Well-Educated or Well-Read?

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Diploma rolled up in a red ribbon and a black mortarboard hat on pile of books

In the 1940s, a high school diploma was considered the ultimate in formal education. Over the years, as professions and business development grew, society required more and more education. By the 1960s, a college education became the pinnacle of educational attainment. By the year 2000, without that single piece of paper, there wasn’t much available for supporting a secure middle-class life anywhere in our economy. Recently I’ve heard that without a graduate-level college degree, there isn’t much beyond a modest living to be made.

Now, some of you may have encountered a world-famous “motivator” and life coach–a self-educated man named Tony Robbins. This man has six homes and owns over 50 businesses located in beautiful places throughout the world. He reportedly has a net worth of $600 million.

Very impressive!

I recently enjoyed attending one of Mr. Robbins online workshops, and as he introduced himself he shared his surprising educational pedigree: he earned a diploma from a public high school.

That’s it.

He had no inheritance from any of the four fathers who came and went throughout his childhood. When he began his not-quite-adult-life, he lived in a tiny apartment and washed dishes in the bathtub.

So what happened? How could this person without a college degree and little means become so successful?

Well, I’ll tell you what happened. During his K-12 education, Tony Robbins learned to be an enthusiastic reader who loved books. Hence, his education didn’t end when the bell rang on the last day of high school as it does for so many individuals. In fact, it appears that his intellectual growth continues. He claims that after he decided what he wanted to do in life at age 17, he read over 700 self-help, informational and fictional books in seven years. I have 20 years of academic credentials and, though I’m an avid reader, I’m doubtful that I have read that many books. Upon his very informal education–reading what he felt would improve himself and his lot in life–he built a career of teaching and coaching some of the most important and famous people in the world. His clients include presidents, movie stars, billionaires and world leaders.

Not even 400 Books

So, the question that us parents and educators need to ask ourselves is: With evidence like that about Tony Robbins using avid reading to build a wonderful life on top of such a modest education, why is it that schools only report success or failure as test scores about how well children read instead of richer data describing the quality of what they read, and how much and how often they read?

I know Tony’s just one guy, but his lived experience offers up a question worth asking, since for the past 20 years, reading scores have not improved enough to make anybody happy except those who sell reading programs! Perhaps we need to ask: “Are we creating lifelong readers and learners?”

Now, that’s something to think about…

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