Everything has its limits – iron ore cannot be educated into gold. ~Mark Twain
I was struck by the simplicity of this statement from Samuel Clemens (pen name Mark Twain) when I read it over a week ago. Never had I heard this quote before, but was driving past a farm on Zenith Rd that always has some great reader board messages on it.
This one caught my attention because I started thinking about the importance of both substances. If iron ore had been discarded entirely because of the want for gold, or had the ancient dream of alchemy ever been realized, would I even be able to type on this computer? Smelting iron until it reaches its purest form and can be processed into steel is the basis for all the technology around you, the car you drive, the buildings you go in, the food you eat… We could go on, but the absolute importance of the process and ability that we have to turn iron ore into steel in our world should never be lost or forgotten.
Why am I so stuck on this idea? It is because Twain’s second part of the quote is what brings it back to societal operation. “…cannot be EDUCATED into gold.” The statement brings an allegory into existence which says, “Hey I’m not talking about smelting metal, I’m talking about human ability.” And the thoughts continued to tumble through my head as I realized that is a core component of what we attempt to do in our education system every day. I’m not sure if Mark Twain was referring to actual education of people in his day with this quote, but I believe the application applies.
I’m not an educator so I’m not going to go into the “how we should do it better” talk, instead I just want to look at “Why?”
Mike Rowe, infamous for his time hosting and participating in Dirty Jobs, recently promoted a poster that he has changed from the original. His promotion is that we should work hard AND smart. In fact I encourage you to read his website, and his book, and support the Mike Rowe WORKS Foundation: http://profoundlydisconnected.com/.
So how does this relate to education and the quote? I was born April of 1980. I’m on the cusp of a generation between X and Millennials. It was my group of peers (1979-1984) that began getting more trophies and Kudos for showing up. We were told, from the earliest I can remember, that we should aspire to college and white collar jobs. Not always in those terms, but we were rarely encouraged for the trades. In fact there was a time that I believed my father, who worked hard everyday to support us, was somehow less in society because he had not completed college and turned wrenches daily for his job instead of typing and filing. I was being told//educated that I was gold, or would be gold, if I just followed a certain path. My family ate up the messaging and I went to college at their urging and following the path taught.
You know what can be done with iron ore? Iron ore can be worked and trained to be steel. STEEL! More sturdy than gold, more structurally durable than gold, frankly more useful than gold.
Gold is only valuable because there is a restricted//limited supply of it. We can keep making steel because there is a lot of iron ore to be mined and steel can be recycled and made into steel again. By teaching my generation, and those that followed, that they should be gold by going to college all we did was flood the market with a good that once had value because it was rare. Now a Bachelors Degree is common (the past rating for gold), next is the Masters Degree (the currently degrading gold standard) which is becoming more common which leads to the highest gold standard, the Doctorate. But in the pursuit of turning iron ore into gold we have had to raise the cost of education in unprecedented, and unsustainable, levels.
Alchemy doesn’t work. Loads of money and time have been spent by governments (usually a monarchy) to figure it out. If it had worked do you think gold would be very valuable today? At some point the secrets of alchemy would have spread, making more gold all over, and creating a new common element in the world degrading the value. Now our education alchemy is failing. We’ve flooded the market with iron ore told it will be gold which has devalued the true cost and ability of gold. But what if…?
What if we celebrate and value Iron Ore educated into Steel in the same way? This can take on many looks, many paths, but it starts at home and in community. Celebrate the student who says, “I don’t want to be a doctor or…I want to build homes, open a coffee shop, deliver goods, drive truck, lay pipe, poor concrete, etc…” Don’t negate their abilities or dreams by implying verbally, or non verbally, that their dreams don’t matter. Many of those jobs are not flashy and exciting, but they are the basis for the community and economy that we all enjoy.
Like I said above, I have the college education with Bachelors and Masters degree. I also have the near 6 Figures of debt that go with it. To what end? Am I making more money today than some of my peers that decided to go into the trades out of high school? On a year to year pay check maybe I am now…but I missed out on 17 YEARS of higher income to get here. Am I, as iron turned gold, so valuable now?
I have 2 kids, Titus and Trinity. The college savings plan for them is this: Save money and offer it to them when they graduate. They can:
- Go to a 4 year college and use it to pay for tuition, books, room and board.
- Go to a trade college//school and use it the same as above.
- Use it as the cash investment to open//buy into their own business.
- Save it for a down payment on a house.
My kids are special. They are Gold in my eyes so while my words above may seem harsh I believe I understand the heart that led to the education I received, the dream to turn me into gold. We all want BETTER for our children than we feel we had. For a long time that meant the ability to go to college and get a better education than the generation before. But I also love my children enough to see that they are what God made them, and while I want them to be the best they can be, I want them to be the best that God made them to be. Whether that is lustrous gold or sturdy steel (or some other material that I’m not aware of yet).
Iron Ore cannot be educated into gold, but Iron Ore can be educated and encouraged to be the best Steel it can be. And frankly, steel is more valuable in our world than gold. Just look at the town you call home and tally how many times steel was used to improve your area over gold.