The purpose of school has never been to get a good job. Universities were even created for the wealthy, most of whom never worked a day in their lives. College ought not be confused with vocational centers that train people to repair automobiles, cut hair or plug leaks. Well-rounded learning is what places a citizen into a community of students that goes back over a thousand years. Al-Azhar University in Cairo opened in 970 C.E. as a madrassa. Europe’s oldest college began in 1088 C.E. in Bologna, Italy. At the time, teachers competed for patronage from the student body – there were no salaries paid from a general fund or tenure granted by scholarly research committees.
In the 20th century, going to school became a mark of distinction that society began to expect. Public education became mandatory. Like attorneys and medical professionals, teachers became licensed. The purpose of education shifted toward training young people in basic skills: English, mathematics, history, and science. Those with a strong command in these areas held the upper hand in all walks of life.
Imagine a farmer unable to count seeds accurately. Or a merchant who could not write receipts and trade with the community. No doubt these did exist and were frequently outdone by those who had the advantage of formal schooling. Reading, writing and arithmetic became a schoolyard jingle only after being standardized primary school curricula.
In the 21st century, the skills required for success are far more specialized than ever before. A person with a very solid grasp of the fundamentals would still be considered poorly educated if they did not progress beyond high school. The market rewards public speaking ability, entrepreneurship, computer literacy, creativity, and more. While some of these can be picked up during school years, self-learning plays a large role.
The question of why a young person should stay in school can only be answered by the student. Anyone considering dropping out should ask themselves about near-term and long-term plans for success. Students should have an objective measure of not only their basic skills, but more advanced, specialized ones as well. If job training is a goal, the selection criteria of their chosen profession should be carefully researched. Demand for such services may be low in their state, thus requiring a move.
Certainly schools are not the end of individual learning. Lifelong learning and training is required for all. Those who fail to grow will be as doomed as the farmer who struggled to count seeds. Rather than asking whether or not school is necessary, young people should strive always to learn more, before and after the degree is conferred.