond academics. Sending our kids to school doesn’t absolve us from educating our kids. We can expect schools to provide quality academic instruction, but education involves so much more. It’s our job to raise our kids, not the teachers’ job. This includes filling in the educational gaps.
A Powerful Combination

When formal schooling combines with the pursuit of education, marvelous things happen. Education should be the goal of American public schools, and it once was. Thankfully, many educators, school boards, and parents are still fighting valiantly to keep their schools as a foundation for quality education in their communities. There are also many alternative schooling options for parents to ensure the quality education of their kids. 

Education and schooling are powerful when they’re combined. It can be done at a desk in the local classroom or the kitchen table surrounded by the warmth of home. 

The important thing is that kids obtain a comprehensive, quality, well-rounded education

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