Working with cobras or laptops?

Kevin, at  InvestItWisely.com wrote an interesting post about his college experiences—-feeling that perhaps, college was a waste of time. … read the post

If you’re a fan of Robert Kiyosaki’s, you might even take that to an extreme. His first book (and no, it wasn’t Rich Dad Poor Dad)was called “If you want to be Rich and Happy, Don’t Go to School.”

First of all, I’m not a huge fan of Kiyosaki. Perhaps I’m jealous that he built a money making empire off books that could be summed up in a single, 2000 word magazine article. Each book says the same kind of thing, and each book has this “Grasshopper, follow me and I’ll tell you…” absolutely nothing concrete.

Having said that, I was infected by the “school is a waste of time” mantra that Kiyosaki espouses. Unlike Kevin, I enjoyed many aspects of school. But like Kevin, I thought that the content was mostly a huge waste of time.

But I read Kevin’s comments thoroughly. And they were interesting. A student who was obviously not a native English speaker raved about how useful higher education was to him. Without it, he wouldn’t have the fine job and standard of living that he has today. Whether that person came from China, India, Korea or Sri Lanka, the same theme would probably ring true.

On the way to work today, my wife and I were driving along the freeway. Well…she drove, and I ate my oatmeal. Passing an open truck filled with Bangladeshi workers, I asked, “Pele, how many of those guys do you think are smarter than I am?” We’re talking about guys brought to Singapore from Bangladesh, who work for a dollar an hour. They cut grass with weed eaters: fields three times the size of football fields. It’s cheaper to hire them than it is to fuel and maintain a roving lawn mower. It’s also hot. Temperatures run a minimum of 30 degrees Celsius during the day. And the fields have the odd hidden cobra in the grass (and yes, I am serious).

Those are the lucky guys. Those who aren’t as lucky are doing roadwork over steaming asphalt.

But how many of those guys are smarter than me? Based on pure genetic capacity, how many of them could think circles around me if given the opportunity? Have we numbed ourselves to the benefits of education because we’ve taken it for granted? Do we really know what it means?

And where do we draw the line? As Kevin and I have both questioned, where and when is it a superfluous waste?





Andrew Hallam

I’m a financial columnist for Canada’s national paper, The Globe and Mail, as well as for AssetBuilder, a financial service firm based in Texas. I’m also the author of Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School (2nd Ed. Wiley 2017) and The Global Expatriate’s Guide To Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat (Wiley 2015). My mission is to educate, motivate and inspire people on basic retirement planning and best practices for investing, using evidence-based strategies. I’m happy to comment on your questions. However, please read the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and the Comments Policy.

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10 Responses

  1. Hey Andrew,

    I am also not a big fan of Kiyosaki. Some of the things he says are quite obviously true, like pay yourself first and spend less than you earn. In some of his other chapters, he seems to be selling some snake oil and cultivating an air of "mystique" where anyone, if they just follow his steps, can become rich, too, as if life is a game and you can just cheat your way to riches. I don't agree with that meme.

    One has to be careful to draw the distinction between "college" and "university" as they mean different things to different people. For me, college was a waste of time, but university was NOT a waste of time. College was basically nothing more than an over-glorified version of high school; it wasn't all bad, but it was mainly unnecessary and four years that I could have spent doing something more productive.

    I found University much more useful, and I did have many great experiences at the university level, such as my international exchange trip, my co-op work experiences, and the teachers themselves were of a much higher caliber as well.

    I hope that we can greatly broaden the reach of education with the Internet. Many of the problems of education today are related to the *institutional* nature of education. You must go to school from this hour to this hour. You must obey your teachers. After all of that, if you want a decent job, you must get this piece of paper. This focus is wrong and misguided, IMO.

    An education does not consist of obedience and credentials, an education consists of experience, knowledge, and wisdom. These build off of each other and they can only come about as a result of applied learning, in an environment conducive to learning. Unfortunately, that rules out most of the public school system and much of the educational system. I do think that universities are perhaps closest to the ideal educational system, but they suffer from many problems as well. I am looking forward to the Internet shaking things up by greatly increasing access to information, as well as lowering costs. I don't want to become too optimistic but, like in other things, I think it provides a real avenue for change that will never come from the traditional bureaucratic channels.

  2. Very interesting post!

    Unfortunately, I don't have an answer for you Andrew (or Kevin).

    An education is definitely not something that hangs on a wall. It doesn't just exist in lecture halls. It goes far beyond pages, books and teachers in my opinion. What I recall from its Latin roots, education means to "bring out". Universities tend to "bring out" this knowledge and are good enablers at doing it for its students, but this institution is far from perfect for many reasons.

    I guess if you classify "smarts" as knowing how to deal with cobras, or better still, avoid them, that's some great education and knowledge one should revere 🙂

  3. @Invest It Wisely

    I guess you're right about it depending on the instructions you get at either type of institution.

    I wonder about those bangladeshi guys. Often, I wonder "why me?" and "why not them?" Life is mysterious, isn't it?

  4. @Financial Cents

    Hey Mark,

    I guess I think of raw ability sometimes. I mean, the guy who lives next door to you (hypothetically) could have been the greatest specimen to ever ride a bike. He could have won 10 Tour de France if he only tried to. I think of those Bangladeshi workers and wonder which one of them has the potential that Einstein had. But because he never gets a chance to go to school, nobody ever finds out. I'm always thinking about crazy stuff like that.

  5. <blockquote cite="#commentbody-1422">

    Andrew Hallam :

    @Invest It Wisely

    I guess you’re right about it depending on the instructions you get at either type of institution.

    I wonder about those bangladeshi guys. Often, I wonder “why me?” and “why not them?” Life is mysterious, isn’t it?

    Life is so random, and we place too much bias on things that we had no control over. Your appearance, your genetics, your base intelligence level, your looks, your personality, are determined to a high degree at birth. They are then sculpted further by your upbringing, your cultural surroundings, and the quality of your parents. Do we have control over any of that? Not really. Yet we still judge people as a result of these factors.

    This is not to say that I believe in fatalism, because I don't. Nonetheless, most people do over-emphasize the ego's role in all of these areas.

  6. @Invest It Wisely

    If you want to get technical, I guess it's more accurate to say that they are determined at conception, not birth.

  7. @Kevin and Andrew,

    I like what you wrote:

    "Life is so random, and we place too much bias on things that we had no control over. Your appearance, your genetics, your base intelligence level, your looks, your personality, are determined to a high degree at birth. They are then sculpted further by your upbringing, your cultural surroundings, and the quality of your parents. Do we have control over any of that? Not really. Yet we still judge people as a result of these factors."

    Too bad isn't it? I think so…

    Buffett calls this, calls what you write about, the "ovarian lottery". I guess like any lottery or contest, there are those that benefit and those that do not.

    Interesting dialogue gentlemen.

    Mark

  8. I think Kiyosaki has made more money off of selling the Rich Dad concept than following any of the "wealth building" advice he dispenses. It doesn't take a college degree to be rich. Just ask Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, but it does take some brain-power, a lot of determination, perseverance and belief in yourself even when things don't look like they are going to work out. In short, there's more to it than just brain-power.

  9. @Financial Cents

    Hey Mark,

    Buffett is so right about that Ovarian lottery—no doubt about that. This morning, as we drove to work in the pouring rain, there was a truck in front of us filled with bags of leaves. At least that's what I thought until one of the bags adjusted itself. They were workers in the back of an open truck, doing 80km/h in the pouring rain, with giant garbage bags over their heads. What was Lincoln's quote? There by the grace of God goes me.

  10. @The Biz of Life

    Kiyosaki is definitely smart as a marketer. And you're right Biz. Even in his books, he never really distills the profits he made doing anything specific—rarely, anyway. But he does make a fotune off those little purple books!

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