This week’s posts have been somewhat of a miniseries on work and life skills. I want to wrap up the series by looking at what types of knowledge your child should be learning. There is so much education and knowledge available for consumption on the internet today that it is easy to become overwhelmed with the choices. I’d like to get the discussion started about what’s more important – theory, facts, or skills?
First let’s differentiate fact from theory. Fact is a known, an absolute, such as the answer to a simple arithmetic equation or the first president of the United States. The right answer to a fact is always the same. Theory is somewhat like a fact, it feels like this is a known but it is not always so. It is an explanation or a thought based on observation or testing. The outcome might not happen every time, but through repeated observation it is relatively certain that the theory will be proven a high number of times.
Skills are something quite different. Skills are things that one can do well. Skills can be very tangible and measurable, like making paper airplanes, painting a wall, or throwing a baseball. Skills can also be very subjective and suited to personal taste, such as vocal abilities, presentation delivery, or blog writing.
Education teaches us facts and theory. Practice, repetition, and application teach us skills. Theories and facts can be used in the initial development of our skills but are not always necessary to improve those skills.
I believe that the proper order for these three, from least to most important, is facts, theory, then skill. This also happens to be the order for ease of learning and development as well. One can memorize a fact in under a minute, but often a fact is infrequently used and sometimes gets lost. A theory is a little more difficult to grasp. It might take a more in-depth understanding of various principles and some repetition before a theory takes hold, but when it does a theory sticks around longer in the mind of the learner.
Skills take the longest to develop. One might start out with a skill in a very rudimentary fashion, but as mentioned previously they get better at the skill with repetition and practice. Malcolm Gladwell wrote “Outliers” to document the study of experts and professionals. Gladwell theorized that it takes at least 10,000 hours to become world-class at something. That’s why the professional athlete or concert pianist we all admire is so good at their craft – they put in the time necessary to become the best at it.
So to answer the question, what should your child learn? All of them. Some facts are necessary to get through life, but there are a lot of facts that are drilled in us during our school years that are simply unnecessary. Theories teach us about the world around us, including how things work together and what makes people click. As we go through life, we will learn more and more theories simply based on our life experiences. Skills are how we perform our craft. Repetition and practice help us get better at those skills and being outstanding at our craft is what makes us stand apart from our competition. Apply skills along with the knowledge of the theories that you know and you become an invaluable resource for your employer – you might even find your way into entrepreneurship.
To close out this post, I want to share a resource that I think is a very important read. Seth Godin released a free manifesto this week entitled “Stop Stealing Dreams” on the topic of education. I highly encourage my readers to download and share. Until we change the system, we’ll keep getting the same outcomes.