The Shocking Truth About Wealth And Self Education

Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune. 

Jim Rohn

self-educationThat is a powerful statement. The wealthiest and most successful people in America will tell you what got them there wasn’t what they learned in school but rather what they taught themselves or learned from others. It’s a well known fact that the public school system has been falling behind other industrialized nations over the past few decades. Public schools continue to lose funding and suffer from a lack of talented teachers. Education is the defining factor between success and failure, whether that education is formal or informal. In fact the number one key to success is to always be learning. It’s not a coincidence that populations in the United States with the least amount of formal education also have the highest rates of unemployment and obesity along with the lowest amount of wealth. I would argue that it’s also not an accident. But my conspiracy theory on social engineering is a post for another day. The tie between education and wealth is a bit straightforward. Those with either formal or informal education over a lifetime have more wealth. Those with less education trend toward obesity. However, the tie between wealth and obesity is a tricky one.  Wealthy men, educated or not, tend toward obesity whereas educated women do not. This distinction is a result of an analysis conducted by the National Institute of Health Statistics in 2010. In different research conducted by PLOS ONE that looked at education and wealth in various developing countries they found that educated poor women didn’t tend to suffer from obesity. Their education protected them, so to speak, from the effects of poverty on diet.

The Ugly Truth About The Purpose Of School

Public schooling has always been a part of the fabric of America. The purpose was primarily to teach them how to read and do math. It wasn’t to inspire them to become doctors and lawyers, that was more the role of private education and the in-home education of wealthy families. In rural America, families needed their children home to help on the farms. That is why there is no school in the summer. Children were expected to help with the planting and the harvesting. In fact, America is one of the few developed countries that doesn’t have grade school year-round. American children have fewer school days than those in Europe, Asia, and South America. This was not the case in wealthy homes. Children had private tutors and also had an education from their parents, most likely the father, on how to create and build wealth. They also learned about art, literature and travel abroad.

As the world started to become industrialized and world wars began to flourish there was a dire need for laborers. Those laborers needed to know how to read and count. That’s when Corporate America began to influence the public school system to turn out people who would be content to work and take home a paycheck. They would also need to be compliant and take orders without question. They needed to be able to regurgitate information and wouldn’t be concerned about thinking for themselves. At the time, people weren’t being taught to pursue careers but jobs. They weren’t being encouraged to challenge the status quo. The curriculum primarily focused on what companies needed people to know so they could work in factories. Then TV came along to assist in this effort of keeping people numb.

That brings us to modern times. While the public school system is making strides and efforts to right the ship, it is so far behind the curve it seems nearly impossible, especially given the fact that education continues to enjoy fewer and fewer resources. Music and performing arts programs often take the first hit, followed closely by life skills such as learning about money and how to survive. The theory or belief is that public school has become more about mind control than real education. A real education as explained by Carter G. Woodson in the Mis-Education of the Negro “means to inspire people to live more abundantly, to learn to being with life as they find it and make it better.” In the book Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory John Taylor Gatto expertly breaks down the seven lessons of schooling. He says “good people wait for an expert to tell them what to do. It is is hardly an exaggeration to say that our entire economy depends upon this lesson being learned”.

Private schools have the resources to focus more on preparing students for advanced education, career exploration, and life management skills. This is simply because their high tuition and generous donations afford them this opportunity. Public schools in wealthy neighborhoods tend to mimic private schools because the higher property taxes provides a greater amount of resources, but these schools do also experience budget cuts.

The School To Prison Pipeline

Prison is a business. And in order for a business to be successful and profitable it needs patrons. Those patrons are being provided almost directly from the school system. Public schools are largely funded by the local property taxes. In areas where property value is lower or where there is large amounts of public housing there tends to be less property taxes available to provide to public schools. On top of that there are additional challenges that exacerbate the issue such as the ratio of students to teachers, student hunger, or students having to traverse bad neighborhoods to get to school. This tends to be the situation in urban areas with a large black and Latino population.

It is in these areas that we see the prevalence of the school to prison pipeline. This is a term used to describe the dire conditions that result from a lack of adequate education. The focus is on punishment rather than education. This plays out in the dramatic number of suspensions or expulsions for minor infractions such as bringing nail clippers or scissors to school. These zero-tolerance policies have disproportionately impacted African American children. Then once out of school the child has no where to go. They often end up in juvenile detention centers without access to education or the means to return to traditional education which sets them on a path to chronic incarceration.

The United States makes up 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s prison population. The US incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. This has been driven in large part to the proliferation of private prisons. In 2004 there were only five privately run prisons, now there are over 100. Part of this has been driven by longer jail sentences, minimum sentence requirements, and increased prisoner punishment in order to lengthen their sentences. Frankly, if we were a developing country a developed nation would be crying foul to the United Nations and claiming crimes against humanity. It is estimated that 97% of federal inmates have been convicted of non-violent crimes; and that about half of the inmates of municipal or county jails are innocent of their accused crimes. The vast majority of these inmates are people of color, specifically black males. 16% of all prisoners suffer from mental illness but aren’t treated for it.

A large portion of incarcerated black males are there for drug offenses. Yet blacks do not use or sell drugs at a higher rate than whites. Drug dealers aren’t just on the corner. They are on college campuses, upscale clubs, etc. I began my career in trading in Chicago. I worked with and around traders from the premier investment banks and brokerages on the floor of the exchanges. There was a lot of drug use, and I assure you they weren’t popping over to bad neighborhoods to buy their drugs from corner boys. So how is that blacks are incarcerated at higher rates than whites for drug possession?

According to Federal law people in possession of 5 grams of crack or 3.5 ounces of heroin must serve 5 years without possibility of parole; it’s 10 years for possession of less than 2 ounces of crack. For powder cocaine a sentence of 5 years requires possession of 500 grams, that is 100 times more than the quantity of crack. The difference is crack and heroine are primarily used by blacks while powder cocaine, seen as recreational by the way, is primarily used by whites. In Texas possessing four ounces of marijuana will result in an up to two year sentencing, in New York four ounces of any illegal drug will result in a mandatory 15-year prison sentence.

The Importance Of Self Education & How To Get It

Whether you attended a private or public school, self education is important, but more so for public school attendees, depending on the school’s location. Allow me to refer back to Carter G. Woodson’s book, the Mis-Education of the Negro. In it he cites the importance of self education as it relates to the creation of wealth. He discusses how the white male captains of industry such as Vanderbilt, Ford and Carnegie moved beyond simply what they learned in school. He also talked about that they didn’t compete with one another. They saw areas of need and pursued them until successful. The reason for Mr. Woodson’s book is to point out how the education system at the time was failing African Americans. It was teaching them through cultural indoctrination that they would never amount to anything because they had never been anything. Whites, incidentally, were being taught the same things in their schools. At the time the book was written schools were still [legally] segregated, in a different way from how they are today. He was focused primarily on higher education – college and above. However, his discussion shows how the seeds were planted in grade school.

Woodson’s plea to black America was, and still is, to engage in self education. My father always told me to learn what they don’t teach, even though I went to a fairly affluent high school. The real information isn’t in the textbooks and often the textbooks are wrong. Not only that, schools don’t teach thinking they teach regurgitation. If you have questions you must go out in the world to get them answered. Education is supposed to inspire us to and teach us how to explore the world. We are meant to learn about the humanities and other cultures and incorporate it into our being. We are meant to travel. If people didn’t seek beyond what they learned in school we wouldn’t have put a man on the moon or have iPods. If there was no “beyond” there wouldn’t be advances in medical technology.

This is the primary reason apprenticeship and internships are so valuable. In either situation you have direct access to a person who can teach you what you wouldn’t otherwise learn in school. The people we hold in high esteem for being successful did so by doing the extra work on their own. They all didn’t graduate from prestigious universities or even from high school. They had a vision of where they wanted to be in their lives and created the pathway themselves. That pathway is paved with the golden knowledge they acquired along the way.

Too many black children are taught today that there is no beyond. I challenge you to challenge that, right now. My challenge to you is to learn something new. As you know there are eight actions black women need to take in 2016 and you can accomplish a few of those with this challenge. How does one get a self education? Here are a few ways:

  • Reading is the easiest way to self educate. Do you have a public library card? Do you buy/borrow/beg books? What was the last book you read? When was that? There is an ugly old saying that if you want to keep something from a black person, put it in a book.
  • Turn off the TV, but you can watch documentaries and/or TED talks. I love TV as much as the next person. It’s a great way to zone out. TV has always been a way to keep people from becoming wealthy and encouraging them to stay mental laborers.
  • Travel is the best way to explore other cultures. This doesn’t have to be expensive or extensive. But you must get a passport and leave the country. I don’t mean the islands to lay on beaches on all day. Set a goal to experience at least one of the seven wonders of the world and create a budget. It wasn’t until I went to Egypt that I learned that all democracies aren’t truly free.
  • Meet new people and say yes to stuff. Do you know how much you can learn just by talking to other people? These can be strangers or the people that you work with every day. Before you brush something off with an unceremonious “I’m just not doing that”, say “yes”. You might actually like it and learn something. Or you might not like, but you learn something.
  • Attend meaningful conferences. I say meaningful because some people will attend conference after conference to say they attended but didn’t really get anything from it. Focus on conferences that have an experiential learning component or that provide ample time for interaction. No one learns during death by PowerPoint. Some of the best conferences I learned the most from were unorthodox and even took place in the woods. Stay open to the experience.

When we explore the impact education (formal and informal) has on wealth and general health we see that the lack of education results in poor health and quality of life. If education is such a big component of life long success, however success is defined, why is education often put on the back burner? It doesn’t have to be. You can go down to the library or search online for free classes. The information is out there and accessible just waiting for us to show up at the door and knock.

What will you do today to self educate? What books are you planning to read? Let us know by commenting below. If you found this post helpful share it within your community.

Nile Harris
Nile Harris, the Chief Chick, is a word weaver and dream believer with 20 years of experience in healthcare, finance, and education. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action. Her views are her own.
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