This came up in my Google+ feed late last night – That feed moves so fast I can’t flipping find the name of the original poster ūüôĀ sorry! But, nevertheless, i’m really glad I took the time to hit play.

The video reminds me, a lot, of the Open Letter to Educators I first saw in¬†July¬†when George came to town. ¬†However, this guy isn’t talking about just university. He’s addressing our whole educational ethos. ¬†How we see it in society. What we believe ‘education’ will do for us. ¬†How we define ‘education’ in society. ¬†He seems to be telling us that we’ve got it wrong. That educated people are not people who have certificates and can show they are able to tick boxes to pass exams “and forget it the next semester”. ¬†Educated people learn everywhere. Of course they do ūüôā

“So you want to get a degree… why?”

At this point, i guess, i have to admit that I have had this conversation with many, many, many of my high school students. ¬†Particularly the ones in top sets who’s only ambition in life seems to be to get the right grade to get into the ‘right’ uni, to do the ‘right’ course. ¬†The young man in the video is right when he gives his reasons for doing it. ¬†For many students, it’s because..

“It increases your chances of getting a job, increases your chance of being¬†successful, you life will be less stressful.”

That really is what I hear a lot. ¬†What happened to…

I love English, I want to know more so I’m going to do a degree. I’m hoping to get into Birmingham Uni because I am¬†fascinated¬†by Shakespeare and I would love the opportunity to take the course they offer at the Shakespeare institute in¬†Stratford-upon- Avon. ¬†I just want to get close to those first folios?”

I never did get into Birmingham Uni – ¬†I did see a folio once whilst I stood in the newly reconstructed Globe theatre, London. ¬†But, my reason for studying English wasn’t because of the reasons he gives. ¬†Maybe I was¬†naive¬†?¬†When¬†I was 18 I was going to study English, teach for a year or so and then work in the education department of the RSC…. ¬†That didn’t happen… but that’s ok. I grew in another way and I have NO regrets whatsoever ūüôā

Of all of my closest school friends I think I can count two of us who actually do something related to the degree we studied. ¬†Myself, i ended up with a BA QTS (qualified teacher status) in English and became an English teacher and John, who arrived at uni and has subsequently never left! He’s now Dr John Clay,¬†Medieval¬†specialist man with books and titles and fabulous things ūüôā (and he still owes me a viking by the way…) Then there’s Ant, who DID get into Birmingham Uni to study English and then became a computer programmer. ¬†Something that we all knew would happen. He’d been developing software since we were at school and he had (until only a couple of years ago) NO formal qualification in that area – what so ever.

Then, there’s my husband, who has a degree in Bio Chemistry and ended up working in IT in a law firm before we moved here and he started his own business. ¬† He hasn’t walked into a lab since he qualified. ¬†I even had to work hard to get him to collect his degree¬†certificate¬†from his mum’s house so we could bring it to Australia. ¬†He didn’t really care about it… ¬†He, like Suli Breaks, spent “countless¬†nights in the library with a can of¬†red bull¬†keeping [him] awake… memorising equations, facts and dates right¬†down¬†to the letter. Half of which [he] would never remember and half of which [he’d] forget straight after the exam or before the next semester” ¬†He hated it. I remember! ¬†He felt very strongly that he just HAD to get this information to stay in his head. ¬†He wasn’t¬†impassioned¬†by it. His lecturers didn’t inspire him or even make him understand WHY he needed to remember. ¬†No wonder his brain lost the information so quickly. It had no idea why it needed to keep it. He, like so many others, was ‘playing a game’ – trying to get a good grade in something so that he could enter the graduate recruitment programs for some big shot company – straight off the bat.

“Because as long as you follow the rules and pass the exams you’re cool”

Maybe I should ask these guys their reason for studying what they did. ¬†I’m sure John would tell me about his passion for history ¬†(… and that lost quest to find me a viking) but I am not sure what Ant or my other half would say. ¬†Probably the same thing I wrote in the quotation above. Or, perhaps worse,¬†something¬†about parents and their expectations?

The other phrase that i banded around a lot in that video is “Education is the key”. ¬†Another thing we’ve grown up hearing! ¬†What’s interesting for me is the way that the young man in the video seems to be trying to get to grips with what education is, what it means. ¬†He mentions at one point that if

“education is the key, then schools are the lock”

I think, in the way he means it, he is suggesting that schools stop education. ¬†They restrict it, they reduce it to a box ticking exercise. He talks about how he suffered “3 years of mental¬†suppression¬†and frustration” to impress a mother who didn’t turn up to his graduation. ¬†How awful!

Why did he feel that way about his degree? What was the reason he studied? What did he study? What was this dream he ironically worked upon whilst asleep in lectures ( a result of too many late nights studying powered by red bull?).  Was university the right place for him to start with?  Did he go there because he was passionate and then had his passion killed or, is this video in which he asks us to

“understand your motives and reassess your aims”?

a warning to those considering higher education to reflect upon their choices so that they don’t end up where he was.

He is totally right when he tells us that “education is not just about¬†regurgitation¬†a book or someone¬†else’s¬†opinion to pass an exam“. ¬†As an educator, it has never been my aim to appear to be the fountain of ALL knowledge. ¬†To tell people what to think, to box their thoughts into clear RIGHT and WRONG columns. ¬†Once, I had a student tell me that they were under the impression that when studying at uni you should forget everything you know. Accept that you know nothing and take only the opinions of others into account. ¬†WHAT RUBBISH! ¬†Apart from the¬†blatant¬†disregard for¬†prior¬†knowledge, learning to build upon… ¬†How does that helps us to build on our collective knowledge to develop and move forward? Learning is NEVER a one way street! ¬†I long to hear the perspectives of my students, I LOVE debating with them and having an intellectual conversation in which we challenge each others’ thinking. ¬†That’s how I learn – through my passion for what I do. NOT through my¬†subservience¬†to the opinion of others.

I would hate to learn in a place or manner in which my mind was rarely ever developed “to the point where you can¬†perceive¬†red as green and continue to GO when someone else says STOP” ¬†I would never have achieved half of what I have done if I worked and learnt in a world like that.

I wonder whether the educators who worked with Suli were diminishers or multipliers  His reflections and words speak volumes in that regard.

Another, important thought which popped into my head, was how clear, well spoken, confident and well-educated this young man seems to be. ¬†Perhaps, in some way, his frustrations have taught him something about life. Something incredibly valuable that he can now use to drive his own future as he “builds his own dream”. ¬†Perhaps, the education wasn’t in the books he studied so hard, or the lectures he slept through? ¬†Perhaps it was somewhere else. In relationships? In conversation? In the development of emotional¬†intelligence¬†whilst fighting for to achieve? ¬†Something clearly went right for him whilst he was at school. ¬†It certainly did for all those people I know who have never done anything with the content knowledge they¬†acquired¬†during their time at uni but have achieved a whole lot with the skills they developed.

If you were asked to define education. What would it look like for you? Is it the same as Learning? Success? Do they go hand in hand?  Do you think schools STOP success? What key phrases or messages from his video stick with you? Have you considered why?

So many questions! So many thoughts! I LOVE videos like these! Thanks Suli! ūüôā



  1. antdzeryn 9 years ago

    From a blog post written just before applying for my MSc:

    I discount my GCSE in IT on the grounds that my school reports used to say things like, ‚ÄúAnt can turn on a computer without assistance.‚ÄĚ It didn‚Äôt say, ‚ÄúAnt is bored senseless at having to perform mail merges in Word and alleviates the tedium by writing games in VBA,‚ÄĚ which would have been more accurate. In truth, switching on the computer was about the limit of the teachers‚Äô technical abilities, and thus all they could offer an opinion on. Anything beyond that was some kind of unspeakable voodoo that they did their best to ignore. My experiences in this class were the main reason why I‚Äôve since avoided signing up for anything resembling computer science academia.

    • Author
      Selena Woodward 9 years ago

      I remember that! I didn’t take it because I kept getting 100% in how to connect a printer… and name that serial port style rubbish! Thank goodness it’s not like that now!! lol Did you feel that you needed that MSC in ICT stuff? Why did you study for it? I’m just wondering how it fits with Suli’s sentiments ūüôā

      • antdzeryn 9 years ago

        The answer to that is in the same post:

        Anyway, this has been something of a problem. Interviews that I attend usually start off with this question:

        ‚ÄúYou‚Äôve got a degree in English and a master‚Äôs in Film Studies. Why are you here?‚ÄĚ

        I then have to prove that it’s possible to know how to program without a programming degree and that I can eat without dribbling. Personally, I’ve never found qualifications to have the slightest bearing on someone’s coding ability. I’ve known great programmers with hardly any qualifications at all, let alone comp sci degrees, and awful programmers with alphabet soup suffixed to their name on their CV.

        • Author
          Selena Woodward 9 years ago

          So did you study to silence the critics at interview or because you thought you would learn something new and exciting?

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