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In Search of Competence

Updated: Jul 24, 2022

What is competence? Is it mastery? Paradigm Learning is all in for mastery of material. Well, mostly. But we are seeking so much more. We want competence. Here is why.

There is an old saying, "He who can't do, teaches." I think that was originally directed at the legal profession. It was used when a person who studied hard, knew the statutes, ordinances, case law, tort law, all very well, but then was not very good at using them for his clients' benefit. No one wants that person to represent them in court. The same idea is in the expression, "A" students teach, and "B" students work for "C" students." It's a well known saying because it is so often true.

Why? The answer is simple. "A" students try to get by on their smarts. They know a lot. Everyone knows they know a lot. But supposed smarts is never enough. "B" students are caught in no-man's land. They take what they can get. 'C' students, well, they either had to work a lot to earn the money to pay for college and it cut into study time, or they are visionaries and the rigor of books didn't appeal to them very much. They knew enough.

We don't have to look far to check some of this out. Bill Gates graduated from high school with a 2.65 GPA and then dropped out of college. Steve Jobs had the same 2.65 GPA. He 'attended' a college, that's all his bio says. Mark Zuckerberg, we don't know. He went to high school in Denmark. A person might master the material, maybe even graduate at the top of their class. But it may not do them a lot of good in the end.

Take a look at this:

This study showed that only around 1/4 of college graduates work at the profession in which they received a degree. And over 1/3 of college graduates have jobs that don't require a degree.

And here's a quote from Bloomberg in a more recent study from April, 2022. It corroborates, only it found a little larger percentage. They report:

"Here’s a statistic that may give some pause: More than half of college graduates over the age of 25 don’t work in their field of study, according to a new survey from"

Bloomberg's question was, "Is College Worth It?"

But are they asking the right question? In all practical terms, that one cannot be answered except individually. There is no right answer. I think it only serves to deflect the problem. The question is "Why? What is it about the educational system that produces these results?"

The answer stems from central Europe in the 1500's and the dawn of the Age of Reason. But who cares? What we know is that everyone wants mastery. We seek it for ourselves in our area of "expertise", and we most certainly desire it for our students at Paradigm Learning. But clearly, mastery isn't enough, and by itself, may only be 25% of the equation. What we seek is competence.

Competence is the ability to understand where mastery can take you. It is what Gates, Zuckerberg and Jobs all knew. They had enough mastery to move. So they quit college (not something I'm recommending) and applied what they had mastered to real-life experience. They took what they mastered, connected it to trends and what people wanted, and then bought $500 million yachts.

But those guys are the exceptions. What I am saying here is something so important and so well known that it is almost embarrassing to say it: mastery, without competence (the application of information mastered) is very close to a waste of time. So why does our educational system focus almost entirely on mastery? Mastery is what standardized testing is supposed to demonstrate and what drives curriculum. Hmmm.

Paradigm Learning sees education as not merely the accumulation of knowledge, mastery, but learning how to dream and use that knowledge in areas that the student loves. It is the main reason one of our learning zones (1 of 5 zones) is dedicated to thinking, dreaming, imagining, where this knowledge now mastered can take the student. It is the heart behind our passion projects.

Do you want to see a young person who works in a discipline they love, knows a lot about, and sees the future for it? Then find one who has mastered the material and has been taught how to apply it to real life - to their life. That student will have purpose and a future. That will be a competent person.

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